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Arrest of separatist leader Masarat Alam in the Kashmir Valley

April 20, 2015

The Kashmir Valley is boiling again after the hardliner separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat’s re-arrest.

Re Arrest of separatist leader Masarat Alam in the Kashmir Valley

Masarat along with Hurriyat Conference chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani was house-arrested on Thursday 16th April and was finally arrested the following day and sent on seven day police remand under various charges of indulging in anti-India activities. The arrest came hours ahead of Geelani’s call for a march to Tral area of Pulwama district, where two youth were killed in an anti-militancy operation on 13th March.

An FIR was registered in Budgaon police station against Geelani, Masarat, as well as Bashir Ahmad Bhat alias Peer Saifullah and other separatist leaders for provocative activities and hoisting Pakistani flag in Hyderpora under sections 13 Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 147 (rioting), 341 (causing injury), 336 (endangering safety of others), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs.50 or more) of RPC.

The arrests have triggered violent protests from Bhat’s supporters and the Hurriyat even called for a Kashmir bandh in an attempt to reassert its relevance after severely losing its clout in recent years.

The likelihood of such a situation was only expected of the former commander of the Hizbullah militant group, Masarat, who has a history of whipping up anti-India sentiments in the Valley in the past?

Old habits die hard. After his dramatic release on March 7, Masarat did what was expected of him – he made anti-India remarks, raised pro-Pakistan slogans and hoisted Pakistani flag as well, at a rally near Srinagar city. Enough to incite and regroup the Pakistan-supported separatist elements, which desperately needed a voice to keep alive their relevance that they were fast losing.

Support to him came from Pakistan’s non-state players and the dreaded terrorist Hafeez Saeed, who still roams freely in Pakistan despite a reward on his head by the U.S.A., missed no opportunity to back Masarat in an attempt to further vitiate the atmosphere in the Valley. In a widely televised interview after Masarat’s arrest, not only did he call for a Jihad in Kashmir, he moved on to foment more trouble by declaring his avowed support to the arrested hardliner – “Hum to Masarat Alam ki awaaz buland karte hain…agar wo goli chalayenge to iska jawaab jihad hai.” Which, loosely translated, means that he would go all out to back Masarat in the Valley, and even launch a jihad if there was any attempt by the Indian government to rein in Masarat’s supporters.

This sounds ominous and given the surcharged atmosphere in the Valley, poses a serious challenge before the state government and security agencies to restore normalcy and pre-empt terror strikes by Saeed’s jihadis. For the first time, the dreaded terrorist who has his base in Lahore revealed he had the constant support of the Pakistani army in his “fight for the cause of the Kashmiris” asserting that “ Kashmiriyon ka haq hai ki unhen azaadi mile (Kashmiris have every right to freedom).

Indeed this seems a desperate push by Pakistan through its non-state players to make the Hurriyat Conference count in Kashmir particularly after the people outrightly rejected the Hurriyat Conference’s call to boycott the recent state assembly elections that saw a large turnout of voters despite the ban call by the Hurriyat Conference.

More than any local support, the Hurriyat Conference is largely a Pakistan tool so as to pursue its Kashmir agenda. Consider that only about seven months ago  in August  last year, the Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul  Basit’s meeting with the Hurriyat leaders on the eve of the foreign secretary-level meet between the two countries had provoked India so much that it had even cancelled the  secretary level talks.
Still, Basit again invited these leaders and also included the just-released Masarat to the list of invitees for the Pakistan Day celebrations in New Delhi on March 23.  Masarat could not attend the function citing ill health. However other separatists such as Hurriyat Conference’s hardline leader Syed Ali Geelani and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik, did attend the function and promptly used the occasion for their anti- India rhetoric.

The Indian minister of state for external affairs, General (retired) VK Singh, who, too, had attended the celebrations as part of an established tradition, later posted a series of five tweets with the hashtags #Duty and #Disgust following his participation in the Pakistan Day function at the Pakistani High Commission, creating a widespread debate over Pakistan’s Kashmir fixation and the perceived role of India’s new ruling dispensation, particularly in the wake of the BJP diluting its earlier stands on Kashmir such as the abrogation of Article 370, to join hands with a ‘Pakistan-friendly’ J&K PDP to form the government in Jammu and Kashmir.

It may be mentioned that Masarat was released by the new BJP-J&K PDP government last month after spending over four years in jail under Public Safety Act. He was released  following the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s decision to free “political prisoners”.

The J&K PDP had justified Masarat’s release on grounds that Clauses 21 and 22 of the Common Minimum Programme for governance with the BJP had laid down the provisions for pursuing “a dialogue process with all the political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference…(so as to) facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders…”

Such a justification was strikingly similar to the Pakistan High Commissioner’s justification of inviting the Hurriyat leaders for a meeting in August that India had protested so vehemently. Basit had then defended his meetings on grounds that Kashmiris “are legitimate stakeholders…”!

Promptly, the Opposition had then taken the Modi government to task for the release of Masarat and Prime Minister Modi made a shocking statement in the Lok Sabha that the union government was “neither consulted nor informed” about the release of Bhat.

Even his party – the Bharatiya Janata Party – a part of the ruling coalition in J&K had then cried foul over Masarat’s release while the J&K PDP referred to the courts’ rulings for Masarat’s release. (There were 27 cases against Masarat and Masarat had claimed he had obtained bail in all the cases from different courts).

Obviously Masarat’s release was dramatic. But his re-arrest was even more dramatic. Ostensibly it was because of the pressure exerted on the state government by the Centre after Masarat waved the Pakistani flag to greet All India Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani on his arrival in Srinagar from Delhi.

That his arrest has now created more trouble puts a question mark over the manner the government handled the entire issue. Indeed,  the Jammu and Kashmir government failed in its impact assessment of Masarat’s re-arrest like it had failed to assess the ramifications of his release.

This does not augur well for peace in J&K. Already, a red-faced BJP faces questions from not just the Opposition benches but even its allies such as the Shiv Sena over its perceived “dubious” role over the Masarat episode.

A General Secretary of the Congress Party, Digvijay Singh, even demanded to know whether Masarat and Geelani were arrested for Sedition or Waging a War against the Nation.

Masarat following his re-arrest claims “there is no change in policy with the change in regime…” But can we trust his words? Obviously, the government both in the Centre as well as in the state has a lot to answer.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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