Tape exposes Mirwaiz-Geelani tension; Tehreek approached Hizb

4 September 2008
The Hindu

Srinagar: Strains among secessionist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir have reached the breaking point in the wake of a wiretap operation which shows that hardline Islamists have been lobbying terrorists for help to intimidate their more moderate counterparts. Tehreek-i-Hurriyat leader Masrat Alam Bhat, the August 21 police wiretap shows, complained to the Hizb ul-Mujahideen’s Pakistan-based chief that efforts to accelerate the pace of anti-India mass mobilisation were being sabotaged by a group of spoilers seeking dialogue with the Union government. Jammu and Kashmir police sources said that a tape of the conversation had been circulated to all top All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders, including its chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. In the tape of the intercepted August 21 conversation, Alam — who was arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir police after a fortnight-long hunt on Thursday — criticises the pro-dialogue group led Mirwaiz Farooq, who he derogatorily refers to as the “bachccha maulvi,” or “baby cleric.” He also names Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, identified sarcastically as “Gandhi,” as another key pro-dialogue spoiler. Some of Alam’s harshest invective is reserved for the APHC’s leading pro-dialogue dove, Abdul Gani Butt. Alam asks the Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief to “take action” against Butt, who he identifies as “tambakoowala.” or “the tobacconist,” in a sardonic reference to his heavy smoking. In the evident belief that Alam is advocating Butt’s assassination, Shah replies that such an action would discredit the Hizb ul-Mujahideen. Alam then clarified that he wanted the Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief to ask Butt’s backers in Pakistan to exert pressure on him. Alam praises two APHC members — People’s League leader Shabbir Shah and Jammu Kashmir National Front chief Nayeem Ahmad Khan — for supporting Geelani and the Tehreek. Later in the conversation, Alam claims that three members of the pro-dialogue faction —Mirwaiz Farooq, Sajjad Lone and Malik — met with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan during his August 19 visit to Srinagar. He also asserts that Lone flew to New Delhi with the NSA. Neither allegation, highly placed government sources said, was true — but illustrates in stark relief the levels of mistrust between the two secessionist groups. Although the APHC has refused to comment on the contents of the tape, informed sources in the secessionist group said that the Alam-Shah conversation had inflamed its leadership. APHC sources said that at a meeting at Mirwaiz Farooq’s Nigeen home on Wednesday an incensed Butt threatened to issue a public letter accusing Pakistan of harbouring terrorists. Bilal Lone, for his part, demanded that Mirwaiz Farooq review the APHC’s alliance with the Tehreek. While the Mirwaiz appears reluctant to make a public break with Geelani, efforts to shape a unified programme of anti-India agitation appear headed towards an impasse. On Wednesday, a meeting of a coordination committee responsible for forging unity between the APHC and Tehreek had released a programme of agitation on behalf of both factions. Secessionist leaders G.M. Hubbi, G.M. Bhat, Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, Shakeel Bakshi and Nahida Pervez called on Jammu and Kashmir residents to participate in a one-hour shutdown after congregational prayers on Friday, and follow this up with a strike on Saturday. Geelani, speaking to journalists on Thursday, rejected the coordination committee’s programme, saying it does not have the hardline group’s consent. He announced that he would offer prayers at the Hazratbal shrine — a long-standing symbolic centre of National Conference authority — on Friday. Tehreek leaders, including Alam, had earlier chosen not to participate in the meeting, saying they feared arrest. In July, Geelani had given a similar call for a march to Hazratbal. Both he and Mirwaiz Farooq were detained before the July 4 march, but several second-rung leaders — including Alam, Shah and Khan — had participated in Friday prayers at Hazratbal. Such public displays of unity have, however, done little to paper over the deep chasm between the two secessionist factions. Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq had signed a unity declaration on June 19, soon after protests began against the allocation of land-use rights to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. But bitter disputes broke out between the two groups after Geelani proclaimed himself the sole leader of the anti-India movement in Jammu and Kashmir at an August 18 rally in Srinagar.