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Is Omar Abdullah pandering to separatists?

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: February 14, 2013
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2013/02/is-omar-abdullah-pandering-to-separatists.html

In his anxiety to shield himself from the adverse fallout of the sudden execution of Afzal Guru, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah made a startling confession which raises legitimate questions about the National Conference’s role in the so-called alienation of Kashmiri Muslims (Sunni, not Shia) from the nation.

Ever since Afzal Guru petitioned the President for mercy after his death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, Omar Abdullah kept warning the Centre that hanging the Parliament attack convict “would revive militancy in the State”. In his interactions with the media, Omar repeatedly said Afzal’s hanging could have consequences similar to the 1984 hanging of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat.

Abdullah elaborated that the militancy of the 1980s, which climaxed in the terror against and forced exodus of the miniscule Hindu community in the State at the turn of the decade was triggered by the hanging of Maqbool Bhat in Tihar Jail in Delhi. National Conference leaders are reiterating this on television channels.

It is astonishing that one never finds the party founded by Sheikh Abdullah trying to educate the Kashmiri people about the validity and desirability of accession to India. Instead, in recent years the National Conference has tacitly supported the separatists’ agenda by invoking the Kashmiri psyche to wrest concessions from the Central leadership. There is a competitive shrillness between the two major political parties in this regard.

Bhat was on death row in connection with the murder of a police inspector in the 1960s, but the timing of his hanging followed the kidnapping and murder of Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in Birmingham, UK, in 1984. Bhat had escaped from Srinagar Jail and entered Pakistan where, in 1971 he masterminded the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Lahore. He was arrested by the Pakistani authorities, but released in 1974. He secretly returned to India in 1976 and was caught. His death sentence was still valid.

On February 3, 1984, Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre was kidnapped and murdered by members of the JKLF. The President rejected Bhat’s clemency plea and he was executed on February 11, 1984. His death warrant had been signed by Dr Farooq Abdullah, the then Chief Minister, which is why the current Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stressed that he had not signed Afzal Guru’s death warrant.

But amidst the tension induced by the Afzal hanging, Omar Abdullah made a strange confession: “Maqbool Butt was a name the youth didn’t identify with but now Afzal has become their symbol and they are going to rally around him.”

So all the time the State’s political class projected Maqbool Bhat as the symbol of Kashmiri resistance to India, the leaders knew that the youth did not identify with him. So how was militancy supported and sustained? Was it exclusively foreign-funded?

Maqbool Bhat (February 18, 1938 – February 11, 1984) founded the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front in May 1977, along with Amanullah Khan and Hashim Qureshi. Its stated objective was complete independence from India and Pakistan, and recovery of territory with China. But it was founded in Birmingham, Britain — the paradise of terrorists from third world countries in whose instability the West has an interest.

Political commentators who sneer at late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s repeated warnings of a ‘foreign hand’ meddling in India’s internal affairs must revisit the issue in the context of our experience with Khalistani terrorism (which took her life), LTTE terrorism (which took the life of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi) and Islamic mujahideen (responsible for numerous terror attacks and deaths). In fact, the Government should prepare a White Paper on all terrorist groups operating in the country, including Maoists, with details of foreign links, funding, arms training, and generous access to arms and explosives.

The JKLF engaged in terrorism from 1977 up to 1994. Most of its branches were in British towns and cities, European countries, America and the Gulf. It came to J&K only in 1987. The insurgency peaked in 1989. A notable milestone was the kidnapping of Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter, Rubaiya, who was freed after some JKLF members were released from jail by the VP Singh Government.

But because the JKLF wanted independence, Pakistan sidelined it by getting the State’s Jamaat-e-Islami unit to set up its own militant body, the Hizbul Mujahideen, to promote the idea of merger with Pakistan.

In 1995, Yasin Malik publicly adjured violence as a means of achieving their goals, prompting the PoK-based Amanullah Khan to break away. Thereafter, Malik joined talks with Track-II diplomats, and was one of the famous faces of the Aman ki Asha seminars in New Delhi. This helped him in his criminal cases, most notably the gunning down of four Air Force personnel in Srinagar in 1987.

However, on February 11, 2013, the death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat, Yasin Malik shared a public platform with Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed, who is wanted in India for his role in masterminding the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. Malik, who was in Pakistan on a tourist visa, went on a 24-hour hunger strike to protest the execution of Afzal Guru. This political activity violated his visa provisions, but was unchallenged by Pakistan authorities to New Delhi’s embarrassment.

It now transpires that Yasin Malik has met Hafiz Saeed often, both before the Mumbai attack and after; the last time in December 2012, and now again in February 2013. Given Saeed’s open hostility to India, it is reasonable to ask if Yasin Malik remains committed to a peaceful solution to the problems of the State, particularly the return of the four lakh Hindus driven out of Kashmir. In the past few years, Yasin Malik has been repeating, “We want our Kashmiri Pandit mothers, sisters and brothers to come back. It is their land. They have every right to live in it as we do. Kashmiri Muslims must play a constructive role so that we can restore the culture for which we are famous all over the world.”

Amanullah Khan too figures on the list of 20 most wanted terrorists demanded by the Indian Government from Islamabad after the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.

After the hanging of Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab last month, Yasin Malik sought the Centre’s permission for a 48-hour hunger strike at Jantar Mantar to press for clemency for Afzal Guru and the release of 30 Kashmiri prisoners (read separatists / terrorists) on death row or serving life sentences for the murder of innocents in Jammu & Kashmir before 1994.

They include Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen commander Muhammad Qasim Faktoo, convicted for conspiring in the murder of human rights activist H Wanchoo and JKLF leaders Nazir Ahmad Sheikh and Showkat Ahmad Khan, convicted for the killing of a BSF officer in 1990.

Yasin Malik claims these sentences are contrary to promises made by civil society members from India, the US and the European Union. Yet most Indian citizens are unaware of such mediation by Indian or foreign NGOs, and particularly a political entity like the European Union. Malik contends that those who wantonly killed innocents in Jammu & Kashmir in the 1980s and 1990s were offered a complete amnesty which has been breached. The Prime Minister’s Office should immediately clarify this matter.
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