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Masarat Alam’s case: Are the separatists in Kashmir given too much importance?

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By Harshmeet Singh

The ghosts of his decision to release the Kashmiri separatist leader Masarat Alam have come back to haunt the Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The executive orders to set Alam free last month raised many eye-brows. The BJP itself was among the critics of the decision (although the saffron party did hardly anything apart from verbal criticism!). Now in less than 40 days of his release, Alam was today arrested, perhaps raising the question – why was he released at the first place?

Separatists Masarat Alam and Syed Ali Shah Geelani were found raising pro Pakistan (and anti India) slogans at a rally in Srinagar on Wednesday. Organized to welcome Geelani back to the state, the rally saw Pakistani flags being hoisted by the youth attending the rally. The BJP’s response, as in the previous case when Alam was released, was nothing more than verbal criticism. “We are not part of the government to give space to those shouting pro-Pakistan slogans there,” is what BJP’s General Secretary, Ram Madhav had to say. But as the facts stand today, BJP is indeed a part of the same government that gives space to people shouting pro-Pakistan slogans!

Allegedly regarded as the mastermind behind the stone throwing protests in the state in 2010, Alam is seen as the heir apparent to Geelani at the Hurriyat. Denying any wrongdoing, Alam said, “There was a welcome programme for Geelani. Some youth had (Pakistani) flags there. Why should I be held responsible for it?” Despite years of negotiations, the separatists haven’t changed their stance an inch – to ‘free’ the state of Jammu & Kashmir from the Indian ‘rule’.

Who are the separatists anyway?

Pakistan’s reasons behind calling the separatists ‘actual representatives’ of the state are solely based on the latter’s anti-India stand. Frequent meetings between the Pakistani officials and the separatists have also signalled at the growing bonhomie between the two parties over the years. Oblivion to the basic needs of the youth in the valley, the separatists have carried on with their political agenda over the decades. Decades of needless violence along with frequent natural disasters have left the youth furious and disappointed. Increasing literacy among the youth in the state has led to an eroding supporter base for the separatists over the years. Rallies, such as the one on Wednesday, are a ‘show of strength’ by the separatists more than anything else.

Are we treating them too well?

Our ever so hospitable nature towards these separatists hasn’t helped our cause one bit. A number of these separatists are, in fact, provided security on the Government’s expenditure! There have been allegations (from the BJP MLAs themselves!) that the state Government is spending funds worth crores for the security cover, special vehicles and other facilities that are being provided to the separatists.

Such favours from the state Government aren’t surprising at all, considering that the state’s newly sworn Chief Minister thanked them and Pakistan for ‘allowing’ peaceful elections in the valley!

Rajesh Gupta, BJP MLA in the state, said, “I had put a question on the details of security cover of separatist leaders and money spent by the state government on their security annually. But my question was deleted and no answer was given to me,”

Responding to the claims, the Hurriyat spokesperson, Shahid-ul-Islam said, “The government in the recent past has made a false revelation that it is spending crores of rupees for the security of the Hurriyat leaders and that there are a total number of 1476 separatists which come under this category.”

He further added that ‘only’ eight separatists are provided such protection. “It is Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, Maulana Abbas Ansari,  Bilal Gani Lone, Aaga Syed Hassan, Faz Haq Qureshi, Saleem Geeelani and myself,” he said.

The mere speculations of a separate township for Kashmiri Pandits in the state saw the separatists calling for a shutdown in the valley. Such were the protests that the CM had to make a statement in the assembly, saying that there are no such plans in the pipeline.

A Two party conflict or three? 

Pakistan’s insistence towards making Kashmir a three-party conflict is an open secret. India, on the other hand, sticks to the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration signed between the two countries. One of the major outcomes of the Simla agreement was – “Both countries will ‘settle their differences’ by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations”.

Current situation

Masarat Alam and Geelani have been charged under the Ranbir Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their activities during the recent rally. But more than anyone else, they themselves would be aware that any conviction by the judiciary would take years. And with an ever friendly government at the realm, any serious conviction seems a distant reality.

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Pakistan In U.S. Blacklist For Religious Freedom Violations

Russia has increasingly drawn concern in the United States over its treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses

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Pakistan, Religious Freedom
Members and supporters of the Muslim Student Organization (MSO) chant slogans during a protest after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Islamabad, Pakistan. VOA

The United States said Tuesday it has added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, ramping up pressure over its treatment of minorities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had designated Pakistan among “countries of particular concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report, meaning the U.S. government is obliged to exert pressure to end freedom violations.

Pompeo a year earlier had placed Pakistan on a special watch list – a step short of the designation – in what had been seen as a U.S. tactic to press Islamabad into reforms.

Human rights advocates have long voiced worry about the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, including Shiites, Ahmadis and Christians.

Sikh, Religious Freedom
A Sikh pilgrim visits the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

But the timing of the full designation may be jarring as it comes after Pakistan moved to resolve its most high-profile case, with the Supreme Court in October releasing Asia Bibi – a Christian woman on death row for eight years for blasphemy.

The government recently charged a hardline cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, with terrorism and sedition after he led violent protests against Bibi’s acquittal.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression,” he said.

Nine countries remained for another year on the list of Countries of Particular Concern – China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

pakistan,Sikh, Religious Freedom
Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, center, arrives along with her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, second left, brother Atal Yousafzai, left, and the principal of all-boys Swat Cadet College Guli Bagh, during her hometown visit, March 31, 2018. VOA

The United States removed one country from the list – Uzbekistan– but kept it on the watch list.

Pompeo also put on the watch list Russia, adding another item of contention to the relationship between the two powers.

Also Read: The Hindu Temple of Gulyana and Sikh Samadhi in Pakistan

Russia has increasingly drawn concern in the United States over its treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the heterodox Christian group known for proselytization.

Also on the watch list was the Comoros, the Indian Ocean archipelago that is almost exclusively Sunni Muslim. (VOA)