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Separatist Kashmiri leaders live it up in style

Separatist Kashmiri leaders live it up in style

Author: Saleem Pandit
Publication: The Times of India
Date: April 26, 2005

They may clamour for independence and think the Indian state  draconian, one that controls Kashmir through military might . But when  it comes to availing of resources of that state for their personal  security and convenience, separatist leaders in Kashmir are very much  Indian subjects, that too chosen ones who feel they even have a right to  its misuse.

Living in palatial houses in upmarket colonies, protected by security  personnel armed with lethal weapons, driving around  in bullet-proof  cars with a red beacon flashing atop which they are not allowed to use,  theirs is a life which seems at odds with the cause they espouse.

The offices they operate from are no camps that "freedom fighters" would  identify with. Located  in posh residential colonies of Srinagar city,  these were purchased at throwaway prices-remember the mass exodus of  Kashmiri Pandits from the valley-or have been taken on rent. Even the  woman separatist group, Muslim Khawateen Markaz, works from a posh place  like Raj Bagh.

Moderate or radical they may be, but as far as their offices are  concerned, the Hurriyat  factions have the same taste. The moderate  function from a splendid house at Raj Bagh-sources say it was purchased  for anything between Rs. 10  and 14 lakh. Its marketr price today is  closed to Rs, 50 lakh-while Syed Ali Shah Geelani stokes his  fundamentalist fire from a sprawling  structure not very far away.

These leaders may hail from villages in north and south Kashmir, but  today they are part of the urban elite, with residences in Sanatnagar,  Hyderpora, Raj Bagh and Gojibagh in the capital, Syed Ali Shah Geelani's  house at Peer Bagh on Indira Gandhi airport road is conspicuous even  from a distance, as it his party Tehreek-e-Hurriyat's flag fluttering  atop the structure, whose resemblance to the Pakistani flag is no  coincidence. Shabir Shah of the Democratic Freedom Party, who migrated  from Anantnag to Srinagar after the outbreak of militancy, had initially  acquired  two houses in the Rawalpora area-where high court judges,  bureaucrats and top police officials live-selling one of them later.

The Jammu and Kashmir government had in 1988 banned the use of beacon  lights on vehicles as also flags denoting affiliations except for  ministers and the chief secretary. A ban was also imposed on air horns,  besides tinted windows that allowed for less than 70% transparency. A  senior traffic official admitted that the separatist leaders, as also  government officials and legislators, had not taken the rules seriously,  roaming in vehicles  flashing the VIP insignia, red light, flag et al.

Then, the security. Almost all prominent separatists leaders, including  Syed ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz  Umar Farooq, Abdul Gani Bhat, Moulvi  Abbas Ansari, Shabir Shah, Bilal Lone, Sajad Lone and Aga Syed Hussan  have been classified under one or the other security category,  necessitating state cover for them.

On being questioned about the  drain of resources that it entails, Jammu  and Kashmir minister of state for home Abdul Rahman Veeri, said: It is  the responsibility of the government to provide security to the people  in a welfare state like ours," This was done after  the leaders' sought  cover and its category depended on the threat perception in every  individual case.

While Central Reserve police Force personnel guard the two residential  houses of the Lone brothers at Sanatangar, the houses of all other  secessionist leaders are guarded by personnel  of the Kashmir police.

That is not all the security they get Moulvi Abbas Ansari, Bilal Lone,  Sajad Lone and Mirwaiz Umar, who are placed in Z-plus security, also  travel in bullet-proof white ambassadors provided by the government,  said police sources. Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq, chairman of the  moderate Hurriyat Conference, is shadowed by a Gypsy both in the front  and rear when he travels, carrying 10 policemen. His residence near the  Hazratbal shrine is fortified by a platoon (24men) of policemen, who  ensure that even journalists keep away from him.

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