Differing forms of Kashmiri alienation. A press conference by hard line women's leader Asiya Andrabi, and a common man during last year's street protests
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Apr 11
Kashmir’s moderate separatist leaders, physically targeted over the years by radicals, are launching their own investigation into the killing on April 8 with an explosive device of the respected Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH) chief, Maulvi Showkat Shah.
On Saturday, the state police arrested four suspects in the killing, which they blamed on factional rivalry within the JAH. The moderates, in launching their own investigation, are sending out a message that they would no longer remain silent in the face of sustained attack. Over the past two decades, some of the moderate leaders killed in Kashmir, evidently at the behest of radicals, include Mohammad Farooq in 1990; Qazi Nissar in 1994; Abdul Gani Lone in 2002; Sheikh Abdul Aziz in 2008; and now Showkat Shah. In addition, moderate leader Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi was shot and critically injured in 2009.
Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told Business Standard all the separatist factions would meet here tomorrow to set up an all-party committee to investigate the murder. In a challenge to Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s hard line Tehreek-e-Hurriyat faction, which many Kashmiris are reported to suspect of masterminding the attacks on moderates, he said he expected Geelani’s faction to join the probe.
“If they don’t, then it’s an issue,” said the Mirwaiz.
Geelani had expressed shock over the killing and termed it a loss to the J&K movement.
Added Farooq: “The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is conducting its own probe (into Maulvi Showkat’s killing). The Lashkar-e-Toiba had a function in Islamabad and they said that they would look into it. We, too, are not letting anybody off the hook. We are looking from New Delhi to Islamabad to Srinagar. Everybody is a suspect for us.”
Backing the moderates’ probe is Yasin Malik’s Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the organisation that spearheaded the armed movement for “azadi” until Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence sidelined them by propping up the Hizbul Mujahideen, which backed merger with Pakistan rather than “azadi”. While the JKLF is no longer an influential armed group, it commands significant moral authority with the Kashmiri people.
“We have taken it as a challenge, as an attack on the JKLF, and on me personally as a close associate of Maulvi Showkat. The people of Kashmir, by coming out in large numbers against the killing, have proved the killer a coward. The message was loud and clear. It is a referendum in favour of Showkat,” declares Malik.
Former Hurriyat chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat, who had created ripples in January by suggesting publicly that Kashmiri radicals were behind the killing of moderates, said: “In my opinion, one of us did it. It is for the government to come up with a statement that A did it or B did it, so that the people know who is at the bottom of it.”
Tapping citizen anger
This unusual vocal outrage expressed by moderates appears to draw strength from the spontaneous grief expressed by common Kashmiris, who turned up in tens of thousands at Showkat’s funeral here. “When a civilian is killed by the army or the police, or a government agency, people are on the streets. But when somebody is killed by an unidentified person, they take it in their stride. We have to make people more conscious to killings that are done by ‘black sheep’ or people who are in our own herd,” says Mirwaiz Farooq.
While most people believe the all-party investigation is political tough talk rather than an authentic police-style criminal investigation, locals are still waiting to see if the JAH takes this further. The JAH is a disciplined cadre-based organisation, with a mass membership across Kashmir, many in influential positions. Showkat was a religious fundamentalist in his adherence to the Salafi creed, which harks back to the days of the Prophet, but he was a political moderate, advocating dialogue and negotiation rather than stone pelting and the gun.
According to police and political sources, it was less his stance against violence that led to his assassination, as his growing closeness to the top Saudi Arabian clergy, including the influential head priest of Mecca. The Saudi cleric had recently accepted an invitation to visit Srinagar, abandoning the traditional Saudi reluctance to visit a disputed territory. Sources allege the ISI was worried that diluting this stance would erode Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir, raise Showkat’s status above other Kashmiri religious leaders, including Geelani, and enhance the JAH’s influence.
Already Showkat’s Trans-World University was being funded by the Islamic Development Bank and by donations from Saudi Arabia. He had favoured a broad-based education, with the sciences and liberal arts going hand in hand with study of the Quran.