Days after the Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Sunday decided to withdraw security given to five top separatist leaders in the Valley. Accordingly, the security detail and vehicles provided to them were to be removed by Sunday evening.
Here is a look a who these five are:
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. He is the son of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, one of the strongest voices behind the plebiscite demand in the Valley. Apart from being well known as a moderate, Farooq is also the ‘Mirwaiz’ of Kashmir, a unique religious title akin to being head priest of the Valley which makes him an important spiritual leader by Kashmiri Muslims.
Earlier this year, Farooq was contacted by the Pakistan government’s foreign ministry to discuss efforts being made by the latter “to highlight the gross human rights violations” in Jammu and Kashmir. The move was considered rather unusual by the state’s administration. A few days later, the Hurriyat leader was put under house arrest ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the state.
Following reports of harassment faced by Kashmiris in Jammu and other parts of India, Farooq tweeted out a note of condemnation. “Deeply distressed by reports of continued attacks on Kashmiris in Jammu and other places by communal goons let loose. Those in charge are obliged to ensure the safety and security of Kashmiris is not compromised with at a time when anti-Kashmir rhetoric has been ratcheted up,” he wrote.
Abdul Gani Bhat
A former professor of Persian in J&K, Bhat is a senior leader of the Muslim Conference which is part of the Hurriyat. In the past decade, Bhat has on several occasions been accused of going against the separatist narrative in the Valley.
In 2011, at a seminar organised in memory of Abdul Ahad Wani, Bhat had shocked many when he stated, that Wani, Maulvi Farooq and Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone were not murdered by “the army or the police but their own people”. Soon after he was criticised by several Hurriyat leaders and was branded an ‘Indian agent’ by Dukhtaran-i-Millat, a women’s separatist outfit.
In December 2017, Bhat had broken ranks with his Hurriyat colleagues to meet meet Dineshwar Sharma, the Centre’s Special Representative on Jammu Kashmir. “Dialogue is the only effective and civilised way of addressing issues bedeviling relations between nations or peoples,” he had said.
A senior separatist leader, Bilal Lone represents the ‘Peoples Independent Movement’ in the Hurriyat Conference. He is the son of separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone who was assassinated in 2002 and the elder brother of BJP ally Sajjad Lone. The two brothers fell out after their father’s assassination. While Bilal continued with the Hurriyat, Sajjad joined mainstream politics.
Earlier this year, Lone changed the name of his party from ‘Peoples Conference’ to ‘Peoples Independent Movement’ in order to avoid confusion with the ideology of his brother’s party that also goes by the same name. Speaking to The Indian Express, Bilal said he will “permanently stay in pro-freedom politics” because that is “the right path” and “the true legacy of his late father Abdul Gani Lone”.
Hashim Qureshi was one of the founding members of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and is now chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party (JKDLP). Qureshi was 17 when he carried out the 1971 hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane named Ganga, enroute from Srinagar to Jammu. Despite being lauded first as heroes, he was tried by a special court in Pakistan and imprisoned. Qureshi was released in 1980 and about a decade later he founded the JKDLP. He returned to India in 2000.
An ardent follower of the philosophies of Gandhi, Luther and Mandela, Qureshi believes that freedom for Kashmir must be achieved through non-violent means.
Shabir Shah is founder and member of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party. Shah has spent more than 30 years of his life in jail. He was arrested for the first time in 1968 when he was 14 for having organised a student demonstration demanding self-determination for the people of Kashmir.
In September 2017, he was arrested in a case of alleged terror funding. The Enforcement Directorate also accused Shah of having been in touch with Pakistan-based terrorist Hafiz Saeed.