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Dual game in Kashmir: Centre appoints interlocutor, NIA arrests Salahuddin’s son

Riyaz Wani | Updated on: 25 October 2017, 19:22 IST

A development that has raised questions about the seriousness of the centre’s political outreach to Kashmir, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested Syed Shahid Yusuf, the son of Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin, in terror funding case. This comes a day after the government appointed the former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as its new pointsperson on Kashmir.

According to the NIA statement, Yusuf “has been receiving and collecting funds through international wire money transfer from Ajaz Ahmad Bhat @ Ajaz Maqbool Bhat, member of HM”.

Yusuf, a post graduate in agriculture, has been working as Village Agriculture Extension Assistant in J&K Department of Agriculture. Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, according to NIA, is a resident of Solina Payeen in Srinagar, now residing in Saudi Arabia.

The case goes back to 2011 and NIA has already filed two chargesheets against six accused persons. Four of these people including Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, close aide of Syed Ali Geelani, are in judicial custody and are facing trial in NIA’s Special Court. The other two - Ajaz Ahmad Bhat and Mohammad Maqbool Pandit - are absconding. The NIA has issued Red Corner notice against both.

“Shahid Yusuf is one of several Indian contacts of Ajaz Ahmad Bhat has been in telephonic contact to receive the money,” NIA statement says. “After his arrest he (Yusuf) will be produced before the NIA Special Court in New Delhi and will be taken on police remand for further interrogation and investigation”.

However, the arrest has assumed a larger political dimension in the wake of the appointment of Sharma, whose Mission Kashmir hinges on his ability to hold dialogue with the separatists. So far from helping bring them on board, the arrest of Yusuf will further alienate them from the process.

In their statement, the Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, have ignored the appointment of Sharma. Instead, the statement focused on a call for a complete shutdown on October 27, the day on which Indian Army first landed in Kashmir following Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession with India.

"Seventy one years ago, India without any constitutional and moral justifications, forcibly occupied the state of Jammu & Kashmir and since then Indian forces are mercilessly killing innocent and unarmed Kashmiris, vandalising their properties and are involved in sexual assault on women,” the statement said while terming the Maharaja’s accession with India as “controversial, unreliable and undemocratic”.

“Who had given this authority to an individual that a person will decide the future destiny of people of state on his own and that too at an occasion when people stood against him and rebelled against his autocratic rule”.

However, the statement did not have a word about the new interlocutor. Privately, however, the separatist leaders say there was no need for them to respond as the Centre had offered no dialogue to them.

“It is the same old gimmick with vague mandate to create an illusion of engagement between New Delhi and J&K rather than actually do something,” said a Hurriyat leader not wishing to be identified. “And this is being done more under global pressure than to make an honest effort to resolve Kashmir. This is not addressed to us”.

And as far as the continuing NIA arrests of separatist leaders are concerned, the leader said this won’t be a factor in their decision to talk, “a meaningful effort from New Delhi to resolve Kashmir will be”.

“Seventy per cent of the separatist leaders have been arrested in fabricated cases,” said the Hurriyat leader. “And such an approach is hardly conducive to any political process geared to address Kashmir”.

The leader said New Delhi was trying to tarnish the reputation of “Kashmiri resistance leaders”.

“The charges are that we are involved in money-laundering, corruption and building property. This is to hit our credibility,” the leader said. “But people are smart enough to see what is happening around”.

So far, NIA has arrested one top and seven middle-rung separatist leaders. Recently a court in New Delhi extended their judicial custody till November 14.

They are Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Shah and his deputy Naeem Ahmad Khan, whose sting by a television channel where he accepted receiving funds from Pakistan first brought NIA on the scene. Other imprisoned separatists include close aides of Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik.

Altaf Fantoosh is son-in-law of Geelani, Shahidul Islam a spokesman of the Hurriyat faction headed by Mirwaiz and Bashir Ahmad Bhat, a senior leader of the JKLF headed by Malik.

Though NIA had also questioned Geelani’s sons Naeem Geelani and Naseem Geelani, they were subsequently let off.

Now by arresting Yusuf, NIA has also involved Salahuddin, the most influential militant leader.

This has created a paradoxical situation. The Centre wants to talk to Hurriyat but at the same time continues to arrest its leaders. Many Kashmir observers look at the arrests as a ploy to pressure Hurriyat to talk and then release the leaders as a goodwill gesture.

“There were better days in the past to lay hands on SD's (Salahuddin’s) sons. Was it so urgent to come with Delhi's olive branch to separatists/militants?” questioned senior journalist Ahmed Ali Fayaz in a tweet.

And Fayaz then answers his own question: “Is it to keep him under tab and foil SD's possible effort to sabotage to Delhi's political initiative? Or to provoke him for a hard hitting statement?”

First published: 25 October 2017, 19:22 IST