Hurriyat chief's son picks up gun. That's a first in Kashmir
Even by Kashmiri standards where more and more youth taking up the gun now hardly attracts any notice, this is unthinkable: for the first time a top separatist leader’s son has joined militancy. Junaid Ashraf Khan, son of Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, the newly appointed chief of separatist oufit Tehreek-i-Hurriyat, went missing on Friday after he left his home at Srinagar’s Baghat area for Friday prayers.
The Family lodged a missing report at the nearby police station. But as has by now become a familiar turn of events, a picture of Khan brandishing a Kalashankov went viral across social media. The picture had his address and his father’s name emblazoned across it. Khan has joined Hizbul Mujahideen, the pro-Pakistan militant outfit.
When contacted, a family member refused to talk, saying they were “too much in shock to say anything about the development”.
“Think about our state of mind,” he said.
Soon after his taking over as the TeH chief, Sehrai had expressed himself against the advent of Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Kashmir, saying the Kashmir cause had nothing to do with any organisation espousing a global agenda.
“Our agenda is simple. We only want Kashmir to be free from Indian occupation. Nothing else,” Sehrai had said in an interview to a local daily. “Daesh and Al-Qaida have nothing to do with our movement and we will never accept them”.
Sehrai had also urged Zakir Musa, chief of Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind, an al-Qaeda affiliate, to shun his extremist ideology. “Zakir Musa is the light of my eyes. He left everything for a sacred cause. But I want to tell him that by moving towards extremism he was doing India a favour,” Sehrai said.
Two days later, his son, an MBA, took up arms and it stunned Kashmir. Security agencies too. Jammu and Kashmir Police Director-General SP Vaid termed the development “unfortunate”. He was quick to urge Sehrai to persuade his son to return and set an example for others to follow.
“I urge Sehrai that since he is in command, he should appeal his son and other local boys wielding guns to return. He should himself take a lead in entering into a dialogue so that youth of Kashmir are saved from the path of violence,” Vaid said.
The development has also set social media talking. The drift of the conversation has largely favoured Khan’s decision, with a minority view expressing concern at the troubling new direction that Kashmir was taking.
“Now no 1 can say huriyat leaders settle their family outside n play with future of others (sic),” posted one user on Facebook while sharing Khan’s picture.
“(Khan’s joining militancy) sets a new bar for #Kashmir separatist leadership. May catapult #Sehrai to a level where his leadership remains undisputed. A possible flip to militancy also (sic),” tweeted another.
”Now what will india counter this with. Situation is literally out of control in kashmir or can we say India has lost kashmir. Axed it's own toes by using policy of iron fist in Kashmir (sic),” tweeted yet another.
The unusual development has cast a renewed spotlight on the trend of the local youth joining militancy. A phenomenon that seemed to have been largely confined to the interiors of the countryside in South Kashmir is now radiating out to the urban centres including Srinagar. The trend is also creeping up the social ladder with the youth which are highly educated and belong to affluent and apparently insulated families also taking the plunge. Sehrai’s is one such family.
A few months ago, Mannan Wani, a PhD student from Aligarh Muslim University, joined Hizbul Mujahideen. Incidentally, Wani hails from Tikipora, Kupwara, Sehrai’s ancestral village.
Sehrai, seen as successor to separatist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani, is unlikely to go against his son’s decision, as doing so will run counter to his long-held political beliefs and that of the ideological stance of Hurriyat G, a powerful hardline secessionist alliance of which TeH is a constituent.
Though a professed votary for a peaceful political movement for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, Hurriyat G has traditionally rationalised the militant struggle as a course of action forced upon the youth by “India’s intransigence”. In his statements, Sehrai has defended the political and militant struggle as essential to the achievement of goal of Azadi.
At the same time, having a son as a militant will substantially boost Sehrai’s moral stature as a separatist leader in Valley. It has, for once, dented the argument that the separatist leaders preached jihad to neighbours’ kids and saved their own.
“Ashraf Sehrai’s son joins Militant ranks, breaking the norm that separatists enjoy ravishly while others die,” tweeted Jibran Asim.
Earlier, it were only the militant leaders from Pakistan who are known to send their children to fight in Kashmir. Among them is the Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur-Rehman Lakhvi and Abdur Rehman Makki, second-in-command in Jamat-u-Dawa headed by Hafiz Saeed.
While Lakhvi’s 20-year-old son Mohammad Qasim was killed way back in 2007 in an encounter in Bandipore area, Makki’s two sons – Abu Musaib and Abu Owaid – were killed in 2017.