Major setback for separatists’ pro-Pakistan group in Kashmir

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Sehrai’s death makes Hurriyat (G) headless

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU: Hurriyat Conference’s pro-Pakistan faction has become virtually headless with the death of the 77-year-old Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) ideologue Mohammad Ashraf Khan aka Ashraf Sehrai at Jammu’s Government Medical College Hospital on Wednesday, 5 May 2021.
Separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Sehrai were bosom friends who worked with Jamaat-e-Islami continuously from 1959 to 2003. Both contested elections on JeI’s ticket but Geelani alone became a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, three times-in 1972, 1977 and 1987. With the outbreak of militancy in Kashmir, Geelani was among the four Muslim United Front (MUF) MLAs who resigned in 1989. He was among a number of the pro-gun politicians who were arrested and released in three years. In 1993, Geelani along with other separatists formed the first conglomerate of about 30 organisations and named it as the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC).
The APHC remained monolithic for 10 years but fragmented in 2003 over the issue of the Peoples Conference’s ‘proxy participation’ in the Assembly elections of 2002.
Geelani, representing JeI in the APHC, demanded ‘action’ against the PC while alleging that the party had played infidel to the constitution and fielded ‘proxy candidates’ in the Assembly elections after its founder-chairman Abdul Gani Lone’s assassination in a terror strike at Eidgah, Srinagar. In the APHC, Lone was succeeded by his elder son Bilal Lone.
As the APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq declined to proceed against the PC, Geelani announced his separation. He alongwith Sehrai broke away from JeI and subsequently floated his own organization, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH). With this development, Geelani launched his own faction of the Hurriyat Conference, commonly known as Hurriyat (G).
While Mirwaiz was elected as the chairman of his faction of the Hurriyat Conference and Geelani headed Hurriyat’s pro-Pakistan ensemble, the erstwhile APHC’s key constituents, including Yasin Malik’s Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the JeI and the High Court Bar Association (HCBA) did not join either faction. For 15 years, Geelani operated as the head as well the chairman of the Hurriyat (G).
Even after Geelani and Sehrai quit the JeI, they continued to draw cadre from their old organization, JeI. They drew unflinching support from all the guerrilla organizations declared as outlawed terror groups in in India. Significant support to the duo came from the JeI’s guerrilla arm, Hizbul Mujahideen.
In March 2018, Geelani announced his resignation from the TeH but continued to operate as chairman of the Hurriyat (G). Sehrai was elected as Geelani’s successor in TeH.
Finally, a dramatic development occurred on 28 June 2020 when Geelani announced his resignation from the Hurriyat (G) and released a statement levelling serious charges on the ‘Pakistan-based Kashmiri leadership’. He declared activist Abdullah Gilani as his representative in PoK and Pakistan.
It was around this time that the Pakistani establishment isolated not only its most trusted ace Geelani but also his nominated representative Abdullah Gilani, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin, PoK’s ‘Prime Minister’ Raja Farooq Haider and other Kashmiri activists. The Pakistani establishment managed to install Sehrai as chairman of the Hurriyat (G), over a month after his son Junaid Sehrai was killed along with two other terrorists in an encounter at Nawakadal, Srinagar, in May 2020. In the last two years, 92-year-old Geelani has been completely demobilised to the extent that he has never interacted with media. Even the two-odd statements on his behalf are believed to have been issued by his family under pressure from unknown quarters. Sources close to his family insist that Geelani has been suffering dementia. Political analysts view it all as the end of an era. It is for the first time since 1989, that the pro-Pakistan political camp has become headless. After Geelani and Sehrai, the only possible contenders for this position were Massarat Alam, former HCBA chief Mian Abdul Qayoom and the Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin.
While Salahuddin has been in Pakistan continuously since 1993 and Massarat Alam in jail since May 2015-with no prospects of his release in the near future-Qayoom has completely disassociated from political activity after his release by the Supreme Court of India over an undertaking in August 2020.
With Sehrai’s death and Geelani’s permanent ailment, Hurriyat (G) has become completely defunct. The Pak establishment may manage to declare some Jamaat leader or someone based in PoK as the amalgam’s new chairman but none of them is a match even remotely to Geelani’s and Sehrai’s stature.