Afzal Hanging Changes Dynamics Of Kashmir Politics
As expected, Kashmir is boiling after the long awaited hanging of Kashmiri origin terrorist Afzal Guru involved in attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. So far three have been killed and dozens injured in protests from different parts of Kashmir region, however, there has been no reaction in Jammu region. The state government has put the entire valley to curfew, snapping of telephones and internet connections along with a curb on television broadcast and newspaper printing.
Not as surprise to anyone, the entire political spectrum of Kashmir both the mainstream and the separatists’ political groups have supported Afzal Guru, the conspirator of the Parliament attack, sitting on the death sentence for over a decade and some of the reactions of the ruling and those who have ruled the state in past have been bizarre.
First and the foremost, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah keeping an eye on vote bank of Kashmir, from where the party has got the maximum share of votes, said Afzal Guru’s execution “may fuel a feeling of alienation among the Kashmiri youth”. Omar in his repeated media interactions said, “India would have to prove to the world that Guru’s hanging was not a selective execution. You will have to prove to the world that the death penalty is not used selectively. The onus rests on the judiciary and the political leadership to show that this wasn’t a selective execution.”
Political commentators observed that Omar had no alternative but to publicly condemn the hanging since he wanted to project that he was kept in dark about the New Delhi’s “unilateral” decision of hanging Afzal.
It must be mentioned that some media reports have stated that Omar was consulted regarding the hanging ten days back well in advance and he had wished that execution be done in deep winter months and on a weekend.
The hanging has now confronted Omar with a situation where his political and administrative skills have been put to a severe test. He was sitting pretty comfortable for restoring peace in Kashmir in the past two years after the two preceding years of turbulence in 2009 and 2010.
Meanwhile, hundreds of police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed in towns and cities across Kashmir to try to contain unrest sparked by the execution. Afzal Guru, a former fruit merchant, was one of two men sentenced to death for helping to plan the Parliament attack in which seven were killed. Afzal Guru’s mercy appeal was first refused by the Supreme Court and then the Indian President. After Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah questioned the wisdom of executing Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party in the state called India a “banana republic”.
Former home minister of India from 1989 to 1990, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who is locked in competitive politics with the National Conference and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, in a statement, accused New Delhi of a “narrow-minded approach (that) has caused serious setbacks to the peace process”.
Mufti said: “It is no good to regret the inability of the government to deny Afzal’s family a last mandatory meeting with him or deny his body to the family. This reduces Mahatma Gandhi’s country, the world’s largest democracy and a genuine candidate for superpower status, to a banana republic.” A leading political commentator from Jammu stated that the statements and comments of Mufti family are no surprise because as the state goes for elections next year, there are big political stakes involved for the PDP and the track record of party has always reflected its soft approach towards the rebels. Such statements bare the intentions of the PDP that is eyeing to return to power in the next Assembly elections.
“What Mehbooba or her father says after Afzal hanging and their open support for the slain terrorist and his family is a cut out of their vote bank strategy since PDP only has support base in Kashmir and since its inception in 1999 it has always followed the same track and this also helped it come into power in 2001. Meanwhile, Lashkar e-Toiba, which coordinated the Parliament attack in connivance with Jaish-e-Mohd has issued a warning of a revenge attack. The LeT in its message has said that hanging has not ended it all. It said that there will be a revenge attack any time soon on India.
LeT chief, Hafiz Sayed has called for nationwide protests to show solidarity with the conspirator of Indian Parliament attack. No wonder that the statement of rebel group Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman, Yaseen Malik has also condemned the hanging, since he was publicly seen sitting with Hafiz Sayed in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the political bete noire of Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti has said there is a martial law-like situation in Kashmir. She said if Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has not consulted on the execution, it indicates that New Delhi is disempowering the state once again.
Afzal Guru hanging has changed the dynamics of the internal politics in Kashmir. “It is a shameful execution, which should not have happened, but if Omar Abdullah says he was not consulted on execution then New Delhi is disempowering Kashmir once again,” said Mehbooba.
AFZAL GURU EXECUTION POLITICS GALORE
Finally Afzal Guru has been hanged. His execution, though a foregone conclusion and long overdue, was expected to kick up a political storm, which it did. While he was alive and incarcerated, Afzal had faded away from the public memory. In his death, he has been resurrected—larger than life. He is already being compared with Maqbool Bhat, co-founder of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, whose execution in 1984 (incidentally in the month of February and at Tihar Jail) was a precursor to uprising in Kashmir Valley in 1989. Kashmir movement, in its dying moments desperately needs a hero; separatists are trying to install Afzal Guru on that pedestal. Since 1984, much water has flown under the seven bridges of Jhelum in Srinagar and kick-starting a movement of similar intensity and magnitude seems far-fetched. Nevertheless, Afzal’s execution in such a hush-hush manner and with unexplained expediency is bound to create problems for Omar Abdullah-led National Conference-Congress coalition government in the State in the coming summer months.
In India, anything and everything is seen through the political lens. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was incessantly sniping at Congress for delaying the execution of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru, has been outmanoeuvred by Congress by carrying out these two executions in quick succession. A war of words between the two major parties has broken out accusing each other of ineptitude in fighting terror. Party politics always gets the better of national security issues in India. Uninformed spokespersons have been vehemently hurling accusations at each other on electronic media, firming up the prevailing perception that Afzal’s hanging was a political move.
Since Kasab’s hanging in November 2012, the government and the authorities seem to have perfected the art of meticulous planning and keeping the secrets. The timing of Afzal’s execution was carefully selected. The Valley is still in the grips of a cold wave (colloquially called Chillai Khurd). Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Moulvi Umar Farooq were present in Delhi and Yasin Malik was away in Pakistan. Decision to inform Afzal’s family regarding his execution through a letter, which was received two days after his hanging, in this age of information, sounds medieval and shows Central government as insensitive. It is bound to snowball into an issue.
The Valley is under curfew. Except for some sporadic agitations and violence, it has remained peaceful but tense. Separatist leaders Geelani and Umar Farooq have been detained in Delhi. Mainstream parties of Jammu and Kashmir have criticised the execution. The National Conference not wanting its arch rival People’s Democratic Party to seize this opportunity has also criticised the execution and the manner in which it was carried out. Omar Abdullah has demanded that mortal remains of Afzal Guru (buried at Tihar Jail) be returned to his family. The mood of Valley can only be gauged once the curfew is relaxed. In Valley, mass prayers on Friday are a ritual. Thousands of devotees assemble at mosques to offer Namaaz. Separatists seize this opportunity to whip up anti-India sentiments. Nearly all agitations have been launched after Friday prayers. It would be quite worrisome for the State government if the ghosts of Amarnath Land Row-2008 and Stone Pelting Agitation-2010 return to haunt it. It will be a real test for the government and administration to tackle this challenge. The separatists are in no hurry, they will await signals from across the Line of Control (LoC) before calibrating their response. They have entire summer months to plan and launch agitations.
Since the trend of fast-tracking executions has been set by the Congress, all eyes will on Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on how it tackles the cases of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh’s killers who have been on death row for long. The BJP which is a coalition partner with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab has shied away from demanding execution of Beant Singh’s killer Balwant Singh Rajoana and Devinder Singh Bhuller, who carried out Raisina Road car bombing in 1993, because the SAD is opposed to the execution of these two terrorists hailing from Punjab. Similarly, ruling All India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam and other parties of Tamil Nadu are opposing execution of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. Due to political backlash it will be difficult for the MHA to expedite execution in these cases.
Pakistan has been rather guarded in its reactions to Kasab and Afzal Guru’s executions. Pakistan media has also shown maturity in reporting over these two events. Terror groups Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, to which Kasab and Afzal respectively belonged to, have also been silent. It is too early to be satisfied by Pakistan’s response. Degree of infiltration from across the LoC and number of terror incidents in the Valley and rest of the country during summer months will actually indicate how Pakistan or its sponsored terrorist groups have taken these executions. Over the years, Kashmiris have moved on; they are excelling in the field of business, studies and other professions. There may not be large scale protests as apprehended. Unless Pakistan meddles with the situation, situation in the Valley is likely to remain largely peaceful and under control.
Can Kasab and Afzal’s hanging give political mileage to Congress? The Congress is besieged by the accusations of corruption and inefficiency. It desperately needs a breather. The party has at least managed to silence BJP. Security situation, even in the insurgency-affected states, has hardly been a poll plank. In India, elections are won on the basis of religion, caste, region and freebies. Security, good governance and transparency have never been an issue with the people. It is less likely that hanging of Afzal Guru or Kasab will give an added advantage to Congress at the hustings.
It is widely touted in political circles is that with these executions India has broken away from its image of being a ‘soft state’. It is a hyperbole. The sobriquet ‘soft state’ has stuck on us due to years of passivity in tackling terror and crime. To metamorphose this image, India will have to restructure its police forces, modernise its investigation and forensic processes, fast-track its lumbering judicial system, dispense justice without political consideration and most importantly, treat national security as holy cow, not to be politicised for petty gains.
By Col (Retd) U S Rathore
(The author is a Threat and Risk Analyst and Defence and Security Expert)
Referring to the implications of the execution, the PDP chief said, “Maybe this execution may have brought some kind of relief to families who lost their loved ones in Parliament attack, and at the same time it may have also given some brownie points to Congress over BJP in the so-called war against terror, but unfortunately this one action once again created more alienation between people living in the Valley and the rest of the country.”
Trying to score points in her usual rhetoric, Mehbooba said, “I appeal people of India to have mercy on Kashmiri people. We have paid a huge price and given countless sacrifices for peace. This incident has again alienated Kashmiris. People wanted to forget what happened to Maqbool Bhat, 1987 election rigging which forced them to pick the gun. But today you have again made people to remember these incidents.”
The rebel separatist group Hurriyat leaders, some sitting in Pakistan and others detained in Delhi have all expressed solidarity with Afzal and called for four days mourning in Kashmir. Jammu-based parties like the Panthers Party hailed this decision, the Congress—which is part of the ruling coalition along with the National Conference—reacted with caution.
BJP state president Jugal Kishore Sharma said Guru’s hanging was due for several years but the UPA government had unnecessarily delayed it. Sharma also took a dig at Kashmir-based political parties for making statements in support of Guru. He said such utterances will provocate people and result in communal tension, unrest and law and order problem.
A terrorist is a terrorist and he should be treated as a terrorist irrespective of the religion he belongs to or the region he hails from, said another BJP leader Jitendra Singh. “Law has taken its own course,” said Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) spokesman Ravinder Kumar Sharma when asked to comment on Guru’s execution. None of the Kashmir-based newspapers have printed copies for the past four days though, their online editions have been upgraded.
Sources said that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was told that newspapers might publish such news items that could flare up the situation. “After getting the feedback the state government decided to gag the local media,” they added. Following the imposition of indefinite curfew in Kashmir and tense situation on ground, over 80 per cent of tourists have left Kashmir. “As the news of the situation spread, tourists were afraid to visit the Valley. Advance bookings for next two weeks have been cancelled by the tourists,” said president, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Federation (KHARA), Showkat Chowdary.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu