When on the 8th of April 2011, an IED targeted and killed Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (JAH) president and Islamic scholar Maulvi Showkat Ahmad Shah right at the threshold of the Ahl-e-Hadith mosque in Maisuma, Srinagar, where he was to deliver his Friday sermon; it was a slap on the face of the Jammu and Kashmir police.
The executioners had brazenly fooled an elaborate and highly structured state security and intelligence set-up to pick, track, observe and finally eliminate a high profile target.
The Moulana having been attacked twice before meant that he had a security detail guarding him at all times and one would assume a very current threat perception to his life as well. All the more reason why the attack was as much a direct statement on the reputation of the J and K police as it was about the capacity of the attacker to plan and execute this assassination.
Such was the impact of Moulana Showkat Ahmad Shah's assassination that not just police, but even the militant organisation Hizbul Mujahideen said that it'll carry out its own investigation into the killing.
The Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith also passed a resolution recommending the formation of an All Party Probe Committee to investigate the killing of its president after convening a meeting that was attended by several separatist leaders.
On the 16th of April 2010, just eight days after Moulana Showkat's assassination, the Jammu and Kashmir police claimed to have solved the case indicting the radical religious-political outfit 'Sout-ul-Haq' and terror organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba.
It cited long running inter-group rivalry as the motive. "Members of a radical religious-political outfit namely Sout-ul-Haq and some other radical elements have been found behind the conspiracy.
Moulana Showkat was perceived as one against sectarianism and helping to defuse sectarian clashes. His work in education field, especially trying to get a university from the government was perceived by them as a compromise with the government when they failed to dislodge him through elections, conspiracy was hatched to eliminate him.
"Also his proximity with certain separatist leaders was not liked by them," the police press release on the case said. Three arrests were made and police said that Abdul Ghani Dar alias Abdullah Gazalli and Ashiq Hussain Fakhtoo alias Dar Qasim, presently lodged in central Jail Srinagar plotted to eliminate the Moulana.
Even as Sout and Lashkar denied involvement, the Jamaat made a guarded statement saying it neither 'accepts and nor rejects the police probe.'
Analysts feel that the fact that Jamaat didn't summarily reject the probe is a significant development and is a break from the past. The statement in fact, is seen as a tacit approval of the investigation carried out by the police.
The Jamaat reaction chimes into the outrage expressed by moderate and hard line separatists over the assassination. Even as Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had addressed the sea of mourners at Moulvi Showkat's funeral, the ubiquitous 'Indian agency hand wasn't invoked. The people of Kashmir, by turning out in huge numbers for the funeral, Yasin Malik had said, proved the killer a coward.
Analysts feel that the Moulana was silenced to weaken the political moderates within a fundamentalist Salafi organisation, the larger aim being that of eventual radical takeover of JAH.
However, the radicals who executed the murder did not take the public anger over the killing of a renowned religious scholar into account. The assassination has thus ended up strengthening the moderate voice within the organisation, that boasts cadre strength of more than 1.5 million members across Jammu and Kashmir and a direct control of 1,200 mosques in the state makes it one of strongest religio-political organisation in Kashmir.
The killing might, however, lead to the JAH distancing itself from any direct or indirect involvement from separatist politics. The new guard at the JAH might not end up as close to any separatist outfit or leader as Moulana Showkat was to JKLF chief Yaseen Malik. Malik described the attack on the Moulana as an attack on the JKLF and on him personally since he was a close associate of Maulvi Showkat.
Another outcome of the killing is the newly established but oft missing unity among the moderate separatists. All of them have come together to condemn the killers and demand that the culprits be unmasked.
The police on its part is hoping that the probe into the assignation will end up discrediting the radicals, thereby creating an anti-radical counter sentiment on the streets that might come in handy as it gears up to avoid what's now become a cyclic onset of yet another bloody summer in Kashmir.
The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Raheel Khursheed, an independent journalist and development consultant based in Srinagar.