After the killing of 45 CRPF personnel in the Pulwama terror attack claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed, security as well as the VIP status has been withdrawn from all the separatist leaders for the first time since 1990 due to outpouring of anger from all over the country. But how did this practice of extending security to separatist leaders begin in the first place?
Back in 1986, the Awami Action Committee (AAC) – founded and headed by cleric-politician Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq – chose to be a constituent of the NC-Congress alliance floated by Farooq Abdullah and then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, despite being the National Conference’s arch rival in Srinagar. This, even after most of the Valley’s opposition groups rallied around the pseudo-separatist Muslim United Front (MUF) instead.
In a historic development, Abdullah had buried NC’s decades-old hatchet with AAC and organised a mammoth reception at Iqpal Park where the three leaders — Rajiv Gandhi, Farooq Abdullah and Mirwaiz Farooq — hugged one another and waved together to announce their grand alliance to an enthusiastic crowd. The Assembly elections of 1987 were held months later.
With two MLAs, AAC served as part the ruling coalition until 19 January 1990, when Abdullah stepped down in protest of Jagmohan’s appointment as Governor.
Living in oblivion for four turbulent months – and discreetly seeking police protection – Mirwaiz Farooq was shot dead at his Nageen residence by a gunman on 21 May 1990. The deaths of nearly 50 mourners in the paramilitary firing on his funeral procession triggered fresh turbulence that led to Jagmohan’s ouster and replacement by Girish Chander Saxena.
‘Green Signal’ to Police Protection
Officers from the Jammu and Kashmir Police approached Mirwaiz Farooq’s lonely son and successor, 17-year-old Umer Farooq, with the offer of police guard and personal security officers (PSOs).
Insiders insist that the family did not accept any security until a ‘green signal’, coupled with an assurance to punish the assassins, came from Pakistan.
By the time around 30 separatist groups formed a conglomerate under the banner of All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993, its maiden Chairman, Mirwaiz Umer, was a well-protected leader. Eventually, his categorisation rose to ‘Z-Plus’, equal to that of a Cabinet Minister, more so when his uncle, Maulvi Mushtaq, was also shot dead by
suspected militants in 2004.
Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, Abdul Gani Lone and some others, who had been detained in 1990, were released in 1993, followed by Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah in 1994.
Yasin Alone Declined Security
Malik alone refused to accept the government’s offer of security. Later, Geelani too abandoned the police protection, though a police posse at the entrance of his residence has been regulating his movement and enforcing orders of his ‘house arrest’.
After the top separatist leaders met then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the union Home Minister LK Advani, several of them were placed in the top ‘Z’ and ‘Y’ categories of security and their residences turned into fortresses. They got bullet-proof and plain vehicles, access control units, frisking staff, PSOs, drivers and
static house-guards from different wings of the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
According to well-placed officials in J&K Police, around 20 separatist leaders and an equal number of their family members, relatives and public relations officers have been categorised as protected persons and provided PSOs, house guards, escort personnel and vehicles by successive governments.
“We strongly objected to extending police protection and other facilities to the one-time terrorists who held top positions in their organisations, but every time we were told that these were the orders from New Delhi. Even the chief ministers seemed to be helpless,” said a retired deputy inspector general of police. He pointed out that even when many such leaders were detained or their houses were raided by NIA, nobody’s security was withdrawn.
Façade of a Quid Pro Quo
“It was always justified with one or the other excuse. Some of the officers claimed that our men would also act as informers. Not one of them did it, as Security and Intelligence are two completely different wings of the Police.”Retired Deputy Inspector General of Police to The Quint
“They were there with permission from across the border. The day someone in Pakistan decided to bump off one of the leaders, it didn’t take long.”
Abdul Gani Lone was gunned down along with two of his PSOs at a massive gathering on 21 May 2002.
If sources in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs are to be believed, one of the Centre’s interlocutors and two former chief ministers exerted pressure earlier this week to ensure that security of certain separatist leaders was not withdrawn. They cautioned that the Valley would be on fire if someone did “mischief” with a separatist leader.
But when TV channels stirred passions and the collective conscience across India felt outraged over the killing of around 45 CRPF men in a suicide attack, New Delhi decided to withdraw security from all the separatists.
The initial statements from the government claimed that the security cover and other facilities had been withdrawn from the five top separatist leaders. However, the authorities looked embarrassed when it was pointed out that Hashim Qureshi, the hijacker of an Indian Airlines plane in 1971, was a bête noire of all separatists.
Soon it was pointed out that there was no security detail with Shabir Shah after he was detained by Enforcement Directorate in 2017.
Ex-Militants Among Protected Separatists
Subsequently, another official release on Wednesday, 20 February, claimed that the security had been reviewed and withdrawn from Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Aga Syed Mosvi, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, Yaseen Malik, Saleem Geelani, Shahid-ul-Islam, Zaffar Akbar Bhat, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, Farooq Ahmed Kichloo, Masroor Abbas Ansari, Aga Syed Abul Hussain, Abdul Gani Shah and Mohammad Musadiq Bhat.
Shahidul Islam, now PRO to Mirwaiz Umer, has been the founder-chief of the militant group Hizbullah while Zaffar Akbar Bhat has served as “Divisional Commander” of Hizbul Mujahideen. Both have been under NIA custody since 2017. They claim to be ‘peacefully struggling’ for Azadi — Kashmir’s separation from India.
“We held an extensive review of the threat perception and categorisation of all the protected persons, which is a routine process. During this meeting, the committee recommended upgrading or downgrading the security detail of these PPs. We noticed that some of them figured in the categories without any threat perception,” a senior Police officer told The Quint.
“Some of them were entitled to two or four PSOs but had managed attachment of 10 to 20 PSOs. Some of them enjoyed government vehicles without entitlement. We have just rationalised it now.”Senior Police Officer to The Quint
The official press release claimed that around 1,000 police personnel and 100 vehicles had been withdrawn from 173 protected persons, including 18 separatist leaders.
Delhi’s White Elephant
In June 2016, BJP’s MLC Ajatshatru Singh claimed on the floor of Legislative Council that the State and the Central governments had spent Rs 560 crore on security and luxuries of the separatist leaders in the previous five years. Sulking over inadequate protection to mainstream leaders, Singh claimed that as many as 950 policemen had
been provided as PSOs to the separatists struggling for Azadi from India.
“From hotel to food to air tickets everything is being paid by the Government of India, while separatists holiday outside the state. On an average, the government spends around Rs 100 crore on the separatists every year. India is the only place in the world where the people seeking separation from it, are also getting funds for their security and travelling.”Ajatshatru Singh, BJP MLC
However in June 2017, the government claimed in reply to MLA Pawan Gupta’s question that not more than Rs 10.88 crore had been spent on security of the separatist leaders. It included salaries of the PSOs worth Rs 10,36,65,824 and cost of the fuel worth Rs 49,70,805.
As per the break-up, the expenditure on different separatist leaders was:
- Aga Syed Hassan Mosavi of Budgam: Rs 1,04,08,103
- Mirwaiz Umer Farooq: Rs 2,67,93,459
- Prof Abdul Gani Bhat: Rs 2,14,53,500
- Molvi Abbas Ansari: Rs 1,05,16,037
- Bilal Gani Lone: 1,65,71,717
- Saleem Geelani: Rs 34,70,031
- Zaffar Akbar Bhat: Rs 47,95,800
- Shahidul Islam: Rs 81,47,600
- Abdul Gani Shah of Kishtwar: Rs 8,74,611
- Aga Syed Abdul Hussain of Budgam: Rs 25,21,000
- Farooq Ahmad Kichloo of Kishtwar: Rs 8,74,611
- Masroor Abbas Ansari: Rs 22,10,160