End of the road for azadi?

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ven as serious differences emerge among Kashmiri separatists, there are disturbing signals that hitherto marginalized leaders and groups may be brewing a new confrontation with the Indian nation. Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik has urged the people to converge at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on Jan. 26 to unfurl ‘another flag’ (read Islamic) to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party Yuva Morcha’s plans to hoist the tricolour there.

The idea, Malik taunts, is to “convey an appropriate message to appropriate quarters.” He is backed by Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. The BJP youth began marching from Kolkata on Jan. 12; a nervous Chief Minister Omar Abdullah accused the party of using the tricolour for votebank purposes and opposed the march. Sources say the administration may block entry of BJP workers into the state to foil the ceremony.

BJP youth wing EktaYatra at Punjab border
The new brinkmanship comes in the wake of a seminar in Srinagar on Jan. 3, on the ‘Role of intellectuals in the freedom struggle’ (read secessionist movement), where former Hurriyat Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat created a stir by declaring that separatist leaders Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq (father of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq), and People’s Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone (father of Sajjad and Bilal Lone) were murdered by “our own people”, and not by the army or police, as hitherto alleged.

Bhat added that his own brother, Mohammad Sultan Bhat, was murdered by the same killers in 1995. Mirwaiz Farooq was shot dead at his residence on 21 May 1990; A.G. Lone was gunned down at a memorial for the senior Mirwaiz on 21 May 2002.

The ruling National Conference has termed it a “late admission” and demanded a probe to fix responsibility for the killings. At the time of the murders the state government had claimed that Hizbul Mujahideen commander Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo had killed Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq; Hizbul is ideologically close to hard line Hurriyat faction leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Lone was reputedly shot by Al-Umar Mujahideen, the militant wing of the Awami Action Committee headed by Mirwaiz.

After thus lifting the lid off fierce intra-militant rivalries, Bhat declined to name names, “What is the need to identify them (the killers).... They are already identified.” Caught unawares by the dramatic revelations, S.A.S. Geelani, former chairman of the undivided Hurriyat Conference, opted for silence. It is pertinent that Sajjad Gani Lone, youngest son of A.G. Lone, had blamed Geelani for his father’s murder, but soon retracted the allegations.

That the killers’ identities were publicly known was virtually confirmed by J&K DGP Kuldeep Khoda, “the person involved in the killing of Mirwaiz Farooq is also buried in the same ‘martyrs graveyard’ where the senior Mirwaiz was laid to rest”. Thus, the “killer and the killed are both declared as martyrs by them,” Khoda mused. Actually, Bhat had made the same speech in the assembly of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir five years ago, but this was the first time he spoke this language in Srinagar.

The public squabbling signals dismay among the militants at the failure of S.A.S. Geelani to achieve any results despite spearheading the protests in the Valley throughout the summer of 2010, particularly the tactics of strikes and stone-pelting, in the run-up to the visit of the American President last November. But when Mr Barack Obama failed to utter a word on Kashmir, thanks to deft handling by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the separatists fell into disarray. Other world leaders visiting the capital also took care not to needle India on any score.

Thus, at the same seminar, Bhat charged that Kashmiri politicians started the separatist movement by killing Kashmiri intellectuals. Challenging Geelani’s leadership, he asked, how many hartals will we observe; was there a thought process behind the recent uprising? The Kashmir struggle will never get recognition and support at the international level, he said, and the only option left was for world powers like China and America to mediate. Significantly, he did not mention Pakistan as a deciding force.

Mirwaiz Umer Farooq lamented that the separatists could not capitalize on the Amarnath land row in 2008, or even the five months of agitation last year, while India had successfully changed the discourse and projected the movement as the activity of a handful. The United Nations, Mirwaiz said, was a failure and should be disbanded, and even the Musharraf Formula fell short of Kashmiri aspirations. Yasin Malik agreed that the Kashmiri leaders had failed to project the legitimacy of their cause nationally or internationally; even Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had failed in this respect.

Hurriyat Conference split in September 2003 after Geelani accused Bhat and other moderates of not effectively running the anti-election campaign in the 2002 Assembly polls when he was in jail. He also accused the People’s Conference headed by Bilal and Sajjad Lone of participating in the elections through proxy candidates.

Reacting to Bhat’s exposé, A.G. Lone’s sons dropped broad hints about the identity of the killers. Sajjad, who unsuccessfully contested the 2008 assembly polls, said: “I gave enough indications (about the killer) but stopped short of saying it openly. My problem is with the white collar men who order killings. If they are not stopped, there will be more such killings.” Prior to his murder in May 2002, Lone senior wanted to oust foreign militants from the Valley, while S.A.S. Geelani favoured them.

The bickering among the separatists suggests that men like Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the Lone brothers, and Yasin Malik have virtually accepted the fizzling out of the militancy and may be privately keen to sue for peace with New Delhi. Given India’s rising status, they do not expect UN to deliver an East Timor-type verdict in their favour. They concede Islamabad has no stature to deliver anything either, hence the dismissal of the Musharraf formula – demilitarisation, joint mechanism, shared sovereignty, irrelevant line of control – as an ‘interim arrangement’. Above all, they recognize that Intifada is no solution; it has only left over 100 Kashmiris dead and hundreds injured, with no objective achieved.

Strangely, S.A.S. Geelani has suddenly turned dovish, telling a bemused nation on Jan. 10 that he was holding Kashmiri youth back from picking up the gun. Perhaps this indicates an ebbing of ground support for militancy in the Valley. In the circumstances, the Centre would do well to wind up any half-baked roadmap for azadi.

This article also published at: http://www.vijayvaani.com/FrmPublicDisplayArticle.aspx?id=1589

*The author Ms. Sandhya Jain, is a columnist with The Pioneer, a leading newspaper of Delhi and Editor, www.vijayvaani.com.

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