Mirwaiz, Lone assassinations proved a nemesis for Kashmir’s separatist movement

Insight Online News

By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

New Delhi, May 22: Cleric-politician Mirwaiz Farooq, President of Awami Action Committee (AAC), and the Peoples Conference (PC) founder-president, Abdul Gani Lone, met an identical fate. While Mirwaiz was shot dead in a terror strike at his Nageen residence on May 21, 1990, Lone with two Police guards was gunned down at Srinagars sprawling Eidgah grounds at the end of a commemoration ceremony for Mirwaiz on May 21, 2002.

Both the Kashmiri politicians shared much with each other for decades of their political practice. While Mirwaiz was the National Conference (NC) founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s arch rival in the State’s summer capital, Lone was his bête noire in the Kupwara district of northern Kashmir. Neither of them was a match to Sheikh’s charismatic stature as their influence was limited respectively to the interiors of downtown Srinagar and the Handwara segment of Kupwara.

Bringing the infamous Sher-Bakra strife in Srinagar to an end, the NC President and Sheikh Abdullah’s successor, Farooq Abdullah, made Mirwaiz a part and parcel of an alliance with the NC and the Congress party under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. Lone did not join either the so-called ‘double-Farooq alliance’ or the Jamaat-e-Islami dominated Muslim United Front (MUF). In the 1987 Assembly elections, Mirwaiz got a small share of two seats in Srinagar. Being the alliance candidates, both of his nominees—Mohammad Shafi Khan and Peer Mohammad Shafi—were elected in Srinagar.

In the historic Assembly elections of 1977, Mirwaiz and Lone were part of a large anti-Sheikh, anti-NC alliance forged by the Janata Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Union Minister of External Affairs.

The ailing Sheikh’s NC swept the polls, winning 38 of the 42 segments in Kashmir. The Janata Party had to be content with just two seats. On the Janata Party ticket, Lone was returned from Handwara and Mirwaiz Farooq’s nominee, Abdul Rashid Kabli, from Eidgah, Srinagar.

Unlike Mirwaiz, however, Lone had a longtime tryst with the Congress party. He was declared elected twice as a Congress candidate from Handwara—uncontested in the largely rigged elections in 1967 and in a multi-cornered contest in 1972. With Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, Syed Mir Qasim and GM Sadiq, he played a key role in laying the Congress party’s foundation in Jammu and Kashmir in 1964-72. He also served as a Cabinet Minister in Syed Mir Qasim’s Congress government.

When JKLF’s Maqbool Bhat, convicted for a murder, was executed in Delhi’s Tihar Jail immediately after the Indian diplomat Ravinder Mhatre’s kidnapping and killing in Birmingham in February 1984, the only call for protest and shutdown came from Lone. It was completely ignored by the Kashmiris. Lone was known to be close to Bhat as well as the JKLF founder Amanullah Khan whose daughter, years later, became his daughter-in-law.

The eruption of the militancy in 1989-90 marginalised all the mainstream leaders. Mirwaiz was eliminated before he would emerge as a threat for the JeI-controlled Hizbul Mujahideen and other staunch pro-Pakistan organisations. He assailed Rubaiya Sayeed’s kidnapping and refused to lead the massive Azadi rallies January through May in 1990. Years later in 2004, his brother-in-law, Maulvi Mushtaq, too was shot dead and the Mirwaiz-controlled Islamia School burned down.

Mirwaiz’s successor-son, Umar Farooq, and Lone were among the cream of the valley’s separatist leaders who launched the ‘All-party Hurriyat Conference’ (APHC), an amalgamation of over two dozen separatist political, religious and social organisations in 1993. Once Lone invited Taliban to the ‘Kashmir freedom struggle’ and on another occasion his picture with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa jihadist Mast Gul at Chrar-e-Sharief appeared in the newspapers.

Lone, however, went through a watershed in 2002 when the ISI top brass reportedly smelt him planning participation in the Assembly elections and began arm twisting this separatist stalwart. It has been widely reported that his conversations with the agency officials in Islamabad and Dubai led to the plan of his assassination on the 12th death anniversary of Mirwaiz Farooq. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah reportedly called him more than once and requested him against attending the Mirwaiz remembrance ceremony. He ignored the alerts and lost his life in the crowd of over 10,000 people.

Lone’s son Sajad turned the separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani back from his house and told the journalists that the ISI had executed his father’s assassination. Later he retracted but, according to Geelani, the PC fielded ‘proxy candidates’ in the Assembly elections. One of them, namely Ghulam Mohiuddin Sofi, was inducted as a Minister in Mufti Sayeed’s PDP-Congress government.

Geenali sought ‘action’ against the PC which was ignored by the then APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar. As Sajad’s elder brother Bilal continued to represent the PC in the APHC, Geelani broke away from the conglomerate in protest. It led to Hurriyat’s split in 2003. Years later, Sajad directly participated in the elections. His nominee was defeated in the Lok Sabha elections but Lone and his colleague Bashir Ahmad Dar were returned from Handwara and Kupwara respectively in 2014. Lone was inducted as a Minister in Mufti’s Cabinet from the BJP quota.

All these assassinations, apparently aimed at boosting the hardliners and promoting radicalism, proved counterproductive for the planners. An insider like the two-times Hurriyat chairman Prof Abdul Gani Bhat has candidly admitted that these all were executed “by our own men, not by India”.

For the first time, National Anti-terrorism Day was observed in Jammu and Kashmir on Friday, 21 May, as the senior officers of the Police and civil administration pledged to fight terrorism and violence of all sorts. The day has a particular relevance for J&K. While the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed in a terror attack on 21 May 1991, Mirwaiz and Lone too were killed on the same day in 1990 and 2002, respectively.

(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

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