Kashmiri separatists say they never asked for security, but lack of police protection now leaves them open to mischief
As a punitive action following the deadly Pulwama attack on 14 February, authorities have withdrawn the security cover of some of Kashmir's prominent separatists, including the moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
The government has withdrawn the security cover of four members of the moderate Hurriyat camp
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Gani Bhat, Shabir Shah and Bilal Lone will no longer have police officers guarding them
The decision was made days after the Pulwama terror attack
As a punitive action following the deadly suicide bombing in Pulwama on 14 February, authorities have withdrawn the security cover of some of Kashmir's prominent separatists, including the moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
The move followed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's visit to Srinagar after the terror attack on a CRPF convoy. In a stern message, authorities have asserted that the Indian exchequer will not provide security to those taking money from Pakistan.
On Sunday, two days after Rajnath's visit, Governor Satya Pal Malik's administration ordered the removal of the security cover and other facilities the government provided to separatist leaders, including Mirwaiz, Abdul Gani Bhat, Shabir Shah and Bilal Lone. They are all part of the moderate Hurriyat camp Mirwaiz leads.
Interestingly, no separatist leader from the hard line Hurriyat camp led by Syed Ali Geelani, who advocates the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, has faced such action.
An order issued by the state's home department said the Government of India has decided to "immediately review the wastage of police resources in providing unnecessary security to a large number of non-government persons in the state. This is particularly relevant in the context of security provided to separatists and their sympathisers".
Naming the four separatists, the order states that all security and vehicles provided to them will be withdrawn by Sunday. "No security forces or cover should be provided, under any pretext, to them or any other separatist. If they have any other facilities provided by the government, they are to be withdrawn forthwith," the home department order read.
Although the decision to withdraw the security cover of separatists carries a symbolic message, it is unlikely to have any major impact, with separatists claiming that they had never sought any security cover from the government to begin with. The government had provided Mirwaiz eight security men and two vehicles, and Bhat had five to six guards with two vehicles.
Bilal Lone, brother of the BJP ally and former minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government Sajad Lone, was provided four personal guards with one vehicle, while, according to his Democratic Freedom Party, Shabir Shah, who has been languishing in New Delhi's Tihar jail for over a year, had no security cover.
"He was never provided any security by the government. These are lies spread by the government to create confusion," a spokesperson for Shah's party said.
While the decision to remove the security cover of separatists may play into the 'iron-hand' narrative of the BJP, separatists believe it will "ease our way of life" as the government often enforced curbs like house arrests on them.
"I have participated in a number of public functions, and the presence of security men, instead of giving me a sense of safety, used to terrify me. This decision should have been made a long time ago, but it is better late than never," said one of the separatist leaders whose security cover has been withdrawn.
Furthermore, Mirwaiz said Hurriyat leaders had never asked for security, and it was on the insistence of the government that police personnel were deployed to guard them "due to the so-called threat perception".
"The government and its propagandist anti-Kashmir media repeatedly rakes up the issue of police personnel provided to resistance leadership to politicise the matter, knowing well that it neither has any bearing, nor can it, in any way, change the reality of the lingering Kashmir dispute, or the situation on ground, or our principled stand and outlook regarding its resolution," he tweeted.
However, the decision is likely to increase the concerns of the state and Central governments. Withdrawing the security cover of separatists will make them vulnerable to mischief, which risks worsening the situation in case of an untoward incident involving them.
The killing of two prominent Hurriyat leaders, including Mirwaiz's father, Mohammad Farooq, and Bilal's father, Abdul Gani Lone, had set off massive protests in Kashmir. Although security agencies blame Pakistan-based militant groups for assassinating the two top separatists, Kashmiris still hold India accountable for their murders.
"In case of any tragedy, it is not the militants who will face the blame but the government itself. Withdrawing their security may bolster the 'iron-handed' image of the BJP ahead of the general elections, but the move may backfire if they are harmed," said Professor Noor Baba, who teaches at the Central University of Kashmir.
A senior police officer called the move a "double-edged sword" that has the potential to "cut the enemy's teeth but also the hand that holds it".
"It's a tricky situation because tomorrow, if a lone wolf decides to carry out some sinister attack on them, the State will have to face the consequences. Besides, we used to get real-time information on their movement. Now it will be a bit difficult," the officer explained
Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and government facilities, the advisory said
The leaders charged in the letter that the "hostile attitude" of the party leadership compelled them to resign from all party posts and also trained their guns at state unit chief
The officials said Pahalgam, which serves as the base camp for the annual Amarnath Yatra, recorded a low of minus 4 degrees Celsius, the coldest in Kashmir