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Friday, December 17, 2010

Ban on main Moharram procession completes 21 years

Ashoora observed with Zuljanah, Alam processions in Kashmir

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 17: Like in last 21 years of the separatist armed struggle, authorities did not allow the main Ashoora procession in this capital city on occasion of the 10th of Moharram---anniversary of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his associates at Karbala, in Iraq. However, scores of Alam, Tazia and Zuljanah processions were carried out as per tradition in downtown Srinagar and other Shia-dominated neighbourhoods all over Kashmir valley.

Pleading apprehensions of disruption from political elements, vested interests and those having no faith in the Moharram rituals, authorities did not issue permission to the main Ashoora procession that would have, in normal times, initiated at Abi Guzar in Civil Lines area and concluded late tonight at the historic Imambargah of Zadibal.

All J&K Shia Association of the influential Shia spiritual and political leader, Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Abnsari (currently a Member of Legislative Assembly and senior leader of the principal opposition party, PDP) and Anjuman-e-Sharyee Shia’an of Budgam-based cleric-politician, Aga Syed Hassan (currently a senior leader of separatist Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz faction) are the license holders of the main Ashoora procession in Srinagar on a rotation arrangement worked out by then Chief Minister and National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1977.

Authorities have not, however, issued permission to this procession since outbreak of armed insurgency in Kashmir, in 1989. Over 50,000 Shia mourners used to participate in the Valley’s largest attended Moharram procession while reciting, Nowha, Marsiya (elegies), practicing self-flagellation and many of them spilling their own blood on the streets while striking sharp-edged blades on their bodies. This form of street mourning, remembering the martyrs of Karbala and paying tributes to the martyred descendants of Prophet Mohammad by men of Shia community is still in practice in all other Moharram processions in Jammu and Kashmir, including the regions under Pakistan’s control.

Separatist leader and prominent Sunni Muslim clergyman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has asked his religious followers to gather at an Ashoora congregation to be addressed him at Narwara in defiance of curfew and other restrictions today. Late last evening, Mirwaiz was picked up by Police from his Rajouri Kadal house, alongwith a number of his activists, and detained at his Nageen residence. Mirwaiz and most of his separatist colleagues were forced to stay indoors at their respective residences in different areas of the capital city. Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who had called for post-afternoon prayer street protests, was similarly put under ‘house arrest’ at his Hyderpora house.

Late last night, authorities had imposed curfew in areas falling under the jurisdiction of seven Police Stations in Srinagar to prevent any attempt of taking out the main Ashoora procession from Abi Guzar. Heavy Police and CRPF bandobust today did not allow any civilian movement or attempt of assembling of men without a curfew pass. Reports said that in the evening, followers of Mirwaiz Umar clashed with Police and CRPF at Alam Sahab Narwara. Stone pelting, anti-India and pro-Azadi slogans and retaliation from the forces continued for about an hour.

Nevertheless, senior separatist leader and JKLF Chairman, Mohammad Yasin Malik, joined Shia mourners at an Ashoora congregation and rally at Zadibal. Reports said that Malik also addressed the gathering and spoke on significance of the Martyrdom of Karbala. Another separatist leader and President of Anjuman Sharyee Shia’an, Aga Syed Hassan, led a traditional Ashoora procession in Budgam.

In Srinagar, thousands of Shia Muslim mourners participated in the largest Zuljanah procession that came out from Gulshan Bagh, Lalbazar, and passed through different localities of the traditional route before culminating into Majlis-e-Shaam-e-Gareebaan at the revered Shia saint Mir Shamsuddin Araki’s shrine at Zadibal. Under the 1977 agreement, this year’s sponsorship of the main Ashoora procession lay with Aga Syed Hassan’s Anjuman-e-Sharyee Shia’an. Last year, this procession had been organized by Maulvi Iftikhar’s Shia Association.

In the forenoon, a relatively thinner Zuljanah procession---that is a post-1989 tradition but without any organisation’s leadership---came out from Sabeelgah Nawab Bagh and ended at Imambara Abul Fazal Abbas, in Baghwanpora area of Lalbazar. Its participants in the afternoon joined the main Zuljanah procession that was on way to Mir Shamsuddin Araki shrine (Zadibal) from Gulshan Bagh.

In rural Kashmir, the largest Zuljanah procession initiated as per a 400-year-old tradition from Imambara of Mirgund and ended at district headquarters of Budgam at around midnight. Thousands of the Shia mourners were still performing traditional Matam (mourning) under sub-zero temperature, with recitation of Nowha, self-flagellation and striking of blades on their bodies at 2330 hours when this report was filed. Officials said that temperature was minus 4 degree Celsius when the procession was about to disperse around midnight.

On occasion of Ashoora, scores of other Zuljanah, Alam and Tazia processions were carried out also in other Shia-population areas of nine of the ten districts in Valley. Shopian happens to be the only district with no Shia concentration.

Earlier, members of Shia community participated in nightlong Marsiya recitation congregations at local Imambaras all over the Valley last night. This evening, Shia clerics addressed Majlis-e-Shaam-e-Gareeban at the culmination of different Zuljanah processions.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

50 judicial courts headless but Minister’s Munsiff son working as HoD in Omar Govt

Kisse vakeel karein, kis se munsiffi chahein?

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 16: Government of India’s interlocutors on the Kashmir problem are by now supposed to be richer in their understanding of the loss of faith of the Kashmiri youth in the Indian system and institutions. They may yet have to learn how even the institution of judiciary is being taken for granted by the executive here to promote individuals---sons and daughters of influential politicians and bureaucrats.

Minister of Agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir’s son, Afroz Mir, was appointed as a Munsiff around the time PDP-Congress coalition took over in 2002. Within two years, men of consequence in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s government prevailed upon Afroz’s employer, J&K High Court, and got him on a brief deputation to the Civil Secretariat as Assistant Legal Remembrancer (ALR). Since ALR is a post of Under Secretary to Government, this change of service was like DGP’s deputation as Chief Secretary or Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF).

Within next year, Afroz was clandestinely elevated to the superior position of a Head of Department (HOD) in the Government of Jammu & Kashmir. Trampling rankers and contenders in the department, Afroz was appointed as Director Defence Labour Procurement (DLP), a position previously held by an IAS officer. All of this backdoor exercise, in breach of all rules, norms and codal procedures, happened when the no-nonsense and meticulously honest Muzaffar Hussain Baig was working as Minister incharge Law.

“I was morally weak in this matter and came under the influence of a fellow Minister (Afroz’s father, Hassan Mir). It was a blunder, something I should have never agreed to do”, Baig later admitted candidly in a television interview.

Then Chief Justice of J&K High Court, Bashir Ahmed Khan, took exception to the briefly deputed Munsiff’s far superior deputation and appointment as Director DLP without the knowledge and approval of the incumbent’s employer, J&K High Court. He called an explanation from Chief Secretary. It never came. The crisis was buried in a hush hush manner. Since 2004, Munsiff Afroz Mir has been firmly functioning as Director of a civil administration department in the state government.

Poor Kashmiri candidates, who cleared the state level competitive examination of the feeding services of Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) through Public Service Commission in 1999, would not even dream of becoming HODs in the next 15 years. By the time they will be inducted formally into KAS and appointed subsequently as Additional Secretary to Government, their far junior competitor in the judicial service would have served four terms as Director and Deputy Commissioner and probably appointed as Principal Secretary of Law on the pattern of once temporarily engaged Munsiff, Akhtar Kochak. Now retired, Akhtar was the brother of Hassan Mir’s colleague in G M Shah cabinet and then Minister of Revenue, Ghulam Nabi Kochak. With the advantage of his age, Munsiff Afroz may one day retire as Chief Secretary of the State, without ever appearing in any competitive examination at the state or All India level.

Afroz Mir’s extraordinary qualification is nothing other than being the son of a mainstream politician who happens to be a past master in manipulative tactics. Known for his “New Delhi connections”, Mir played a key role in toppling Farooq Abdullah’s government in 1984. Chief Minister, G M Shah, inducted him as Minister of Law. State Vigilance Organisation proceeded against Mir in two matters of corruption and backdoor appointments and established the charges but, nearly 25 later, Omar Abdullah-led coalition government has refused sanction to his prosecution as he continuously happens to be a Minister in the Cabinet.

Hassan Mir is not the only Minister and Afroz Mir the only son of a Minister who has brazenly made a mockery of the Indian system of governance in J&K. The peculiarity in this matter is that even the judiciary---the only institution which has, to a great extent, preserved its credibility in the last 20 years of turmoil---has been taken for a ride by unaccountable politicians and bureaucrats. “Jeevay, Jeevay Hindustan!” is the satirical remark of a poor village boy, now 39 year old, who has a Ph D in Forestry and has been unsuccessfully in search of a class 4th job since 1996.

According to authoritative sources in J&K High Court, Afroz Mir is enjoying his overstretched government deputation at a time when as many as 35 Munsiff courts are headless in Jammu & Kashmir. Remaining 45 are better placed as these are being manned by a judge but most of these judges have to simultaneously dispose work of the headless courts in their respective districts.

Munsiff Karnah holds court for 20 days at Karnah and 10 days a month at Kupwara. Until recently, he used to work for 10 days at Karnah, 17 days at Kupwara and 3 days at Sogam. Now, Munsiff Handwara is dividing his week between Handwara and Sogam. Identical is the situation with more than a dozen other Munsiff courts in Kashmir valley.

Law Commission recommendations are similarly observed in breach for want of judicial staff in around two dozen Munsiff courts in Jammu division. For example, Munsiff Poonch works for 3 days at Poonch and 3 days a week at Mendhar. Munsiff Thana Mandi divides the week between Thana Mandi and Koteranka and Munsiff Sundarbani works 3 days each at Sundarbani and Kalakote. CJM Rajouri is holding the additional charge of Munsiff Budhal.

Munsiff Kathua has a similar schedule between Kathua and Basohli. Munsiff Chinani holds 3 days of his court at Chinani and 3 days at Majalta. Munsiff Ramban has been holding 3 days of business at Ramban and 3 days of every week at Gool. Similarly, Munsiff Thathri is divided between Thathri and Gandoh, in Doda district.

While Munsiffs and Sub Judges/ Chief Judicial Magistrates are overburdened with additional charge of 35 unmanned Munsiff courts, as many as 16 substantive posts of District and Sessions Judges are also lying vacant for years in J&K.

“I have no comments on the deputation of Mr Afroz Mir. As regards the vacant posts of Munsiffs, High Court, with the help of PSC, has recently appointed around three dozen Munsiffs who are currently under training at Judicial Academy in Jammu”, said a High Court official, wishing anonymity. He said that the process of filling up of 16 posts of District and Sessions Judges was also underway and written examination was scheduled to begin from December 26th.  He said that both the recruitment processes were being held first time in the last six or seven years


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

 Coalition partners pulling in different directions

Hassan Mir projects ‘sex scam-tainted’ bureaucrat as CS; Mustafa Kamal, Sham Lal trade fire on key issues

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 15: Attrition and acrimony between the ruling coalition partners, National Conference and Congress, does not seem to be as revealing as it was between PDP and Congress towards the completion of one-third of the previous coalition regime. At this stage, nobody can compare it to the day when Mufti called back a helicopter from Amarnath Cave and forced two of the Congress Ministers, Yogesh Sawhney and Gharu Ram, alongwith their wives, to spend the night there without shelter and security. Observers were sceptical about Mufti-Azad tie-up but most of them believed that PDP-Congress coalition would last for six full years. It did not.

A couple of days after Sham Lal’s diatribe against the “Kashmir-dominated dispensation” in Bani, Minister of Health shared stage with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at a different place. Both ignored the political tremors generated by Sham’s controversial statement. Relationship between the coalition partners appeared to be equally undisturbed when Omar made a controversial statement with regard to the state’s accession to India in Legislative Assembly in Srinagar.

Much like PDP-Congress unanimity on failing the resolution in the Assembly in March 2006, NC-Congress have been monolithic in supporting safe passage to the Kashmiri militant recruits wishing to return home from Pakistan. But, there is no denying the fact that members of the composite ruling family are pulling in divergent directions.

Azad loyalist, Abdul Gani Vakil, left no stone unturned to berate Mufti and his PDP---even after becoming a Cabinet Minister in 2007---and Mufti’s henchmen burnt midnight oil from Srinagar to New Delhi to smear the politician they called “Delhi’s man in J&K”.  Notwithstanding their exchange of smiles at public functions, JKPCC chief, Saifuddin Soz, and the NC top brass have not been comfortable with each other from day one. This is not for nothing that Omar and Azad have imperceptibly joined hands to target their common enemy---Soz. Supporters of both in the coalition have been laying more stress on Soz’s presence at the dais in Bani than on Sham and his statement.

With the fissures widening, neutral partner Ghulam Hassan Mir has opportunistically thrown his favourite bureaucrat Iqbal Khanday’s hat in the ring to install him as the new Chief Secretary in Jammu & Kashmir. Without taking into confidence anybody among the principal coalition partners, Mir is understood to be pleading Khanday’s case and playing up his ‘Kashmiri Muslim’ card in Delhi inspite of the fact that his client is still a Principal Secretary and junior to four Financial Commissioners, namely Madhav Lal, Parvaiz Dewan (1977), Anil Goswami and Pankaj Jain (1978). Besides, the IAS contender is still an under-trial in a Chandigarh court in the infamous ‘Srinagar Sex Scam’ of 2006 and his conviction can not be ruled out.

Minister of Agriculture, Mir had earlier played key role in Khanday’s reinstatement and winning him a prize position---Principal Secretary Agriculture Production---in Omar Abdullah’s government. He is known as a “hardcore achiever” in everything----grabbing a berth in Cabinet, getting his men, howsoever corrupt and incompetent, on top positions of his portfolio, managing restoration of ‘dignity’ to the bureaucrats outcast by the government in place.

Sham could be played down as an aberration. He remained low-key on his brother Madan Lal Sharma’s left over term of four years in the previous Assembly. He never landed into a controversy on account of his working or statements since he was inducted as a Minister in January 2009, though most of his subordinate officers crossed all limits in corruption and poor performance.

Left out of the Cabinet, Mustafa has been indiscriminately firing salvos not only on Pakistan and the Hurriyat hawk, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, but also on Congress party, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandi and New Delhi. But, they are not the two-odd enfant terribles in the ruling coalition. JKPCC chief himself is credited with the creation of turbulence in 2009 when he triggered off the flare-up of “rape-cum-murder” while announcing on day one that he would take up the matter with the Prime Minister.

Even the Mr Clean from Leh and the most sensible in Congress, Rigzin Jora did arrogantly assail not only NC and its founder, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, but also his Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, while replying a question regarding the ‘poor’ promotion of Urdu language in J&K in Legislative Council in March this year. He has made no secret of his hatred for NC and the Sheikh dynasty. It looks an irony that G M Saroori, known for his praise and respect for Omar, even after falling from the grace, has reduced to be the only well wisher of the Chief Minister in the Congress camp after Taj Mohiuddin.

Coalition’s independent partners, Charanjit Singh (Kathua) and Tsetan Namgyal (Nobra) have not been expressive in airing out their anger and fate of the promises made to them earlier last year but Engineer Rasheed (Langet) has been publicly calling Omar Abdullah’s coalition as “the most incompetent and irresponsive government”. In utter frustration, he has been openly calling J&K a “disputed state” and delivering his own charity trust’s relief cheques at the residences of Hizbul Mujahideen militants dying in encounters with security forces.

CPI (M) State Secretary, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, as well as PDF Chairman, Hakeem Yasin, have also been playing the role of opposition with a minor difference that Tarigami treats Omar’s dispensation as a “lesser evil”.

Omar appeared to be firmly rooted in AICC (read Sonia Gandhi’s home) all through the 2010 turmoil but the fact remains that New Delhi has the history of not changing generals during war. Once the stability is fully back in Kashmir, he could find his coalition partners playing up the “governance deficit” that the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs has meaningfully not withdrawn.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Grenade blasts greet Omar during Pulwama meeting
2 personnel, 9 civilians injured in two militant attacks on CRPF

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Dec 14: On day two of the review meetings of District Development Boards in the Valley, militants today attacked security forces and left 11 persons wounded in Pulwama when Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, and two of his Cabinet colleagues were present at the South Kashmir district headquarters.

Informed sources in South Kashmir told Early Times that Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, was presiding over the District Development Board review meeting at Pulwama when suspected militants hurled a hand grenade on a CRPF bunker between Rajpora Chowk and Bus Stand at 1455 hours today. The blast occurred on the main Srinagar-Pulwama-Shopian Road at a spot that had crowded markets around. The district headquarters was bustling with business and activity when the explosion occurred and caused a stampede.

Men of CRPF 182 Bn, who were the target, did not open fire, even as at least two suspects were spotted mingling into a fleeing crowd and escaping from the spot.

Half-a-mile away, Chief Minister, two of his Cabinet colleagues, namely Sakeena Itoo and Aga Ruhullah, and Political Advisor, Devender Singh Rana, were taking a meeting with district and divisional level officials and legislators to review the progress achieved on implementation of the annual action plan in Pulwama and Shopian districts. With the exception of MLA Wachi and their party President, Mehbooba Mufti, all of the opposition PDP MLAs were present in the meeting alongwith NC’s MLC, Showkat Hussain Ganai, Congress MLC, Bashir Ahmed Magray and VC of Gujjar & Bakerwal Advisory Board, Bashir Ahmed Naz.

Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Asgar Hassan Samoon, IGP Kashmir, S M Sahai, DC Pulwama, Mohammad Afzal, DC Shopian, Mohammad Sharief Sood, and all district level officers of Pulwama and Shopian, were present in the meeting amid tight security arrangements.

Sources said that the blast occurred inspite of checking of many vehicles and frisking of Pheran-clad youth by Police and paramilitary forces.

SP Pulwama, Abdul Razaq, who rushed to the spot and restored order in 15 minutes of the explosion, told Early Times that two CRPF personnel and five civilian pedestrians sustained multiple splinter injuries. They were all rushed to hospital for medical treatment. Later, one of the injured was referred to Bone & Joint Hospital, Barzulla, Srinagar. Others were reportedly discharged by late tonight.

A Police spokesman this evening said: “Militants in the afternoon today hurled a grenade on a security forces mobile bunker in the Rajpora Chowk-Pulwama. As per the initial reports two security forces personnel identified as Head constable Anil Kumar and Constable Manoj Kumar of 182 Battallion Central Reserve Police Force, and five civilians, identified as Zubaida W/o Saif-u-din R/o Daramdar, Pulwama, Pervaiz Ahmad S/o Ghulam Mohammad R/o Srinagar, Mehraj-din S/o Ghulam Nabi R/o Payeen Pulwama, Mohammad Shafiq S/o Ghulam Mohammad R/o Bemina and Mohammad Yousuf S/o Abdullah Mir R/o Maspuna, Pulwama, suffered injuries. Later, one of the injured civilians, namely Mohammad Yousuf Mir S/o Abdullah Mir was referred to Bones and Joints Hospital Srinagar for further treatment”.

Eyewitnesses from the spot said that a Maruti car also suffered extensive damage under the impact of the blast.

Sources said that suspected militants lobbed another hand grenade on a CRPF bunker near Forest Check Post at Kakpora at 1710 hours this evening when Chief Minister’s cavalcade, followed by cavalcades of Ministers and officials, were returning to the summer capital. Even as Chief Minister flew from Jammu to Pulwama in a helicopter, he had later decided to travel by road from Pulwama to Srinagar. Sources said that the blast at Kakpora occurred minutes after the CM’s and other official cavalcades zipped past the spot on Srinagar-Pulwama-Shopian Road.

Official, as well as unofficial, sources maintained that two civilian pedestrians sustained injuries in the blast at Kakpora. They were evacuated and rushed to hospital. Both were reportedly stable late tonight.

It was after months of stone pelting and street demonstrations that militants in South Kashmir surfaced with grenade attacks on CRPF, that too during CM’s presence and movement in Pulwama.

Meanwhile, authorities tonight announced to have imposed curfew in areas falling under five Police Stations---Ram Munshi Bagh, Kothibagh, Maisuma, Kralkhud and Shaheed Gunj---to fail attempts of religious and political groups to take out the traditional 8th Moharram Alam procession, from Shaheed Gunj to Dalgate on Wednesday, in defiance of prohibitory orders.