Strikes, sectarian tension grip Kashmir
5 June 2000
The Asian Age
Srinagar: Even as high-tension prevailed in predominantly Shia areas across the Kashmir Valley over Friday's landmine explosion at a religious congregation near here that killed 11 devotees and wounded many more, including cleric-politician, Maulvi Iftekhar Hussain Ansari, there is broad consensus among the people on the urgent need to probe the incident. Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, who visited the scene of the blast - Khawaja Gund Qasim - and some neighbouring villages on Sunday, only endorsed the demand. While speaking to the angry villagers, Mr Pilot described the incident as 'most unfortunate' but equally blamed the security officials for 'laxity' on their part. He asserted that the assailants apparently have no regard for human life but the government, which has to protect the life and property of its citizens, could not escape responsibility either. He added that since mainstream politicians in Jammu and Kashmir were under constant threat from anti-national and subversive forces, it was the government's utmost duty to ensure that no harm came to them. The incident could have been averted had the security officials gone by the book. Incidentally, Mr Ansari is provided with Z category security. Mr Pilot visited some of the bereaved families to share their grief and, later, on his return here went to see Mr Ansari at his house to inquire about his health. The question that confronted him everywhere was why government has not learn lessons from past incidents similar to the one that nearly killed Mr Ansari. Protest strikes by traders and street demonstrations continued to disrupt normal life in parts of the Valley, with a sizeable Shia population, for the fourth day running on Monday. The strike call, issued by a Shia outfit, evoked an almost total response in these areas but normal life remained unaffected elsewhere on Monday when the fourth day ceremony of the slain Shias was held at Ahmedpora, a few km from the scene of the blast. At places, agitating mobs stoned passing vehicles, forced closure of shops and raised anti-militancy and anti-Pakistan slogans. The police reluctantly intervened. A visit to some of the affected localities revealed strained relations between sections of Muslim residents. Mr Ansari has made repeated pleas for maintaining peace and brotherhood, yet sections of his supporters, joined by all kind of elements, were found only in the mood to settle scores not only with those whom they consider as militant supporters but also with their own neighbours from the Shia sect. The excuse in attacking the Shias lies in their being traditional opponents of the cleric-politician. A Sikh household celebrating a marriage at Hamdanya Colony, Bemina, here also faced their ire. A mob damaged four two-wheelers parked by the guests outside the house of their host. Certain elements are only encouraging the hatred for obvious political reasons. One thing which is, however, clear, is; that Friday's incident, whosoever may be responsible, has drawn the battleline between those supporting the cause of secessionists and those rallying behind mainstream politicians like Mr Ansari. Incidentally, he is a Shia, a fact which will definitely be exploited by vested interests, more so by those who do not want to miss any opportunity to divide Kashmiri opinion on the issue of azadi. The Hurriyat Conference does not seem unaware of the implications. Rather, it appears to be on the defensive. It has not only condemned the blast, which it would not have done had it happened outside a religious congregation and had any other pro-India politician been a target, but also set-up a three-member committee with Aga Syed Hassan, a senior Shia leader from Budgam's Aga household, as its head to probe the incident at Khawaja Gund Qasim. The other team members are Muhammad Yasin Malik of the JKLF and Gulam Muhammad Butt, a special emissary of Kashmir's chief (Sunni) priest Maulvi Omar Farooq. It visited some of the Shia populated areas to urge the residents to maintain peace and Shia-Sunni brotherhood. The Hizbul Mujahideen, which had earlier been quoted in a section of the media as having claimed responsibility for causing the IED blast, has condemned the incident as the 'handiwork of Indian intelligence agencies which are desperate to drive a wedge among the Kashmiri population on one pretext or the other.' As opinion over Friday's incident is divided, the Hezb-ul-Momineen - a Shia-dominated militant outfit - said it does not regret what happened with Mr Ansari. The outfit, as well as Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith), called the cleric-politician a 'traitor.' The Dukhtaran, a fundamentalist women's organisation, has also ridiculed the Hurriyat Conference stand and advised the amalgam not to side with those who ought to be rejected for their 'anti- people, anti-Islam role.' It added, 'The attack on Iftekhar Ansari was not against the religion he belongs to but on someone who is siding with oppressors.'