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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 16, April 6, 2013

Search for Gen-next Leadership On - Whom will Pak ISI Bet in Kashmir?

Friday 12 April 2013

by M.M. Khajooria

By the end of year 1992, the terrorist storm engulfing Kashmir began to recede. The orgy of senseless blood-letting and ill-concealed criminal designs of ever-mushrooming terror outfits had severely damaged the “crusader” image of the “Mujahids” and made a mockery of the “freedom struggle”. The pro-Azadi JKLF and pro-Pak Hizab ul-Mujahids fought pitched battles in the Kashmir Valley. Secessionist leaders spoke in different voices. Utter confusion prevailed in the secessio-nist/terrorist ranks. The Indian security forces, on the other hand, were slowly but surely gaining the upper hand. There was panic in Islamabad.

The Pak ISI responded by dumping the JKLF and unleashing the better-trained, fully equipped and ideologically committed Madrasa-manufactured Hizbul. Simultaneously, it put together a conglomerate of 29 political, social and religious outfits in Kashmir christened as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Its formation was announced on March 10, 1993, with the ostensible objective of achieving the right of self-determination, according to the United Nations Resolutions. Hurriyat, the overground face of militancy, was sought to be projected as the “sole representative voice
of Kashmir”. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Pakistan’s trump card in Kashmir, was named as its first Chairman. It would be his responsibility to maintain tight control over the constituents, enforce discipline and steer the party on the “right course”. That was no easy task. The Hurriyat comprised of leaders with little following but bloated egos. Almost all leaders, except Geelani, as Aasiyia Andrabi, the Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief, was to later comment, joined the Hurriyat “to save their skins”.

As the security forces firmed up their grip and people began to distance themselves from mindless violence, dissident leaders felt bold to assert their own political stances. Consequently, the Hurriyat was split into pro-Geelani and anti-Geelani factions. An era of no-holds-barred intra-party conflicts had arrived.

Rejection of the Hurriyat boycott call for the 2002 State Assembly elections by the electorate and intra-party contradictions tumbling into the public domain proved the proverbial last straw. After a lot of mutual acrimony, mud-slinging, and failed attempts at reconciliation, Ali Shah Geelani deserted the Hurriyat in August 2004 and formed the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, Jammu wa Kashmir. ”The party,” declared Geelani, “would solely rest on Islamic guidelines.” Flush with funds and endowed with fanatical Madrasa-trained committed cadres, the Tehreek immediately got into action. It utilised twisted or even manufac-tured issues to resort to street violence under the garb of legitimate protest. The Shopian episode, the Amarnathji Yatra row, the ‘Muzzafarabad Chalo’ march and now the canard of “Indian conspiracy to change the demography” through the Kashmiri Pandit settlements illustrate the point.

The Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led Hurriyat Con-ference was marginalised, and its agenda substantially hijacked by the two mainstream parties. Unable to work with Geelani and unable to confront him, the party is in a quandary. The Hurriyat leadership was even said to be weighing options including slipping into the electoral mode. The leadership, however, maintains contact with both the Indian and Pakistani establishments so as to remain in the reckoning.

Ali Shah Geelani has come to be perceived as insensitive to the sufferings of the daily-wagers, hoteliers, house boat-owners. Shikara-wallas and a host of others dependent on the tourist trade who were robbed of their means of livelihood on account of street violence and repeated and irrational calls for Hartal. Students had their calendar of studies messed up and their future placed in jeopardy. However, his hold over the “fundamentalist fringe” and dedicated cadres remains strong and firm.

The overall political developments in Kashmir since 2002, decimation of the terrorist outfits and the aversion shown by the Kashmiri youth to fill the vacancies caused by causalties have created a serious and difficult situation for the Pak ISI. The Hurriyat Conference was not only fractured but was perceived as lacking both the grit and will to carry forward the Pak agenda. The precarious health condition of the ageing Geelani, whose disconnect with the common Kashmiri can no more be ignored, has compo-unded the agency’s worries. They have therefore been on the look-out for a trustworthy, fully indoctrinated and experienced agitator as the gen-next successor for Ali Shah Geelani.

Mussarat Alam (42), an internet-savvy science graduate and a good organiser possessing grit and stamina, stands out in the array of this variety. As Geelani’s right-hand man. Mussarat successfully “inspired and promoted” hate-India sentiments amongst the teenagers/youth and womenfolk in 2010. The stone-pelting variety were strategically pitched against the police and other security forces in the daily street confrontations. He harnessed the cyber net to paint the authorities black. Under his inspiration pictures of funerals, corpses, wailing women and limbless teenagers writhing in pain, were posted on profiles. In one of his many videos on U-tube, he even incited the securitymen to defy orders. By now he has done more than ten years in prisons. He also had the distinction of being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Mussarat enjoys substantial support on both sides of the divide as the successor to Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The other man in the reckoning is Dr Mohd Qasim Fakhtu, presently undergoing life sentence for murder of Wanchu, a human rights activist. He has already undergone 20 years of imprisonment. The rejection of the petition for his release in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court while holding that “life imprisonment means imprisonment for the whole natural life” appears to have cleared the way for Mussarat.

Indications are that Pakistan will keep both the Hurriyats, the Geelani-led Tehreek and the marginalised one led by Mirwaiz Farooq, in the loop. Both will therefore remain relevant to secessionist politics in Kashmir as long as Pakistan persists in her design to pursue cross-border terror. However, only the Geelani-led Tehreek would be trusted by Pakistan to perform as the overground component of secessionist terrorism. As it is, the Tehreek leadership is charged with the responsibility of keeping the Kashmir pot boiling through sustained street violence on one pretext or the other. This happens to be Mussarat Alam’s forte. By all accounts he is the one on whom the Pak ISI is most likely to bet. Yes, Mussarat is the man to watch.

The author, a former Director General of Police (now retired), is currently the Director of the Centre for Good Governance and Public Accountability, Jammu.

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