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Pakistan’s ‘Azadi Train’ depicts Hizb militant Burhan Wani as national hero

A special train organised by state-run Pakistan Railways to create awareness about national heroes and the country’s independence movement features an image of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

world Updated: Aug 19, 2017 00:02 IST
Rezaul H Laskar and Imtiaz Ahmad
Rezaul H Laskar and Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Islamabad
Pakistan,Burhan Wani,Hizbul Mujahideen
Policewomen stand guard beside a poster with the image of slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani which adorns a carriage of the Azadi Train at the time of its inaugural journey in August 2016. (AFP)

At a time when the US has designated the Hizbul Mujahideen a foreign terrorist organisation, a special train that is making its way to cities across Pakistan to mark the country’s 70th independence day depicts slain Hizb commander Burhan Wani as a “national hero”.

The Azadi Train, which was prepared by state-run Pakistan Railways, began its journey from Margala railway station in Islamabad on August 12, when it was flagged off by minister of state for information Marriyum Aurangzeb.

The train, which consists of five art galleries “illustrated with pictures of people who sacrificed their lives during the independence movement”, has so far visited Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore. The train stops at the station in these cities so that people can visit the galleries.

The sacrifices of Pakistan’s armed forces and “Indian aggression in Indian-held Kashmir” have been displayed in the picture galleries, state-run APP news agency reported.

Photos published in the Pakistani media show that at least one coach is dedicated to depicting the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. This coach is emblazoned with the slogans “Save Kashmir save humanity” and “Courageous Kashmiris we are with you” and features a larger-than-life image of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who was killed by security forces a year ago.

Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, including former premier Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, have angered India by referring to Wani as a leader of the “freedom movement” in Kashmir.

People look on as the Azadi Train prepares to start its journey from Margalla railway station in Islamabad at the time of its inaugural run in August 2016. (AFP)

The Azadi Train, which is scheduled to conclude its journey in the port city of Karachi on August 25 after travelling through Balochistan and Sindh provinces, is making its way across Pakistan at a time when the US state department has designated the Hizbul Mujahideen as a foreign terrorist organisation and a specially designated global terrorist group.

The designation, announced on Wednesday, came less than two months after Pakistan-based Hizb chief Syed Salahuddin, was also designated a global terrorist.

On Thursday, Pakistan said it was disappointed by what it described as the “unjustified” decision by the US to designate the Hizbul Mujahideen as a foreign terrorist organisation.

“The designation of individuals or groups supporting the Kashmiri right to self-determination as terrorists is completely unjustified,” foreign ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria told a news briefing in Islamabad.

He reiterated Pakistan’s “moral, diplomatic and political support to Kashmiri people’s struggle”.

The Azadi Train also featured images of Burhan Wani at the time of its inaugural journey in August last year. It coaches also feature images of past prime ministers, including Yousaf Raza Gilani, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Iftikhar Hussain, the officer -in-charge of the Azadi Train, told the media that during its two-day stop in Lahore, hundreds of people visited the cultural floats and galleries. The train is designed to increase awareness about Pakistan’s independence struggle and its special focus this year is on the country’s 70th anniversary.

First Published: Aug 18, 2017 15:42 IST