In Kashmir Parties Cross 'forbidden' Territories

10 April 2008

Srinagar: In what is seen to be a breakdown of politico-territorial boundaries in Kashmir, hardline anti-India leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani is addressing a public rally in the former stronghold of counter insurgents backed by Indian army on Friday for the first time since the armed uprising. While the pro-India National Conference held a convention Wednesday in a militant stronghold famously known as Tora Bora in south Kashmir, where the party had not dared to venture for the past 19 years. The chairman of the breakaway faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, is taking his poll boycott into the heart of pro-India counter insurgent bastion, Hajan, Sonawari on Friday. This is probably for the first time that any separatist leader would be holding a function in what used to be the stronghold of the slain counter insurgent commander, Kuka Parray. On its part, the National Conference held a function in the 'Tora Bora' village of Tral after a gap of 19 years in connection with its election campaign. The party had not stepped into the area after April 9, 1997 when militants gunned down its former Assembly member, Muhammad Subhan Bhat, outside his home. In today's function, senior NC leader, Ali Muhammad Sagar, said that his party had always been against militancy and would continue to oppose it. He alleged that some parties had got NC cadres killed through fake militants. Mentioning the Peoples Democratic party by name, Sagar said that PDP chief Mahbooba Mufti had toured Pakistan at the behest of New Delhi. Observers are attaching significance to these rallies which according to them are indicative of the changing security situation in Kashmir. Elections to the State Assembly are due in October this year and security agencies have already launched an offensive against militants. Over a dozen top commanders of Hizbul Mujahedin, the front ranking, Kashmiri militant group, have been either killed or arrested in last one month alone.