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HindustanTimes Wed,03 Sep 2014

Afzal hanging: Opinions remain divided on the fallout

Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times   February 16, 2013
First Published: 22:08 IST(16/2/2013) | Last Updated: 12:27 IST(17/2/2013)

On the side-lines of the Conference of Governors in Delhi on Feb 12 - a day after Afzal's wife Tabassum was informed by Delhi's Tihar Jail authorities about Feb 9 hanging of her husband for his role in 2001 Parliament attack case - PM Manmohan Singh inquired the home minister about the speed post delay.

Sushilkumar Shinde apparently told the PM that he had only signed the Afzal Guru file and had left the implementation of the execution order to home secretary RK Singh and other officials.

Amidst public outcry over not informing Afzal Guru's family before the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist was hanged, the internal security establishment only followed the Delhi Jail manual in both letter and spirit.

The manual only talks about informing the family of the convict being hanged by government post but does not specify the time.

In spite the social media getting active hours before the death sentence was carried out, Guru was hanged at 8.00am as the manual says that execution should be carried out between 8.00am to 11.00am.

The Parliament attack accused was buried with full religious rights in presence of a Maulvi, jail superintendent and magistrate within the Tihar Jail premises as manual prescribes this procedure apprehending that the body could be used in a procession or demonstration.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/2/17_02_13-metro12.jpg

Fact is that after the political decision to hang Afzal Guru was taken, the Home Ministry and the Army played cards very close to the chest fearing last minute interference from the courts and eruption of violence in the Valley.

State chief minister Omar Abdullah, who had been opposed to Afzal Guru hanging from beginning, again expressed reservations to Shinde when he was informed 12 hours before on Feb 8 evening on account of strong public and political sentiments in the Valley on the issue.

But the Centre was resolute in its decision even as Army and para-military forces were sounded in advance for deployment and the imposition of curfew.

While a special plane air-lifted Omar Abdullah, chief secretary, DGP and other top officials in the wee hours of February 9 to Srinagar to take charge of the situation in the Valley, Delhi Police was officially informed after Guru was hanged with its special cell tasked to detain hardline pro-Pakistan separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who normally spends his winter in Delhi, at his Malviya Nagar flat and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman, Awami Action Committee, of Hurriyat Conference, at his newly purchased Kalkaji flat.

Although Mirwaiz was waiting for his passport to attend OIC meeting in Cairo, both the leaders had been booked on a Srinagar flight after Guru's hanging with the intention of drumming up protests in the Valley.

Caught in a cleft-stick like situation with specter of violence looming in the Valley, Omar Abdullah said the hanging would further alienate the Kashmiris from mainstream India to counter the political charge that he was no different from father Farooq, who was the State chief minister when Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front co-founder Maqbool Bhat was hanged in Tihar Jail on Feb 11, 1984.

In the past week, the Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan based jihadist groups including Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) have tried to place Afzal Guru on the same pedestal as Bhat and have even placed his tombstone next to JKLF leader at Martyr's graveyard in Srinagar.

LeT amir Hafiz Saeed surprised visiting JKLF leader Yasin Malik on a protest hunger strike at Islamabad after hanging with umbrella jihadist organizations like Difa-e-Pakistan Council and United Jihad Council holding condolence meetings for Guru and vowing revenge against India.

Syed Geelani first gave a call for a three day protest to mark Chahrum (fourth day after death), then extended it to last Friday's prayers and then further extended it to this Sunday. While the Centre told Omar that there is a political opportunity in all challenges, it largely ensured that the Valley was largely peaceful due to deft security management through pre-planned curfews, deployments and heavy restraint on the Army and security forces on use of weapons against crowds.

After a Rashtriya Rifles unit in Azadgunj in Baramullah opened fire at a belligerent protest injuring one person on Feb 9, Northern Army commander KT Parnaik and director general military intelligence was taken into confidence to ensure that the first time the Army fires only in the air.

After Ubaid Mushtaq lost his life and two other youth got drowned in a protest melee and clash with CRPF in Watergam, an inquiry was ordered and the State Police ensured that CRPF units kept their weapons in vehicles during a protest and only took them out in worst case scenario.

The message was total restraint and non-lethal bullets. With tankers supplying milk and ambulances on standby in the Valley, the Home Ministry's gamble paid off last week as there were stray protests in Malura Village, Parimpora and Baramullah on the day of Friday prayers.

As the Centre and state plan for next week, opinions are divided in Delhi and Kashmir on how the hanging will play out. Senior government officials in touch with Kashmiri separatists paint a worst case scenario of wide-spread protests, increased violence and militancy as seen in the early 1990s.

"In one stroke the government has wiped out the peace efforts of the past two years. Where was the need to hang Guru when Kashmir could be weaned away from Pakistan and Hurriyat. Every effort of the past has been undone and the Valley is on the boil as average Kashmiri feels that India does not do justice to them. The heartland Muslim empathizes with this thought after innocents were booked in Malegoan, Makkah Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blasts in the past decade," said a senior official associated with New Delhi's Kashmir peace moves with Hurriyat.

The counter-view of Kashmir watchers is that Afzal Guru is no Maqbool Bhat and JKLF is not Masood Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammed.

The tepid statement from Pakistan Government and mainstream political parties on Guru's hanging reveals that Islamabad does not seek confrontation with India at a time when it is focused on getting Afghanistan into its kitty post 2014 US withdrawal.

Also after dabbling with Al Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan, Jaish is no longer a favourite of Pakistani ISI after it was found to be involved in assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 and Karachi Corps Commander in 2004.

The Indian internal security establishment's assessment is that Hurriyat may forge a united front in coming days to come at the forefront of the Valley protests and the Abdullah government may be destabilized through militants' attacks in Valley or in the hinterland.

"If there is no civilian fatality during protests in the coming day on the main separatist demand to bring Afzal  Guru's body to Kashmir, then peace will return but the long term impact of hanging could be internal radicalization and rise of homegrown militancy," said a senior official.

The Home Ministry is banking on the positive sign that Kashmiri youth have by and large not defied curfew as they did in 2008 and 2010 Valley agitations. While India's external intelligence is picking up signs of a terror action from Pak based groups to avenge Guru's death, many feel that Kashmiri youth with pro-azaadi and anti-India sentiment intact aspires for economic growth not violence.

In the past two years, cross-border infiltration has not flared up, more than a million tourists have landed up in the valley each year and only 300 hard core militants are estimated in the valley. If India does not want to alienate the Kashmiri youth, the government must prove in action that law for a Kashmiri convict is no different for any convict on death row from Punjab or Tamil Nadu.

In case, the protests peter down, the Centre must consider confining Armed Forces Special Powers Act only to the border and lift it from the Valley as peace dividend.

New Delhi is already working on empowerment of Panchayats by giving security and honorarium to sarpanches and plans to hold elections to block development councils to involve the political youth in state development.

With Kashmiri youth making to top bracket of Indian cricket and football, Centre should push for more scholarships and camps rather than profiling them for security reasons. Return of violence in Kashmir is not an option now.


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