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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sensing ‘mischief’ by Mir, Ansari, Govt deputes Kamaal to defuse crisis
Tension begins to recede on day 3 of curfew in Pattan villages

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 27: Taking cognizance of the resentment against Minister of Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir, among the Shias and against the Shia cleric-politician, Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, among the Sunnis, Omar Abdullah-led coalition government has deputed senior National Conference (NC) leader and former MLA of Tangmarg, Dr Mustafa Kamaal, to defuse the sectarian strife in over two dozen villages in Pattan-Magam belt of Central Kashmir. Ansari’s brother, Maulvi Abid Ansari, and Dr Kamaal today visited Shia and Sunni villages respectively with the administration’s facilitation amid curfew in the worst affected locality and reports said that tension began to recede by late this evening.

Authoritative sources revealed to Early Times that mass resentment against Minister of Agriculture and MLA of Tangmarg, Ghulam Hassan Mir, in Shia-populated villages and against the Shia cleric-politician and PDP’s MLA of Pattan, Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, in the Sunni-populated villages, today forced the coalition government to depute senior NC leader and former MLA of Tangmarg, Dr Sheikh Mustafa Kamaal, to defuse the sectarian tension in over two dozen villages in Pattan-Magam belt. Dr Kamaal, who now happens to be NC’s MLA of Hazratbal (Srinagar), visited the worst affected Sunni village of Kongamdara. He was accompanied by DC Baramulla, Bashir Ahmed Bhat, and SSP Baramulla, Shakil Baig. Nucleus of the sectarian conflict, Kongamdara and adjoining villages were reeling under curfew on the third consecutive day after hostile crowds clashed, caused injuries to about 50 persons and torched over 40 residential and commercial structures.

On the other hand, J&K Shia Association President Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari’s brother, Maulvi Abid Hussain Ansari, visited the Shia-dominated Hagarpora village, adjacent to Kongamdara. In view of tremendous resentment against DC Baramulla, SDPO and SHO of Pattan, Government had directed DC Budgam, Mohammad Rafi, and SSP Budgam, Aftab Ahmed Kakroo, to escort Abid Ansari and facilitate his interaction with members of the Shia community even as the area falls under Revenue and Police district of Baramulla.

Sources said that after visiting the devastated shops, Dr Kamaal interacted with residents of Kongamdara who listened to him patiently.

“I urged the people of Kongamdara to restore the centuries old atmosphere of sectarian harmony and brotherhood with their Shia neighbours and cautioned them that their common enemy could exploit such a chaotic situation to the hilt. They complained that the men responsible for creating the sectarian tension and burning of properties had been identified but they had been roaming about freely. According to them, Police have arrested innocent people but not laid its hand on the real culprits. We assured them necessary legal action but only after restoration of peace and tranquility”, Dr Kamaal told Early Times. He said that the residents demanded establishment of a Police Division at Kongamdara. “DC Baramulla assured them that it would be set up in due course of time”, he said.

Dr Kamaal added that the District administration distributed tents and blankets among the strife sufferers and began arrangements of providing them 40 Kg of free ration for the next one month. He said that he himself and DC Baramulla also assured the residents that appropriate compensation would be paid not only to those whose houses and shops had been destroyed but also to all the critically wounded people of both the sects. Yet another assurance was that all the innocent detainees would be set free as soon as possible. He said that the process of constituting the peace coordination committees in the affected villages had begun. In a few days, he said, Government would facilitate meeting of the peace committees of both the sects and a permanent solution would be found to the dispute over naming of the market.

As already reported, Shias of Hagarpora have named the market square as “Imam Khomeini Chowk” after their spiritual leader Ayatullah Khomeini. Sunnis of adjacent Kongamdara insist to call it Kongamdara Chowk. Transfer of DC and SSP of Baramulla at a crucial time and their replacement by the officials who had neither knowledge nor understanding of the urgency of resolving the dispute, led to a major clash between the two sects last week.

Sources said that in absence of his elder brother Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, who is reportedly in Syria, Maulvi Abid Ansari interacted with the conflict victims at Hagarpora and adjoining villages. Like in Kongamdara, District Administration of Budgam and Budgam Police distributed relief among the affected people at Hagarpora. It was not immediately clear whether any relief had reached the worst affected Shia villages of Ahmedpora, Maharajpora and Tantraypora. Residents of Hagarpora said that a number of Ansari’s followers shouted pro-India and pro-Army slogans. They were highly critical of Pattan Police and all praise for Police Station Magam.

Sources said that there was tremendous resentment against Pattan Police in Maharajpora village as Police had allegedly arrested and detained one Ghulam Rasool Malla S/o Kareem Malla whose residential house has been torched by rioters. Malla’s three young daughters, widowed sister and aged mother have been living literally under sky as the family head has been detained by Pattan Police and his house has been completely ransacked and destroyed in fire. Residents also complained that fire tenders reached only after “all 25 residential houses” in Maharajpora village had gutted completely. They said that they made frantic calls to Director General of Fire Services and his subordinate officials who expressed their helplessness.

Reports said that rioters today made at least three attempts to loot and torch the properties at Goom Ahmedpora, Nooripora and even at distant Watamagam. However, Police and security forces swung into action and foiled their attempts. Officials contested a news agency’s report and asserted that the two sawmills at Kongamdara-Hagarpora had gutted three days ago. They claimed that no incident of clash or torching of properties had occurred anywhere in the last two days.

Sources said that Government had reports how close associates of Ghulam Hassan Mir and Mr Ansari, who have been arch rivals, have subscribed to increasing the tension and turning a minor local issue into a major clash, unprecedented in Valley. Three of the Cabinet Ministers---Minister of Agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir, Minister of Rural Development, Ali Mohammad Sagar, and Minister of Animal Husbandry, Aga Syed Ruhullah, besides Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s Advisor, Mubarak Gul, had visited the site of gutted shops at Kongamdara crossing but returned to Srinagar without meeting people in the villages under curfew.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Ministers visit burning Pattan but no interface with people
Inflammatory speeches made for Police audience amid ‘curfew’ in 30 villages


SRINAGAR, Feb 26: Three of the Cabinet Ministers and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s Advisor, Mubarak Gul, today visited a spot in the disturbed Pattan area but they returned to the Capital city without arranging any interaction with representatives of the two warring sects. Notwithstanding the visit of senior government functionaries, at least two residential houses were ransacked and set on fire and speakers made inflammatory speeches at a mosque amid curfew in nearly 30 villages in Pattan-Magam belt.

On Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s direction, Minister of Rural Development, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Minister of Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir, Minister of Animal Husbandry, Aga Ruhullah, and Chief Minister’s Advisor, Mubarak Gul, today visited the flashpoint between Kongamdara and Ahmedpora villages and received an official briefing of the sequence of yesterday’s sectarian clash. Informed sources said that DGP, Kuldeep Khoda, IGP Kashmir, Farooq Ahmed, Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Naseem Lankar, told the visiting officers that the situation was “tense but under control”. According to them, it was reassuring that no untoward incident or violation of curfew restrictions had taken place since last evening.

Sources said that the Ministers wound up their tour in just 15 minutes and returned to the Capital city without arranging any meeting with representatives of the warring sects. Residents of the worst affected Ahmedpora, Kongamdara, Hagarpora, Maharajpora and Tantraypora complained to Early Times that they requested the Ministers on mobile phones to visit all the five disturbed villages and constitute peace coordination committees for early resolution of the sectarian crisis but none of them did inspite of “half-hearted assurances”. Residents of Ahmedpora complained that within 10 minutes of the Ministers’ departure, a thin group of ruffians trooped into their village in brazen violation of curfew and ransacked the residential houses of one Syed Ali and Syed Hussain. They said that Syed Ali’s house was set on fire in presence of Police which was later extinguished by his fellow villagers.

Reports further said that groups of people gathered at several places and made at least two attempts of ransacking Nooripora and Shalboni villages. However, Police and CRPF swung into action and forced the crowds to disperse. Residents of at least three villages complained repeatedly that they had no faith in Police as it had sided with a particular sect and remained prejudicial in handling of the situation. Questioning the role of DC Baramulla, SDPO Pattan and SHO Pattan, they said that SSP Baramulla, Shakil Baig, had appeared to be the only neutral and professional officer who even gave them his personal phone numbers and asked them to call him directly in case of any attack from the hostile groups. They demanded that entire area be handed over to CRPF or Army and Police be assigned the task of constituting peace coordination committees. They complained that Police had selectively arrested 15 persons and all of them belonged to only one sect. Those detained by Police included one Ghulam Rasool Malla S/o Abdul Kareem Malla of Maharajpora whose house was one among 30 residential houses torched and destroyed in fire yesterday. They lamented that the real culprits of both sects were roaming about freely and Police had arrested innocent people, teenage students and even a deaf and dumb only to show that it was working.

According to a Police intelligence report, corroborated by independent civilian sources, Police allowed highly inflammatory speeches after Friday prayers in the afternoon. A gathering of more than 500 people raised provocative slogans against the rival sect and some clergymen on Public Address System of a mosque in presence of Police. In sharp contrast, Shias as well as Sunnis of Mahajpora said that “raiders from outside” torched their houses yesterday but they failed to create any wedge or mistrust between the two sects in that particular village.

DGP Kuldeep Khoda asserted that the authorities were in total control of the situation. “There were wild rumours for the whole day. All of these turned out to be incorrect. Situation is tense and curfew stands imposed but we are in total control of the situation”, DGP told Early Times. He claimed that no incident of clash, stabbing or burning of property had taken place in the last 24 hours and said that the situation would remarkably improve in a couple of days.

Sources said that the Ministers and DGP called the influential Shia cleric-politician Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari’s brother, Maulvi Abid Ansari, and held a meeting with him at a state guest house. Amid a bitter altercation between Minister of Agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir and Abid Ansari, it was decided that the later would visit the disturbed Shia population villages alongwith Additional Commissioner of Kashmir and SSP of Budgam and help in constituting the peace coordination committees comprising representatives of both sects from the affected villages.

“We assured full cooperation to the Government on the condition that the controversial DC, SDPO and SHO be removed for their partisan role and incompetence, assessment of damage be conducted and full compensation be paid to the affected families within a week’s time and the basic crisis over the naming of a market between Ahmedpora and Kungamdara be resolved with a consensus of the representatives of both sects within a time frame”, Abid Ansari said. MLA from Pattan and cleric-politician Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari is presently in Syria.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Administrative breakdown sets Pattan villages on fire
50 injured, 40 structures gutted in sectarian clash; Army takes charge


SRINAGAR, Feb 25: Complacency and administrative failure today led to the worst of sectarian clashes in Pattan area of Baramulla district where more than 40 shops and residential houses were torched by hostile crowds and nearly 50 persons sustained injuries. Government’s failure to resolve dispute over the name of a village square in the last three months has led to sectarian tension even as Army moved in with a flag march, enforced prohibitory orders and restored order to a level late tonight.

Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, told Early Times that a team of Ministers and officers---comprising Minister of Rural Development Ali Mohammad Sagar, Minister of Agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir, Minister of Animal Husbandry Aga Syed Ruhullah, Advisor to CM, Mubarak Gul, and Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda---would visit the worst affected villages in Magam-pattan belt in the morning on Friday with efforts to resolve the crisis and ensure that no more damage was caused to life or property of the residents.

Informed sources said that an administrative vacuum, which was created with the sudden transfer of DC Baramulla, Lateef-uz-Zamaan Deva, and his replacement by an inexperienced Additional DC of Bandipore last month, today led to a major sectarian clash in Hagarpora, Kongamdara, Ahmedpora and Maharajpora villages in Pattan-Magam belt. Notwithstanding the remarkably swelling tension over the name of the village square at Hagarpora-Kongamdara, authorities did nothing to resolve the crisis in the last three months. Earlier, flames of the sectarian strife had been successfully doused by District administration and Police in December 2009.

Sources said that even the other day, Police intelligence had reported to the Government that people of a particular village had purchased 40 knives and a sectarian clash was imminent. Authorities are understood to have ignored all these reports till a volcanic eruption of the sectarian tension today. Police moved in only after more than 20 structures had been gutted and equal number of peoples from both sides had sustained injuries.

Eyewitnesses said that there was tremendous resentment against SDPO and SHO Pattan for moving Police only for the support and protection of a particular sect. They said that at least four residential houses of the two warring sects were torched by the crowds when DC Baramulla, Bashir Ahmed, was personally present in the locality. He drove out of the village after a mob attacked his escort vehicles. In all, 40 shops and residential houses of Hagarpora, Kongamdara, Ahmedpora and Maharajpora perished in the flames as these were set on fire by the warring groups. Sources that more than 50 civilians sustained injuries. A resident of Kongamdara, namely Ghulam Hassan Mir S/o Ghulam Rasool Mir, received 16 stitches into his head after he was stabbed by an unidentified youth with a knife in his head. Doctors described him as “stable” and said that he was responding to treatment at SKIMS.

Tension increased as some of the media organizations—particularly the Urdu channel of a Hyderabad-based media house---continued with the ‘breaking news’ of a resident’s death in the clashes. Officials confirmed devastation of 25 shops and 7 residential houses in the riots but maintained that no fatal casualties had been reported from any of the affected villages in Pattan area. However, independent sources asserted that 50 people sustained injuries and 40 structures gutted in the inferno.

Reports from Pattan area said that vehicles fitted with PAS were seen moving in several villages, including the highway passing through Police Station of Pattan, while announcing that one person had been killed and places of worship of a particular sect had been torched. According to these reports, Police remained a mute spectator till residents of Sari and adjoining villages swarmed for ransacking two more villages on Pattan-Tangmarg Road.

After witnessing the Police inaction in Pattan and its partisan role at the flashpoint, authorities called in Army that conducted a flag march, imposed curfew in about 30 villages in Pattan-Magam belt and restored a level of order till late tonight. Chief Minister said that three of his Ministers, one of his Advisors (Mubarak Gul) and DGP Khoda would visit the area and interact with representatives of both the sects in the morning on Friday. He said that the forces would infuse a sense of security among the residents and ensure that there was no more damage to their life or property.

DCs and SSPs of Baramulla and Budgam districts, besides Divisional Commissioner Naseem Lankar and IGP Farooq Ahmed were asked by the Government tonight to camp in Pattan-Magam belt and leave no stone unturned in defusing the crisis. They have been directed to constitute a joint committee of both the sects to resolve the controversy over the name of a village square at Kongamdara-Hagarpora.

Meanwhile, DC Srinagar, Meraj Ahmed Kakroo, and SSP Srinagar, Javed Riyaz Bedar, today visited Khushipora and Aban Shah villages in Zainakoot outskirts of the capital city today and succeeded in resolving another clash over a shrine. Both sects of the Muslims have been laying claim over the shrine, insisting that the saint buried there belonged to their respective sects. Sources said that representatives of both the sects would attend a meeting with the authorities on March 31 and hammer out a solution to the dispute.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Was Bacha Khour gang chief’s PSA revoked on CM’s orders?
Baramulla’s Swat under tight scanner as Omar gives catch-or-quit option to Police


SRINAGAR, Feb 24: Stone pelters who struck on the Rafiabad family and caused the death of an eleven-day-old infant on Monday last were not roaming around and unleashing a
reign of terror without reason. Their chief had been held for rioting during the Shopian demonstrators last year and detained at a jail in Jammu but, according to residents, his PSA detention was withdrawn within a couple of months on Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s orders after intervention of a couple of National Conference (NC) leaders including a Minister of State. Members of this gang were conspicuously present at a valedictory function organized by Police in honour of the outgoing Deputy Commissioner, Lateef-uz-Zamaan Dewa, and SSP, Viplab Kumar, over a month ago. On Tuesday, they audaciously called local cable operators and warned them of “dire consequences” if they dared to play a tape that would have identified the ruffians responsible for the infant’s death.

Residents of the “liberated” Baramulla town, who call themselves the “silent majority” and claim to be 99 percent of the population, made harrowing disclosures with regard to the identification of the ruffians and rioters involved in the killing of an eleven-day-old infant in his mother’s lap earlier this week. “Police are just beating about the bush. They have no intention of arresting the killers”, said a senior citizen and influential businessman who claimed that Police had complete knowledge of the “most wanted” faces who have been holding the old town of 30,000 inhabitants hostage with stone pelting since the Amarnath land controversy of 2008.

“Old town across the bridge (over river Jhelum) has become like Swat and Wazeeristan. Stone pelters, whose number is less than 100, and their sympathizers have been enjoying a field day here as Police or security forces never venture into this liberated zone”, a 60-year-old trader observed. None of these hapless citizens is prepared to be identified in media. They have a reason. “During last year’s Shopian clashes, these people not only occupied SRTC’s yard and raised their own shops but they also dismantled the business centers of Beopar Mandal President and General Secretary in full knowledge of the National Conference-led coalition government”, revealed a resident.

If these representatives of the suppressed civil society are to be believed, even after Chief Minister’s serious concern over the infant’s killing, Police or security forces have neither conducted any raids nor given any indication of arresting the gangsters. According to them, entire Old Town, comprising Tauheed Gunj, Jamia, Qazi Hamam, Kakkar Haham, Jalal Sahab, Ganai Hamam, Syed Kareem, Bangla Bagh, Azad Gunj, Iqbal Colony, Stadium Colony, Armpora, Bagh-e-Islam, Suhail Colony, Qadeem Iddgah, Khwaja Sahab, Mir Sahab, Drangbal and Khandanyar mohalls, is completely “out-of-bounds” for Police and security forces.

(Late night reports, however, said that Police trooped into the old town in search of the stone pelters involved in the death of the infant after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah asked the authorities in Baramulla to either capture the ruffians or quit. Sources said, CM has made it a point to get the ruffians arrested and reveal it during his reply to the discussion on Governor’s address in Legislative Assembly at 1600 hours on Thursday).

Residents revealed that on Tuesday, Police arrested two boys of 12 years of age from among a group of stone pelters who disclosed during questioning that those very people, who had been arrested last year but later released in a couple of months, had not only organized the clash but also intercepted the minibus at Chakla, in Baramulla town outskirts, and caused the death of the ill-fated baby. One of the Police officials confirmed, on the condition of anonymity, that the detained boys, who were later handed over to their parents, had identified Raju Chraloo, Meena Kumari and Itchguard (real names not known) as the key handlers of the stone pelting and clashes with Police. He said that Police got both the boys’ statements recorded on tape.

“Within minutes, local cable operators received threatening calls from telephone numbers 9697982050 and 9858773617, warning them of dire consequences if they played the feed on their networks”, Police sources said. They said owners of both the mobile phones were present on the valedictory function that had been organized by Police in honour of the outgoing DC and SSP last month. Inquiries further revealed that the man, who was identified as “kingpin” of the gang by the detained boys, had been arrested and detained under PSA at a jail in Jammu last year. However, on the intervention of two of the NC leaders, including a Minister of State, Chralu’s PSA was withdrawn on the orders from Home Department within two months. None other than Chief Minister happens to be the Home Minister in Jammu & Kashmir.

One of the cable operators confirmed that he had removed the tape after he received threatening calls from two different telephones. “Everybody in the town is scared. The common impression is that these gangsters are not only hand-in-glove with separatists and militants but also with officers in Police and security forces and even Ministers in the coalition government”, he added. He said that a civil society group, called Falah-ud-Darain, had succeeded in building up some resistance against the criminal gangs but given up as the operators publicly boasted of their connections with Government officials and politicians.

According to the residents, members of the gang have diversified their “business” and organized groups of street criminals. Even an influential Jamaat-e-Islami activist and President of Beopar Mandal, Abdul Rehman Shalla, failed to take on the gang after they caused extensive damage to his shop and threatened “further action”.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued from New Delhi, hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who had proudly eulogized and supported the stone pelters last year and until yesterday, has also distanced himself from this anarchical mode pf “resistance” and condemned the killing of an infant in Baramulla by the rioters. According to KNS, Geelani has taken a volte face and expressed concern that anarchical stone pelting would lead the Kashmiris to a very dangerous situation.
Captain among 3 soldiers killed in Sopore gunbattle
4 militants, including Basharat, believed dead but no official confirmation


JAMMU, Feb 23: Three soldiers, including a Captain, today died in a fierce gunbattle with militants during a cordon-and-search operation in Sopore township in north Kashmir. Even as there was no official confirmation of the damage suffered by militants till late tonight, officials were almost certain that four of the holed up militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba, including the most wanted Basharat Saleem, had also got killed when troops destroyed two residential houses with IEDs and intense gunfire.

Informed sources in north Kashmir told Early Times that Special Operations Group (SOG) of Sopore Police, troops of 01 Special Force (Paras), RR 22 Bn and CRPF launched a joint operation immediately after receiving information regarding the presence of four top wanted militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba at the residential houses of Mohammad Ramzan Malla and Abdul Razaq Mall in Teli Mohalla of Chinkipora locality in the apple town of Sopore this afternoon. According to the tip off, top wanted local militants, Basharat Saleem and Muzafar Naikoo, were hiding in the locality alongwith their Pakistani associates, Salah-ud-din and Zubair.

As soon as Police and security forces succeeded in evacuating all the civilians from over two dozen houses and they zeroed in on the identified hideout, a group of the holed up militants lobbed hand grenades and opened intense gunfire, killing three soldiers. Reports said that five others sustained injuries in the gunbattle that was in progress well after the midnight. Those killed in the initial strike from the militants included Captain Devender Singh Jass, Naik P Salva Kumar and Sepoy Imtiyaz Ahmed Thokar of Karewa Manloo village of Shopian district. They were all reportedly from 01 Para. Sources said that the Captain killed in the gunbattle was a resident of Delhi.

Even as DIG North Kashmir, Abdul Qayoom Manhas, and other Police officials refused to say anything with regard to the casualties suffered by the militants ad they invariably maintained that the gunfight was “still underway”, other well placed sources insisted that all four of the trapped militants were believed to have got killed when troops destroyed both of the targeted houses. They said that the death of dreaded militant, Basharat Saleem Sheikh, was certain. “Basharat has escaped from a number of operations in the past. We had information regarding the presence of two dreaded militants, included Basharat Saleem. But, nothing could be said with regard to the casualties suffered by the militants”, DIG Abdul Qayoom Manhas said. He was confident that none of the trapped militants could escape because of the continuous surveillance of troops on the site of encounter.

DIG Manhas said that final search of the standing as well as the destroyed structures would be conducted in the morning tomorrow.

Breaking a two-year pause of peace and tranquility, Sopore has yet again emerged as the top flashpoint of guerrilla strikes besides attacks on identified hard and soft targets in the last few months. While the secessionist militants have eliminated a number of their soft targets and soldiers of Army, CRPF and J&K Police in a host of strikes in the last three months in Sopore area, security forces have killed only a few of the militants calling the shots in broad daylight.

Providing support to the militants, estimated to be around 25 in number, over a hundred youth have been organizing anti-India, anti-forces and anti-Government demonstrations in Sopore area since December last. Taking full advantage of the Government’s pressure against Police and security forces, these people are now openly roaming about in Tata Sumo vehicles and enforcing shutdown almost daily with heavy stone pelting on business establishments and the traffic in movement. Some of these youth yesterday dragged out passengers from a minibus, forced them to join a “demonstration of the stone pelters” and caused a melee in which an infant of 11 days fell from the lap of his mother and died.