A shutdown called by Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani to mourn Benazir Bhutto’s assassination received only partial response from Kashmiris on Friday.
Shops stayed closed in Srinagar’s politically volatile areas like Residency Road, Lal Chowk and Batamaloo in the civil lines region. In parts of the old city, clashes broke out between youth and police in Nowhatta. But in south and north Kashmir, the call went almost unheeded.
This ‘indifference’ is in stark contrast to what Kashmir witnessed on April 4, 1979, when Benazir’s father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged by General Zia-ul-Haq.
The Valley then was virtually on the boil and protestors targeted the houses and orchards of Jamaat-e-Islami supporters, who were believed to be close to General Zia. Four persons had died and hundreds were injured in the violence.
“Zulfi was seen as pro Kashmiri and people had emotional attachment with him. He (Bhutto) had once, in his public speech, said he would wage war with India for 1,000 years over Kashmir,” said advocate Mohammad Ashraf Wani.
“But Benazir lacked that credibility with the common Kashmiri. In her stints as Prime Minister of Pakistan, the issue of Kashmir was never a priority.”
A JKLF commander said: “Benazir lodged us in jails when Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan in 1989.” A former militant commander from the Hizbul Mujahideen said: “Had she not been removed from power, she would have closed the Kashmir chapter in the early 90s.”
Although the common people appeared indifferent towards Benazri’s assassination, politicians expressed concern. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq lead special prayers in honour of Benazir after Friday prayers at the Jamia Masjid. Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Shah termed her assassination a “massacre of democracy”.
Benazir’s assassination and its responsibility claimed by the Al Qaeda seems to have spawned worries for security forces in the state where elections will be held next year. Senior police officers rushed to Srinagar on Friday for an emergency meeting.
“Our worries increased manifold after Al Qaeda owned responsibility of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. We are afraid of the spill-over effect, especially when we are stepping into the election year,” said one of the officers.
“This group is highly determined, flush with money and has no shortage of suicide bombers and adept in new ways of causing bloodshed.”
Twice Al-Qaeda has announced that it has set up units in the state. “Now that part needs serious investigation. And we have discussed that point in detail.”