Government cracks down on separatists in Jammu and Kashmir, 150 held

Updated on Feb 23, 2019 11:19 PM IST

Jammu and Kashmir police cracked down hard on separatist groups, especially the Jamaat –e-Islami, arresting its local chief Abdul Hamid Fayaz and 150 other activists, as the central government reinforced the strength of paramilitary forces in the state on Saturday, days after the deadly Pulwama attack.

Image for representation.(PTI file photo)
Image for representation.(PTI file photo)
Hindustan Times, Srinagar/ New Delhi | ByMir Ehsan and Sudhi Ranjan Sen

Jammu and Kashmir police cracked down hard on separatist groups, especially the Jamaat –e-Islami, arresting its local chief Abdul Hamid Fayaz and 150 other activists, as the central government reinforced the strength of paramilitary forces in the state on Saturday, days after the deadly Pulwama attack. As night fell, Jammu and Kashmir appeared to be poised on the edge.

Raids on the separatist groups, which led to a shutdown strike in parts of Srinagar, began late Friday when the police, backed by the army, started arresting their members in central, north and south Kashmir, officers in the police and security agencies said. Some separatist leaders couldn’t be located either in their homes or offices and escaped arrest. Among those detained was Yasin Malik, leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, the officers said.

Residents of Srinagar spent Friday night under the drone of fighter jets and helicopters as the raids continued and no official word was forthcoming on what was afoot. Following the Pulwama suicide car bombing on February 14 that left 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers dead — an attack that India has accused Pakistan of masterminding — some residents speculated about a possible escalation of tension between the subcontinental neighbours.

Former civil servant Shah Faesal, who resigned last month, tweeted about the unease the situation had given rise to. “Prime Minister@narendramodi,” he tweeted. “We haven’t slept last night and we don’t know whether we will wake up alive tomorrow. People are avoiding movement and hoarding essential items; it is a doomsday feeling. Can somebody tell us what is happening here. Kashmir wants peace.”

J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik told HT late on Saturday that people did not need to panic as troops were being brought to Valley as part of elections as special team of Election Commission is visiting Kashmir in next few days.

However, by afternoon queues started forming outside petrol pumps as people tried to stock up on fuel.

“There is panic among people that something is going to happen so people are stocking petrol and diesel; the sale is different from routine days,’’ said Arshid Khan, a salesman at a petrol pump in the Dalgate neighbourhood.

As queues at pumps lengthened, the government asked oil companies in Jammu and Kashmir to limit fuel sales to civilians. Senior officials in the Jammu and Kashmir administration said the reason was that fuel trucks hadn’t reached the valley because the Jammu -Srinagar highway wasn’t fully operational because of bad weather and landslides.

“Fuel was borrowed from the forces, we need to replenish their stocks,” one official said. The divisional administration said the fuel rationing order would be withdrawn after public stocks are replenished.

The arrests of separatists were ordered after series of high-level security meetings in Srinagar chaired by the J&K chief secretary and senior police officers in past few days. The Centre is also planning to ban the Jamaat-e- Islami in the coming days, people aware of the plan said on condition of anonymity.

Also read | Centre moves 100 companies of paramilitary forces to Srinagar amid massive crackdown

Security reinforcements

The Centre was also despatching an additional 100 companies of paramilitary forces, or around 10,000 men, to the Kashmir valley, ostensibly ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The reinforcements — around 12 companies — arrived on special planes at the technical airport on the outskirts of the city in the afternoon, the officers cited above said. The reinforcement were from the CRPF and the Border Security Force (BSF), whose men will be deployed in Srinagar and other parts of the Valley for the first time in 14 years.

The Kashmir administration deployed the BSF in Srinagar to guard critical installations — commonly referred to as “static duty” by the security establishment. Apart from the BSF, additional troops of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) will be deployed as well.

In an order on Friday, the Jammu and Kashmir Police said the BSF and ITBP troops will be deployed “to strengthen the law and order grid presently available in Kashmir Zone, BSF/ITBP coys (companies, each comprising about 100-120 soldiers) shall take over the static guard duties of CRPF deployed in Kashmir Zone.”

The BSF and ITBP troops will take over static duties from the CRPF in as many as 16 places in the valley, senior officers in J&K police said. “The CRPF is one of the lead counter-terror forces, working closely with the Indian Army and the Jammu and Kashmir Police. They are freed from static, guard duties for counter-terror operations,” a senior home ministry official said, explaining the decision.

The Jamaat-e-Islami termed the moves a “well-designed conspiracy to pave way for further uncertainty in the region”.

“During the intervening night of 22-23 February, 2019 police and other forces...launched mass arrest drive and raided many houses in the Valley wherein dozens of central and district level leaders have been arrested,” the group said in a statement.

A dossier is being prepared on the activities of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a senior government official who did not want to be named said.

Turning up the heat

There are strong indications the government is considering banning the group under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The group was banned for a spell in the 1990s as well. The decision to ban the group again will be taken at the “highest level,” the official cited above said.

The crackdown on the Jamaat-e- Islami is aimed at throttling the network of over-ground workers of terror groups, a second senior official said.Security agencies had flagged connections between Jammat-e-Islami cadre and terror groups.

And, many of the shutdown strikes, or bandhs, called by separatist leaders are enforced by the cadre of the Jamaat-e-Islami. In the initial days of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, the Hizbul Mujahedeen militant group was considered to be the military arm of the Jamaat –e-Islami’s Jammu and Kashmir unit. The group later disassociated itself from the Hizb.

Also read | Supreme Court says prevent attacks against Kashmiri people

“It behaves like a politico-religious group,” a third senior officer in the security establishment said, and added, “its (Jamaat-e-Islami) preachings aren’t in sync with a democratic system of governance.”

The arrest of separatist leaders and deployment of fresh troops gave rise to speculation among some residents of the Valley that the measures are linked to petitions against Article 35A that are expected to come up for hearing next week in the Supreme Court, or a prelude to heightened tension between India and Pakistan following the Pulwama attack.

Article 35A gives special rights to the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir and disallows people from outside the state from buying or owning immovable property, or settling permanently or availing themselves of any state-sponsored scholarship schemes.

After the Pulwama attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he has given India’s armed forces a free hand to avenge the attack at a time and place of their choosing. A military spokeswoman for Pakistan, which has denied involvement, said on Friday that the country’s armed forces were ready to respond to any Indian action.

The police and the J&K administration have not commented on the raids and arrests on record. Some officials claimed that the deployment was linked to likely elections. India is due to hold general elections in the coming months. J&K has been without an elected government since June 2018 when chief minister Mehbooba Mufti resigned after her Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost the support of coalition partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Those detained in the crackdown include Jamaat-e-Islami spokesperson Zahid Ali, Ghulam Qadir Lone (former secretary general) and dozens more, the group said, besides its Kashmir chief.

Political reactions

Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti criticised the arrests. ‘’In the past 24 hours, Hurriyat leaders & workers of Jamaat organisation have been arrested. Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in J&K. Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas.’’ she tweeted.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organisation of separatist organisations, described the arrests as illegal and coercive. “Strongly Condemn the nocturnal crackdown on Jamat e Islami leadership and cadres and the arrest of Yasin Malik. Such illegal and coercive measures against Kashmiri’s are futile and will not change realities on ground. Force and intimidation will only worsen the situation,” he wrote on Twitter.

Even Sajjad Lone, chairman of the People’s Conference, an ally of the BJP, criticized the arrests. “Gov seems to be on an arrest spree. Just a word of caution. Large scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a tried tested and failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,’’ Lone wrote on Twitter.

Earlier this week, the government withdrew the security cover of separatist leaders in Kashmir and also downgraded security for some mainstream parties. As news spread about detentions, a spontaneous strike was observed in Lal Chowk, in the city centre, and adjoining areas and in the old quarters of Srinagar.

Clashes also erupted in South Kashmir’s Anantnag town and in north Kashmir’s Bandipore town.

The National Conference took out a protest march from party headquarters that was led by general secretary Ali Mohammad Sager. The marchers chanted slogans against the alleged harassment of Kashmiri students and traders outside the state following the Pulwama attack and vowed to defend Article 35A.

In his first remarks on the harassment, Modi urged citizens to ensure Kashmiris are safe. “Our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiris,” he said at an election rally in Rajasthan’s Tonk.

Also read | Time to test Pathan’s words: PM Modi on Imran Khan’s promise

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