Views from Srinagar
MY colleagues in Delhi wonder if the arrest of eight separatist leaders would impact stone-pelting, militant attacks, separatist rallies or the fat militant funerals in strife-afflicted Kashmir.
Or whether the separatist activities would collapse if there is a widespread crackdown against prominent leaders or a choke on foreign funds. Or if they are taken out of equation and made to relax in jails. Or are they jittery.
No doubt the arrests are going to weaken the separatists, importantly the SAS Geelani faction of Hurriyat. Four of its members, including his son-in-law, have been taken in. Till a few weeks ago, Nayeem Khan was a trusted lieutenant of Geelani, but was sacked when he admitted on tape to taking money to cause law and order problems in the Valley. Shahid Ul Islam is a close aide of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Bitta Karate was formerly a militant commander of JKLF who on his release joined a rival faction.
Not only that, the separatists have been castigated over the fresh hawala allegations. On social media, they have been panned, while on the streets, the separatist bandh call to protest these arrests has evoked a feeble response. The Hurriyat is facing its worst crisis after a long time.
While it is true that Hurriyat’s image has suffered a dent, the cause of separatism hasn’t suffered any glitches.
Separatism in Kashmir has a long history and has seen many ups and downs in last eight decades. Before he switched to mainstream, Kashmir’s tallest leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah — Omar Abdulalh’s grandfather — flirted with separatism and amassed a lot of support. His entry into mainstream did help New Delhi ink a few crucial pacts but separatism never got wiped out from the Valley even though the sentiment remained dormant for some time.
Monday’s arrests have surprised and unnerved the Hurriyat leaders. They weren’t expecting their cases to be taken to the logical conclusion where now they face imminent convictions. My friends in Delhi think the Congress-led government gave the Valley separatists a long rope despite having known about the alleged hawala transactions for years. Though UPA, or for that matter, Vajpayee-led NDA gave them a reprieve, they knew very well how to control situation in the Valley through them.
The Valley separatists would now be realising that the Modi government is different and can act even tougher if they don’t fall in line. It is common knowledge that governments before Modi would keep the Hurriyat in loop through back-channels and use them to douse or discipline the Valley’s periodic eruptions.
That formula of staying in touch with separatists as Mehbooba Mufti government has lately realised works very well in Kashmir though Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems averse to such idea.
Her government has been using interlocutors to buy peace in the Valley. The silence by separatists on Goods and Services Tax (GST) — an emotive issue that could have again sparked tension in Kashmir — was ensured through such a backdoor negotiations with one leader who was flown to Delhi on Monday.
Mehbooba was apparently peeved with the Centre for taking the seven separatists to Delhi for the NIA investigations. She had even deputed a top official to convince the government in Delhi not to fly the separatists out of Srinagar. In fact, her government had been talking to few separatists to get a fix on the situation.
Many believe that was the reason why she gave a miss to President’s Ram Nath Kovind’s oath-taking ceremony in Delhi on Tuesday. Sources close to Mehbooba believe she will urge the Centre not to go after separatist “biggies” because there is every possibility that it will again provoke violent street protests, something her government has been battling for 13 months.
While these arrests would impinge the street rage on a short term, the larger picture is that separatism is here to stay — with or without the separatists.
Ditto for stone-pelting, though its intensity will vary on a number of factors like fatigue, policing, weather, a trigger and tipping points. And understandably the sentiment on ground, which is further accentuated by a government missing in action and seen as cruel, callous and uncaring sans any “healing touch”.
Disruption of military operations would continue and people are likely to pour in at militant funerals unless something changes drastically.
The arrests won’t alter the ground situation in the longer run for reasons below. First, it is a myth that the separatists are wholly driving the street rage after the Burhan Wani encounter. Its aftermath was an explosion, a spontaneous reaction by thousands who occupied streets in Kashmir within hours and clashed with forces. The miscalculation by security and intelligence agencies allowed the situation to drift.
It were young boys and girls and not separatists or their cadre who were at the forefront of the 2016 agitation. The unrest prolonged because police and security forces kept shooting, maiming and blinding youth that stoked more violence.
The separatists were themselves surprised by the turn of the events and hardly expected the rage would have such a life and spread. In the last one year, they have been detained at homes or police station — without leading a single major demonstration.
In fact, the massive agitations of 2008, 2010 and 2016, though different yet spontaneous, were also not driven by separatists, but came as people’s cataclysmic response to grant of government land to Amarnath shrine board in 2008 and killing of civilians by Army in a fake encounter in Macchil two years later.
During those agitations too, the separatists were immobilised and it were the protesters who literally dragged them to lead processions. So it was actually people driving the Hurriyat leaders rather than the other way around.