Saturday, August 19, 2017

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Operation Iron Fist in Kashmir

The arrest of separatists and the charges against them go far beyond managing security. The hints are clear: the Centre won't concede any political ground to hardliners, and, any talk of talks would come later13 Aug 2017 | 12:42 AM[ + read story ]

ON July 24, seven Kashmiri separatist leaders were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for allegedly funding militancy and unrest in Kashmir. It marked a shift in government’s policy to deal with secessionism in Kashmir. It is defined by iron fist with no valet glove.

The arrests followed a series of raids by the NIA that continued for over a month. Apart from active separatist workers, a battery of businessmen is also under scanner within and outside Kashmir, making the crackdown more target-oriented. Only this week the Enforcement Directorate raided a prominent business man of Kashmir.

Such crackdowns — conducted in the past too — related to alleged unlawful activities, in which cases were formally registered for follow-up investigations. But these yielded no results. The general belief among security agencies is that the hawala money has been pumped through cash, trade and funding through Middle East, but nothing has been established conclusively. The NIA probe, however, appears aimed at fixing the separatists and their alleged links to hawala channels.

The police, state intelligence and Central agencies maintain that hawala money has been used to fund street protests, subversive activities, violence and militancy in the state. According to the J&K government, 173 cases of funding have been registered in the state since 2001 till last year.

“Charge-sheets were issued in 90 cases, 45 were under investigation and 23 are awaiting sanction. Nine cases were untraced and six not admitted,” says a senior official. The police require the state home department’s sanction to proceed in the cases under various laws. Some of the cases were:

2011: Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a key aide of hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani was arrested along with three others with alleged hawala money of Rs 21 lakh. The case was later handed to the NIA.

2002: J&K Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik was arrested after his aide was held on way to Srinagar from Nepal along with $100,000. A charge-sheet followed.

2006: Delhi Police slapped charges of funding separatist organizations on a Dubai-based Kashmiri businessman close to Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

These cases have only dragged on. The separatists have called the seizures and arrests as “a campaign of vilification”. Their denial lent some weight when last year Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, in a written response to a question in the state Assembly, denied having received any report about separatist leaders receiving hawala money.

What’s different now?

While the security situation on the ground remains fluid, the NIA has extended its role in targeting the entire separatist spectrum. “The operation is to basically explore a co-relation between funding from Pakistan and Hurriyat as well as militants,” an official privy to NIA investigations said. “The state police have been treating individuals of terrorist organizations invoking section 18 & 20 of UA(P) (Unlawful Activities Prevention) Act and the NIA is targeting organizations as a whole, including their hierarchy (section 38 UA(P) Act,” the officer said. 

This is perhaps the first time section 38 UA(P) has been invoked in the state.

Hot on the money trail in Srinagar, Jammu, Haryana and Delhi, the NIA has tightened its noose and arrested seven Kashmiri separatist leaders for allegedly funding militancy.

The arrested separatists included Altaf Ahmad Shah alias Altaf Funtoosh (Geelani’s son-in-law and in-charge of legal cell in Hurriyat), Ayaz Akbar (Hurriyat spokesman), Raja Mehrajuddin Kalwal (district president of Srinagar for Geelani-led Tehreek-e-Hurriyat), Peer Saifullah (Geelani’s aide), Aftab Hilali Shah alias Shahid-ul-Islam (spokesman for Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat), Nayeem Khan (National Front chairman) and Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karate (head of a JKLF faction). The sleuths have summoned at least over two dozen people for questioning, including Geelani’s sons.

The separatists were arrested in connection with the terror funding case under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging war against Republic of India), 121A (conspiring to commit certain offences against the state) of IPC and sections 13 ( punishment for unlawful activities), 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist act), 18 (punishment for conspirac), 20 (punishment for being a member of terrorist gang or organization), 38 (offence relating to membership of terrorist organization), 39 (offence relating to support given to terrorist organization), 40 (offence of raising funds of Unlawful for a terrorist organization) of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

‘War against India’

The investigations began in the follow-up of a television expose that found Nayeem Khan, Karate and Javed Baba conceding that they received funding from Pakistan to perpetuate secessionist activities in Kashmir. The NIA later registered a case on May 30, against the separatist and secessionist leaders, including the members and cadres of the Hurriyat Conference, who have been acting in connivance with active militants of proscribed organizations Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Dukhtarane Millat, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and other militant organizations. These outfits allegedly raised, received and collected funds through various illegal means, including hawala. Some of the charges relate to funding separatist and terrorist activities, including throwing stones on security forces, burning schools, damaging public property and waging war against India.

J&K former Director General of Police K Rajendra Kumar says NIA is a professional organization and the investigation will definitely have impact on the ground. “They (NIA officials) have all the data and are immune to interference from any quarter. You need to cut the oxygen of funding. Once that is done, you will see an impact on the situation,” he says. “The investigation of funding is a specialist job. The NIA has the logistics to investigate such cases.” 

Separatists, who have termed the crackdown aimed at “defaming them and their movement”, have roped in Kashmiri lawyers to defend their case. While the lawyers may question the jurisdiction of NIA in J&K, the separatist have a tough road ahead. Their shutdown call against the NIA crackdown did not evoke an effective response from the people.

“The NIA crackdown may trouble us, but in the end New Delhi will be a loser. Any further delay in resolving the Kashmir issue will only harm the government,” says a separatist leader.

The crackdown: No one spared, hardliners or moderates

  • Syed Ali Shah Geelani (88): Chairman of the hardline Hurriyat. A staunch pro-Pak leader. The NIA arrested Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Ahmad Shah alias Funtoosh, also the in-charge of legal cell in Hurriyat. NIA has also questioned his two sons. His sons have been allowed to fly back home from Delhi and asked to appear again next week
  • Mirwaiz Omar Farooq (44): Head of moderate faction of Hurriyat. Considered a pro-dialogue separatist leader. The NIA has arrested Aftab Hilali Shah alias Shahid-ul-Islam, a close aide of Mirwaiz and the spokesman for group
  • Nayeem Khan (53): Chairman of National Front that was till recently a constituent of hardline Hurriyat. He was expelled by Hurriyat for “admitting to organize the last year unrest” in a sting operation by a TV channel. Khan along with others were shown conceding their involvement 2016 unrest
  • Farooq Ahmad Dar aka Bitta Karate (44): Head of a faction of JJKLF. In a controversial statement broadcast on the official media, he had admitted to killings of two dozen Kashmir Pandits. He denied killing any Pandit
  • Devender Singh Behal (45): A lawyer is a close aide of Geelani. Behal was very active last year in leading demonstrations in the valley after Burhan Wani’s death. Behal also happens to be chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Social Peace Forum, a constituent of hardline Hurriyat. NIA raided Behal’s house in Jammu
Operation Iron Fist in KashmirNational Investigation Agency officials recently conducted raids in Srinagar involving terror funding from Pakistan. Such raids may cast a long shadow on the possibility of any talks with either Pakistan or the separatists. PTI file
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