Three days after the terror attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama district in which 40 security personnel were killed, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Sunday decided to withdraw the security cover of some separatist leaders. It also asked police to review and withdraw the security enjoyed by “other separatists”.
“The government is issuing orders withdrawing all security and any government facilities provided to the separatist leaders — Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Bilal Lone, Hashim Qureshi and Shabir Shah,” said a press release issued by the J&K Directorate of Information and Public Relations. “All security and any vehicles provided to them will stand withdrawn by today evening. No security forces or cover should be provided, under any pretext, to them or any other separatists,” it said.
While the government release named Hashim Qureshi, the Ganga hijacker who returned to Kashmir over a decade ago, the order issued by the state home department didn’t name him. When contacted, Principal Secretary (Home) Shaleen Kabra said he had no information about any order other than the one issued by the state home department. “We have issued only one order, which has four names. I don’t know about any other order issued by the government,” he said. The two top separatist leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, don’t have government security. They were offered security after an attack on Hurriyat leader Fazal Haq Qureshi in 2009, but they turned it down.
While jailed separatist leader Shabir Shah has also been named in the order, police sources said he has not been provided any security by the government. “I don’t understand what they (government) are saying and what they will withdraw. He has not enjoyed any security cover ever, at home or at his office,” Shah’s wife, Dr Bilquees Shah, told The Indian Express. “He was offered security, but he had refused,” she said.
During his visit on Friday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had indicated that the government would take this step. “There are some elements here who take money from Pakistan and ISI. I have told the officers that the security provided to such people should be reviewed,” he had said at a press conference in Srinagar.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, whose father Maulvi Mohammad Farooq was killed by militants in 1990, was the first separatist leader to be given security cover. The other separatist leaders were given security after the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference engaged in dialogue with the Centre in 2004. This had led to the killing of Mirwaiz’s uncle, Maulavi Mushtaq Ahmad, thus forcing the government to offer security. The security was strengthened after militants targeted Mirwaiz’s aide, Fazal Haq Qureshi, in 2009.
“Hurriyat leaders had never asked for it (security). In fact, it was the government that insisted on keeping the personnel, based on what they said was their assessment of threat perception,” Mirwaiz said on Sunday. “I have repeatedly said, from the pulpit of Jamia Masjid, that the government can withdraw it,” he said.
He said the withdrawal of security has no bearing on the Kashmir issue. “In no way will it change the reality of the lingering Kashmir dispute, or the situation on the ground, or our principled stand and outlook regarding its resolution… My political, social and religious activities will continue as usual,” he said.
Besides Mirwaiz, two other leaders of the Hurriyat Conference led by him — Bilal Lone and Abdul Ghani Bhat — will lose their security. The state government had deployed 30 police personnel to guard Mirwaiz and his residence, while six personnel each were deployed for Lone and Bhat. Bilal Lone’s father, Abdul Gani Lone, was killed by militants in 2002.
While only one leader in the Geelani-led Hurriyat, Aga Hassan Budgami, enjoys security cover, his name has not been mentioned in the order. The order also doesn’t name Abass Ansari, his son Masroor Abass and Fazal Haq Qureshi from the Mirwaiz camp.
However, they are also expected to lose their security as the order says that “(Police Headquarters) PHQ will review if there are any other separatists who have government security or facilities and will withdraw these immediately”.
“It is a knee-jerk reaction,” former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti told The Indian Express. “What is the connection of the attack with this? Security is provided after a review and when there is threat perception. Ultimately, Kashmiris have to pay for everything,” she said.
She warned that if anything happens to the separatist leaders, it would have a direct impact on the security situation in the state.
“It makes no sense. It will not change anything,” NC spokesman Aga Roohullah said. “The Narendra Modi government has to answer whether the threat perception (to separatists) has vanished or it is a political move”. Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone refused to comment, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate because his brother’s security has also been withdrawn.
According to a PTI report, J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina welcomed the decision. “The Hurriyat people are the real enemies of the Kashmiris and they are the ones who ruined the Valley. (That) their security has been withdrawn is a welcome step and I would like them to be arrested,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Hashim Qureshi’s son, Junaid Qureshi, earlier tweeted: “My father… has suffered torture at the hands of ISI and spent years in jail in Pakistan. In the wake of reports of withdrawing his security, let it be clear that the dispensation in J&K and Delhi will be responsible if anything untoward happens to him or my family.”
With Hashim Qureshi not being named in the home department’s order, Junaid later tweeted: “Apparently, good sense prevailed and those speaking against violence are not left at the mercy of stooges of Pakistan”.