Within days after the Lethpora car bomb attack, the central government initiated a series of measures that added to the fear which the explosions and the border tensions created, reports Shams Irfan
On the afternoon of February 14, 2019, an explosive-laden car driven by Adil Ahmad Dar, 21, a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant, hit CRPF’s convey near Lethpora village, killing 49 personnel. It was one of the biggest attacks on any military target by militants since 1989; the year armed militancy broke out in Kashmir. Within hours of the attack entire Kashmir was gripped in fear. The fear among people was not unjustified given their experience in the aftermath of such deadly attacks.
Three days later, the first reaction came from Delhi as it ordered the withdrawal of security cover to Hurriyat leaders including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The list included Hashim Qureshi of Ganga hijacking fame, Fazal Haq Qureshi. The second list came a few days later which included Syed Ali Geelani and seventeen other separatists. Also, security cover of 155 persons and activists including IAS topper Shah Feasal and PDP’s Waheed Parra was withdrawn. This added to the fear in both separatist and mainstream camp. This was despite the fact that a number of people whose names were listed in “security cover” had never availed it.
“It has put lives of both camps at risk,” said a political worker on condition of anonymity whose name was included in the list. “The fear is from the unknown gunmen who have been active since the 1990s in Kashmir.”
The second major reaction from Delhi came after it started cracking down on Jama’at-e-Islami cadre across Kashmir. The nocturnal arrest spree of Jama’at leadership including its central and district level leadership added to the fear. These raids coincided with the hearing date of Article 35 A, a special provision safeguarding Kashmir’s exclusivity. Jama’at was quick to term the crackdown as “fishy at a time when states special position is listed in Supreme Court”. By day-break, over 150 Jama’at cadre, including its top leaders were behind the bars across Kashmir.
This was the third major crackdown on Jama’at-e-Islami – a socio, religious, political organization that has been at the forefront of Kashmir’s long troubled history. The first crackdown and mass arrest of Jama’at cadre was by Shiekh Abdullah in 1975 after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed emergency. The second ban on Jama’at was imposed by Governor Jagmohan in 1990. This time the ban is for five years.
The renewed crackdown on Jama’at cadre across Kashmir, after Lethpora attack, put entire valley on the edge.
“In the past 24 hours, Hurriyat leaders and workers of Jamaat organisation have been arrested. Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in J&K. Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas,” former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote on Twitter.
On March 1, almost two weeks after Lethpora attack, and a near war-like situation with Pakistan, Delhi banned Jama’at-e-Islami in Kashmir, inviting sharp reaction from both separatists and mainstream parties. The first one to react was Mehbooba Mufti who took to Twitter and wrote: “Why is GoI so uncomfortable with Jamaat e Islami? Radicalised Hindu groups representing fringe elements are given carte blanche to spread misinformation & vitiate the atmosphere. But an org that has worked tirelessly for Kashmiris is banned. Is being anti-BJP anti-national now?”
The Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification banning the party for five years and it came while the arrests were going on. The government said if the group’s activities are not curbed immediately, it is likely to “escalate its subversive activities including an attempt to carve out an Islamic State out of the territory of Union of India”, continue advocating the secession of Jammu and Kashmir, and propagate “anti-national and separatist” sentiments.
Within 24 hours after the party was designated an “unlawful association”, the Deputy Commissioner’s started getting lists of the party assets that were supposed to be sealed. These include the list of more than 300 schools run by the Falah-e-Aaam Trust (FAT), a Jamaat affiliate.
The arrest spree of Jama’at cadre before the actual ban was imposed had already triggered a sort of migration among its cadre across Kashmir, especially in the south Kashmir. “My father, a Jama’at member, who preaches at our local mosque in south Kashmir, has migrated to our relative’s house in Srinagar after arrests started,” said Ashraf, who refused to share his real name. “We have heard about stories of harassment of Jama’atis during Sheikh (Abdullah) and Jagmohan’s times. But now we are living the fear.”
A large number of Jama’at cadres have migrated to a part of Srinagar along with their families fearing the crackdown will only become worse in coming days. “I am not a member of Jama’at but a sympathiser only. I too now fear for my life,” said Obaid, a young boy from Kulgam.
Since the arrests, a number of social media pages and WhatsApp groups associated with Jama’at are asking its cadre to stay calm and help each other.
National Conferences General Secretary Ali Muhammad Sagar said, “By banning Jamaat-e-Islami, the government will achieve nothing but giving it a dissident glamour. The move will not help; it will rather impede the process of reconciliation and rapprochement in our state.”
Expressing disappointment Sagar said, “The government could have used a platform of arguments in dealing with the dissent. Suppression will inevitably breed radicalization,” he said.
The part of the crackdown on separatists saw National Investigation Agency (NIA) raid residences of Hurriyat leaders including JKLF chairman Yaseen Malik’s house in Maisuma, Mirwaiz’s residence in Nigeen area of Srinagar, and Shabir Shah’s house.
NIA spokesman said they recovered “incriminating documents including property papers, financial transactions receipts and bank account details”. The electronic devices that NIA spokesman said they seized included laptops, e-tablets, mobile phones, pen drives, communication system and DVRs. “Significantly, letterheads of different terrorist organisations, as well as documents relating to recommendations for a visa for admission in Pakistan educational Institutions, were found,” the statement said. “A high tech internet communication set up was also recovered from the residence of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.”
The next day, while entire Kashmir was shut against NIA raids for two days, Mirwaiz’s press conference was not permitted by the police. He used taking to Twitter to tell his take: “A distressing experience yesterday when I and my colleague’s houses were cordoned and a coercive and illegal raid conducted by NIA. My phone laptop and other belongings seized. These intimidating and coercive tactics being used against leadership demanding peaceful resolution of.”
NIA that is also investigating the Lethpora attack, went deep into the south and raided houses of two active Jaish-e-Mohammad militants and a few alleged over ground workers (OGW) in Tral, Awantipora and Pulwama. Media reports said “incriminating materials including diaries containing coded writings” were also seized during raids on 11 other locations in south Kashmir.
Also, raids were conducted by NIA in the houses of three separatist leaders namely Mohammed Shaban Dar, Shawkat Maulvi and Yasmine Raza, in a terror funding case.
Following up the NIA raids, the IT raids have started and still going on.
“It is a terrible situation,” one former lawmaker said. “War is a bigger thing and should not happen. What we lost in the backdrop of the Lethpora attack is that we have to keep our patients aside until the army moves. We are getting bad to worse.”