PDP led government is seemingly unwilling to offer them space. Renewed militancy too does not care much about them. And India’s top spymaster A S Dulat exposed whoever he knew closely. In such a situation, separatist leaders broke their fast together. Saima Bhat explores the possibility of separatists managing their egos to close their ranks
A spree of killings took place in the north Kashmir in May. Of the six slain, four were workers of different separatist camps. These killings sent shock down the camps as the killers were not ‘identified’. Sulking, the separatists soon started talking about ‘unity’, the only option left. Though nothing much was done, three key leaders representing the separatist diversity, ‘decided’ to sit together. The only aim was to prevent further blood from being spilt around.
This happened earlier as well. In 1995, Kashmir witnessed ‘unidentified’ gunmen attacking sympathizers of the Hurriyat Conference. Nobody knew the attackers.
Syed Ali Geelani, the head of Hurriyat was attacked a number of times. But the most threatened one was Abdul Gani Lone. After a series of grenade attacks, he had a providential escape when a car bomb explosion literally demolished his Sanatnagar mansion. For this attack, Lone personally held Rashtriya Rifles responsible. “One day, some unidentified armed people entered Lone’s house and started firing and the second time a hand grenade was lobbed into his house,” a Sanatnagar resident remembers. “One explosion shook the entire locality.”
The “unidentified” gunman exists throughout. He killed Dr Abdul Ahad Guru, Sheikh Tariq, Prof Ghulam Qadir Wani, Mehboob Shah Kirmani, Mufti Jamal Din and even Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq. This unknown gunmen still survives.
Pressurised by the attacks around, Geelani, Lone and Muhammad Yasin Malik marched together many times and the trio was seen with banners demanding rights organisations to intervene. They alleged the then government sponsored Ikhwanis for the killings. Possibility of some of the attacks by unidentified militants being carried out was not entirely ruled out. But the protests had an impact. Attacks ebbed.
Killers resurfaced in 2002 when they assassinated Lone while commemorating Mirwaiz at Eidgah. Sajjad Lone, now minister from the BJP quota in PDP led coalition, accused Geelani and ISI for the killing of his father. He even identified the killer and picked up a battle with Mirwaiz Umer.
Though Lone Jr withdrew his allegations as his “emotional outburst”, the barb had helped existing cracks wide open in the Hurriyat. Since then, Hurriyat exists as doves and hawks with a few like JKLF and Shabir Shah equidistant from both camps. Shah even has his own faction now. That happened during Mufti’s maiden term.
They always met Pakistani officials in Delhi separately. Working within their own means, they continued acting independently and reacting to issues differently. Occasionally, they got, what is now called, warning shots. The last such “shot” was reported from a lane in Soura when Fazl Haq Qureshi was attacked. He survived but the mystery still remains who attacked him with what and why.
In the midst of this division, there were instances of bonhomie as well. The last instance was in 2008 when all these groups were in the “coordination committee” that spearheaded the agitation over Amarnath land row. But the “initiative” couldn’t last long as the three main stakeholders started washing their dirty linen in public. Then Geelani raised the slogan of – Hum Pakistani Hai, Pakistan Hamara Hai (We are Pakistanis and Pakistan is ours). To counter this Yasin Malik countered with Iss Paar Bhi Laingay Azadi, Uss Paar Bhi Laingay Azadi (We will take freedom from Indian – as well as from Pakistan administered Kashmir). The Coordination literally ended with Geelani’s apologies for his utterances during his Polo Ground speech.
But that was not the last scene in which Kashmir saw the unity in diversity of the separatist camp. One such display was last week when Mirwaiz Umer and Yasin Malik drove to Hyderpora and broke their fast with the ageing and ailing “hawk” Geelani. Since this had come after Mirwaiz’s “famous” comment – “who the hell is Geelani?” people have started giving this Iftaar meeting a lot of importance.
Without discriminating any of them, Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed thanked them, the militants and Pakistan for “peaceful” polls that led to his return to power. During the peak of negotiations with BJP, Hurriyat peacenik Prof Abdul Gani Bhat was seen having a long dinner meeting at Gupkar, the erstwhile Papa-II where Mufti lives. But when police killed Suhail Ahmad Sofi in Narbal, all the separatists were apparently together to condemn Mufti and his police. As blood spilled in Sopore, this “issued based coordination”, extended to the town.
Was the same coordination at display in Hyderpora? Or were there other compulsions that Kashmir’s “freedom seeking” leaders had in mind to ensure the photo-op.
Insiders in the separatist camp believe the unity move began soon after the Delhi cancelled Foreign Secretary level talks with Islamabad over the Pakistani envoy Abdul Basit’s meeting Hurriyat leaders in 2014. “Basit told us to put up a ‘united’ front to stay relevant in the context of the changing bilateral equation between the two countries,” one of the members who was part of a Hurriyat delegation said.
This is not for the first time that Pakistan had called on separatist factions to remain united. These are not first locally efforts either. Like 2008 and 2010, it seems Geelani is playing the godfather, the same man who is accused by others of disrespecting the efforts earlier.
In 2009, Geelani had refused to be part of the unity effort led by Shabir Shah. When Shah and Mirwaiz merged their respective factions, Geelani stayed out of it, so did JKLF.
In their meetings with Pakistan High Commissioner, it was pointed out, that “some front line leaders, who had gone close to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and allegedly supported it in polls, were actually named.” However, “at the peak of BJP’s high-voltage campaign to wrest Kashmir, the same High Commission was supportive of PDP takeover in J&K. That was perhaps why Mufti Sayeed, after taking over, ensured to thank Pakistan, militants and pro-freedom leaders. Now when the PDP-BJP government is adversely commented on ground zero, Pakistan is shifting its stand.”
Sources close to “coordination” efforts in all the three main groups maintain that a “serious effort is under way to unite all the different factions of pro freedom groups”. They say the initiative has Pakistan’s backing and is aimed at “forming a new grouping” of not only the three existing Hurriyat factions but also to take other groups on board. “If this move succeeds, Geelani will become a chief patron of the new amalgam while Kashmir’s chief cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will be its chairman,” they claimed. “Shabir Shah and Nayeem Khan are going to join this new group after Eid.”
But it will be interesting to see the separatists joining Geelani on his Misaq-i- Hurriyat which clearly prevents any “scope for bilateral dialogue or a 4-point formula”. The same “leaders” were earlier accused of playing with Geelani’ s Hurriyat. Geelani’s stand during Musharraf days was key to his isolation, a situation on which all others preyed. Then, Geelani was deserted as moderates took over the scene.
“But now with the change, in Pakistan’s administration in 2014, has not only led to the reversal of things but also an effort to reunite them all,” a journalist having a better inside view of the camp said. “Shift in Pakistan policy can have a direct impact in Kashmir leadership.”
Pakistan has created precedence of inviting people for an Iftaar on the 21st day of Ramzan. Leaders from all factions of Hurriyat are the main attraction. This year, as well, the Iftaar party was scheduled for July 4. Cards were sent and received. “But at the last moment all invitees received calls that invitation stands cancelled,” a source said. “No reasons were given.”
Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met at Ufa in Russia on July 10. They talked about everything except Kashmir. This created a problem for Nawaz Sharief at his home turf. All Kashmiri separatists criticised the meeting.
Now Pakistani High Commission has invited them for an Eid Millan party in Delhi. It is apparently aimed at explaining things to the Kashmir separatists. While Geelani has announced he will boycott the event, there are not many people in the camp who will follow him except Asiya Andrabi. Shah Shah has said he is flying personally to attend the function. Unity efforts are unmasking well before they are projected as an effort.
Interestingly, however, the joint Iftaar has local compulsions as well. As militants started targeting civilians and the networks in Sopore, Hurriyat reacted. They even sought investigations by the Muzaffarabad based United Jehad Council which responded to the crisis and took the side of Geelani. But even its authority was challenged. In retaliation, Hurriyat (g) in fact lost a few workers.
Hurriyat insiders said these killings shocked “leaders” and they started “fearing for their lives”. If sources are to be believed the statements issued by Hurriyat (g) had ‘irked’ Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, the life time friend and deputy of Geelani, who was against issuing such statements against those ‘unidentified’ killers.
But these killings forced Yasin Malik to send his emissaries to Geelani to have a joint stand on Sopore killings. Later one more meeting was held by Hurriyat (m) chairman Mirwaiz to organise a meeting of other groups in Jamia Masjid last month, which was attended by Muhammad Altaf Shah and Mehraj ud Din Kalwal from Hurriyat (g), Altaf Khan and Noor Mohammad Kalwal from JKLF.
Militants reacting to separatists were a serious crisis for all. That is why, many people think, they felt forced to close the ranks. This, they say, has happened in past as well.
The next generation of militant is also a key threat to the separatists. “These militants are frequently talking about their (leaders) egos and spaces insisting they are working on their blood,” one Hurriyat source said.
That is perhaps why the new generation hardly looks at separatists beyond the call for strikes. Recently Mirwaiz told in Jamia Masjid that there should not be any unauthorized protest in Nowhatta unless he permits. The next Friday, it became very difficult for him to reach his car as mobs took over the streets. Later, during Shab-e-Qadr, hundreds of boys engaged cops in stone pelting. Police had to arrest nearly 60 youth to restore order.
Confirming the unity initiative, Shahid ul Islam, media advisor to Mirwaiz said the meeting was to “form coordination between different factions to tackle bigger issues” jointly so that it becomes a model policy for future. “Otherwise different versions only create confusion among them. And these joint programmes will be a permanent feature now in wake of the changing political dynamics between Delhi and the J&K state,” Islam said.
To start with Mirwaiz initiated a joint protest programme for July 13, 1931 Martyrs Day which was supported and endorsed by all. They decided against a strike and instead called for a joint march from Jamia Masjid to the Martyrs’ graveyard. But just two days ahead of this joint march, the octogenarian leader Geelani hosted an Iftaar party where he shared a space with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik.
“This ‘unity’ programme was held despite ‘big’ ideological differences between the three,” a Hurriyat activist said. They call it “just an Iftaar get-together”.
“It was just an Iftaar party and we responded positively. I would like to tell you that we are getting a good response. We are getting a lot of appreciation for this on social media,” Islam said. “These were just meetings but you never know what happens in future.”
A lot many people, however, think something is brewing. In 2014 Hurriyat (m) constituted a two member committee comprising Musadiq Adil and Gulam Nabi Zaki and deputed it to respond to Geelani’s ‘Grand Alliance’ call. The project was grounded due to the devastating September 2014 floods.
“There are basic differences between the two factions of Hurriyat but now there is a need to have joint take on issues so that people don’t get confused,” Musadiq Adil told Kashmir Life. “We don’t want a united Hurriyat we want to have joint programmes.” It is no surprise that Musadiq earlier said, “it is same Geelani who would call us traitors.”
Sopore apart, spymaster A S Daulat’s book has brought the “leaders on the road. “To overcome insecurities, these leaders are trying different tactics to get their political space back,” one observer pointed out. “And they claim the book is based on lies only. But they forgot about the ‘meetings’ when Daulat used to meet them behind closed doors and they called each other ‘friends’.”
But a senior Hurriyat (m) member has a different opinion. “The unity programme started much before Dulat’s book became public,” he said.
When Kashmir Life approached senior most leader of Hurriyat (m) Prof Abdul Gani to talk about the ‘unity’ programme, he refused, responding: “don’t involve me in these Bay maani (meaningless) and Gair Munasib (unwarranted) initiatives. You want to sink their boat and you want I should initiate it. But I won’t let you make me its reason.”
Dr Sheikh Showkat, an academic and political commentator, sees the ‘unity’ programme as Ghar Wapsi for those who had split from the Geelani group. “They were working on ‘moderate terms’ and now when they have realised it is not yielding them anything, they decided to return,” Sheikh said. “But then the revelations made in the Daulat’s book have left them nowhere. So the only option left was Ghar Wapsi.”
Separatists are seeking “political space” and Mufti-led coalition is unwilling to give them the same. Showkat sees it a blessing in disguise for them. He believes separatists will be more relevant if the government gives them no space.
In the recently held Lok Sabha elections, it was a clean sweep by PDP in Kashmir region. If not all, but the majority of the seats were taken by the same party in assembly elections as well. But recently an upper house MP of the same party was on way to a function in Kulgam where, to everyone’s surprise, he was booed away and one of his cavalcade cars burnt down.
“There is a deficit of credibility in this present government so it has given these separatists an opportunity to harvest. But that is possible only if they are one,” Dr Showkat asserted.