Within a week of Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai having taken over as chairman of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, replacing veteran separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, his youngest son, Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, has joined militant ranks.
A 28-year-old postgraduate from Kashmir University, Junaid, didn’t step into his father’s shoes. While Sehrai took the baton of soft separatism, five days later, his son chose to walk the deadly path. The question that everyone seems to be asking is if Mohammad Ashraf stands for resistance through soft separatism, why his son chose to be an armed rebel at a time when government forces have intensified the offensive to neutralise militants.
For a B-school pass out, who understands the fall-outs of picking up the gun must not have been easy, given that security forces killed 213 militants in 2017 alone.
Didn’t Junaid find the pro-freedom leadership in general, and his father in particular, capable of resolving the Kashmir dispute?
Much like what happens in mainstream politics, where the scions of Abdullah and Mufti families prefer to join dynastic professions, why didn’t this young man follow his father?
Well, Junaid joined Hizbul at a time when Geelani quit the chairmanship of the key constituent of Hurriyat Conference.
A news report by Asia Times suggests that Geelani resigned in the wake of threats from Islamic State (IS) supporters.
The IS fears have emerged at a time when Zakir Musa, a Kashmir militant who claims to be al-Qaeda operative, has threatened to behead Hurriyat leaders and hang their heads at the historic Lal Chowk.Geelani’s successor has, however, taken a dangerous stand on the suspected global terror threat in Kashmir. While refuting possible threat from the likes of IS and Al Qaeda, Sehrai hailed Zakir Musa as the “light of my eyes”.
But then, from Musa to Junaid, a section of youth, don’t find Hurriyat inspiring.
A conglomerate of separatist parties, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), was formed in 1993 as a “united political front for the right to self determination of Kashmiris”.
What started as a united front, has proved to be story of more fissures than feats. Within 10 years of its genesis, the Hurriyat formally split into two in 2003.
While moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq bagged Hurriyat (M), hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani constituted his own Hurriyat (G).
Ten years after the first split, the twin Hurriyat groups split further. In 2014, Shabir Shah and Nayeem Khan, both presently lodged in Tihar jail, launched their own version of separatism – Hurriyat (JK).
Muhammad Yasin Malik, on the other hand, after a ceasefire, continued separatism through JKLF.
But during the 2016 unrest, which erupted in the wake of the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the two oldest factions of Hurriyat and JKLF constituted a new political product – the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). But all the constituents of JRL continue of retain their separate identifies.
Amid this chaos in individual, ideological and institutional goals in separatist camps, 25 years have passed but Hurriyat is yet to achieve anything.
The blame for this equally lies on New Delhi’s doors because it has made soft separatism look like a failed ideology that has no achievements to its credit in resolving the Kashmir dispute.
If the Centre was indeed serious about ending armed insurgency, it should have engaged with all moderate versions of separatist sentiments and engage with them for result-oriented dialogue aimed at sustainable peace.
Contrary to this, it is feared Kashmir is going the Syrian way.
In October 2017, soon after his appointment, the Centre-appointed interlocutor for Kashmir and former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, Dineshwar Sharma, said if radicalisation in the Valley picks up, the situation will be similar to Syria.
In fact, New Delhi’s hard stand on Kashmir is actually contributing to strengthen the Syrian fears.
Since soft separatism has failed, the youth feel naturally inclined to pick up guns or stones, because violent unrest, it seems, is the only thing which draws New Delhi’s attention to Kashmir. The unrests of 2010 and 2016 prove just that.
In 2010, after street protests left around 120 dead, the then UPA government appointed three interlocutors to find ways and means to resolve Kashmir but subsequently put their recommendations in cold storage.
The same holds true for 2016. One of worst humanitarian crises, which unfolded, during the longest agitation that year prompted home minister, Rajnath Singh, to visit Kashmir at least thrice, followed by the appointment of Sharma as the new interlocutor.
While street protests have come down, the uneasy calm that pervades the air in Kashmir is no less than a lull that precedes deadly storms. The reduction in the number of youth holding street protests is silently getting replaced by a culture of picking up arms.
And while Hurriyat struggles for existence, youth like Junaid are ready to die.