May 25, 2020
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With Us, Or Not At All

Pakistan won't spare Kashmiri nationalists too, as Lone's murder proved, if they opposed the state's merger with it.

With Us, Or Not At All
illustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu
With Us, Or Not At All
As happened after the massacre of Sikhs in Chitsinghpura, no militant organisation has taken credit for the murder of Abdul Ghani Lone, the most highly respected member of the Hurriyat's executive council, in Srinagar on Tuesday. Precisely who had him killed is an open secret in Kashmir. The killers were named by none other than Sajjad Lone, the slain leader's son, who stood before the news cameras and told the world that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence had engineered his father's murder. More tell-tale was the cry of fear that went up from the women, including family, who were sitting behind him as he made the accusation. Sajjad stood his ground, turned and told the women that he would tell the truth no matter what the consequences, but the cameras caught the fear that washed over his face. Today, he too knows that his life hangs, as did his father's for 18 long months, by a thread.

Terror is in fact the leitmotif of everyday life in Kashmir. General Musharraf and his glib foreign office spokesmen miss no occasion to tell an ignorant and uncaring world that Kashmiris live in terror of the Indian security forces which regularly kill innocent civilians and molest their wives and daughters. What he doesn't tell them is that his irregulars—Pakistani jehadis and the Kashmiri Hizbul Mujahideen—have also sought to 'liberate' Kashmiris from the cruel Hindu yoke through brute terror. For 13 years, anyone with influence who has worked towards a goal other than Kashmir's secession from India and merger with Pakistan has become a target for elimination.

The figures maintained (with perhaps a little under-reporting) by the Kashmir and Indian governments tell their own story. Of the over 32,000 people killed between 1989 and the middle of this month, 4,500 were security forces personnel, 14,000 were militants (more than 2,000 of whom were non-Kashmiris) and a little over 3,000 were civilians killed in 'crossfires' between militants and the security forces (often an euphemism for revenge killings by security force members who went berserk after sustaining casualties in an ambush). However, 10,200 were Kashmiri civilians killed by their Pakistan-backed "liberators". Of this, 1,200 were Hindus. The remaining 9,000 were Kashmiri Muslims.

The militants who died had at least taken up arms against the state. But the civilians whom the terrorists killed hadn't even done that. Perhaps a third died because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. But the remaining two-thirds died simply because they did not subscribe to Pakistan's goal for Kashmir.

The largest number, several thousand, were National Conference cadre. In earlier years when the insurgency was in the hands of Kashmiris, they were simply shot. In the past six years, since the "guest militants" and jehadis arrived, they have been tortured, reviled and paraded through their villages before being lynched or beheaded, often in full view of the villagers. Two NC workers were beheaded (a "punishment" favoured by fundamentalist jehadis from Kashmir to Algeria) on the same day that Lone was killed.

NC cadre, and those of other mainstream Indian parties, have been singled out for death because they want Kashmir to remain a part of India. But Pakistan has not spared even Kashmiri nationalists—if they opposed Kashmir's merger with it and opted instead for independence or guaranteed autonomy from India. Lone's assassination is a case in point.

Lone first incurred Pakistan's displeasure in November 2000 when, while in Islamabad for his daughter's wedding, he welcomed the ceasefire announced by Vajpayee and asked Pakistan to stop sending jehadis into Kashmir. Pakistan's displeasure deepened when he returned and took up cudgels publicly against Syed Ali Shah Geelani—who had welcomed the jehadis and called the Kashmiri struggle a religious and not a democratic one.This led to the first explicit threat against Lone's life, one saddling him with police protection for the rest of his days.

Lone's outspokenness and Geelani's almost daily diatribes against him as "New Delhi's man" made him a marked man. Lone was aware of it. In July last year, after a wedding reception for his son Sajjad, he pointed to the half-dozen Kashmiri state policemen lounging at his gate and asked me how long they could protect him against a determined assassination bid. Three subsequent half-hearted attacks on him at his home and on his car, in November, December and January, were probably meant as warning shots across his bows. But Lone couldn't be cowed so easily.

As debate raged on whether the Kashmiri nationalist parties should participate in the coming polls, it became clear that Lone, although keeping a low profile, was in favour of it. This led to the next, more serious threat on his life. In January, an Islamabad-based Kashmiri outfit called the Students Islamic Front warned ten Kashmiri nationalist leaders that if they so much as thought of taking part in the next elections, they would be killed. Among them were all the members of Hurriyat's executive council except the overtly pro-Pakistan Geelani, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, Shabir Shah, and three prominent lawyers closely associated with JKLF and the Awami Action Front. This was echoed by the United Jehad Council from Muzaffarabad the next day. Incidentally, the SIF is known in militant circles in Kashmir as an organisation owned lock, stock and barrel by the ISI.

The final straw was Lone and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq's meeting with Azad Kashmir leader Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan in Dubai and their joint demand that Pakistan stop sending foreign militants to Kashmir. The decision to assassinate Lone on the anniversary of the day 12 years ago when two members of the Hizbul Mujahideen assassinated the Mirwaiz's father Maulvi Farouq, was intended to not only remove Lone from the scene and terrorise other Kashmiri leaders, but as a cold-blooded reminder to the Mirwaiz and his traumatised family that if he did not back away from elections he too would meet his father's fate.
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