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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Omar jumps into flames, douses fire

Army kills Handwara youth on Pakistan’s Solidarity Day with Kashmiris

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 5: In the very beginning of Army’s “Solidarity Year with the Kashmiri People” and exactly on Pakistan’s “Solidarity Day with the Kashmiri People”, troops of Rashtriya Rifles 33 Bn gunned down a 21-year-old member of a National Conference (NC) family in Handwara. However, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and NC’s MLA, Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan, quickly jumped into the flames and doused a fire that carried every promise of igniting a fresh turbulence and getting the separatist leadership back from its bankruptcy.

Nothing better would have rescued the separatist Hurriyat and its cheerleaders in the Valley from the unenviable position they had landed in with the brutal killing of two young women of a family in Sopore last week. Troops of RR 33 Bn, according to official sources, opened fire on 21-year-old Manzoor Ahmed Magray S/o Ghulam Ahmed Magray and left him dead yards away from his residence at Gund Chogal village, in Handwara, late last night. He died on spot.

Over 2,000 residents of Chogal and adjoining villages gathered in the morning today and began registering their anger and protest against Army while shouting slogans and demanding immediate legal action---detachment, arrest and prosecution---against the killers. Even as a section of the gathering had begun shouting pro-Azadi slogans, NC’s local MLA and former Minister, Chowdhary Ramzan, rushed all the way from Srinagar to Gund Chogal and established control over the angry crowds. He spoke to Chief Minister on telephone and convinced him that his condolence visit alone could douse the fire Army had lit at a critical time.

It was two years after the killing of a couple of innocent civilians at Bumai, in Handwara-Sopore belt of North Kashmir, and the death of another civilian in a late night ambush at Karewa Manlu, in Shopian area of South Kashmir, that Army gunned down a young civilian in Handwara last night. Much ironically, he was shot dead when Army had just announced Year 2011 as its “Solidarity Year with the Kashmiri People” and everybody in the Valley’s separatist camp---including political leaders and militants---was facing unprecedented embarrassment over the killing of two female members of a family, allegedly by militants, in Sopore. As if that was not enough, Army did the year’s first civilian killing on the eve of Pakistan’s “Solidarity Day with the Kashmiri People”.

It was also the first civilian killing by troops in J&K since the new General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Northern Command, Lt Gen K T Parnaik, and General Officer Commanding 15th Corps, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, took over early last month.

Spokesman at headquarters of Army’s 15th Corps in Srinagar, Lt Col J S Brar, said in a statement that troops were in an ambush outside the village when two men happened to pass around 2200 hours last night. “In keeping with Standard Operational Procedure, troops asked them to stop. But, they fled away. Soldiers opened fire that unfortunately caused the death of Manzoor Ahmed Magray. His accomplice managed to escape”, Col Brar said. He added that Army had apologized to the family launched an inquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of an innocent civilian.

Residents of Gund Chogal and adjoining villages countered that SOP had never been observed. “The SOP makes it incumbent upon troops to inform the local Police Station and the village headman and take them along to the area to be cordoned. Neither of them had been informed or involved with the operation”, Ghulam Mohammad Bhat of Peth Pohru village pointed out. Officials at Police Station of Handwara corroborated Bhat and confirmed to this newspaper that they were informed only about the killing late last night.

Even as emotional images and scrolls of the year’s first civilian killing (by the government forces) on television news channels threatened to break the fragile calm in Kashmir, Chowdhary Ramzan, followed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, rushed to Handwara by road. Divisional Commissioner, Asgar Samoon, and Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda, too followed separately but the latter was asked by Chief Minister from Pattan to return due to being late. DGP’s cavalcade then returned to Srinagar from Parimpora.

By the time Omar arrived in, alongwith IGP Kashmir S M Sahai, at 1620 hours, Ramzan had impressively controlled the situation. Chief Minister met the father and the mother of the youth killed and expressed condolences to the bereaved family on behalf of his Government as well as National Conference. He said it was a tragedy that one more young life had been extinguished. He assured the gathering that he would take up the matter “very seriously” with the Army and expressed hope that Manzoor’s sacrifice would end the chain of innumerable civilian killings in Kashmir.

A group of people from a distance kept shouting “ham kya chahte, Azadi” (we want freedom) but those in the village yelled: “az chhu maatam jabaja” (it’s a day of mourning everywhere) and “qatiloon kau giriftaar karo” (get the murderers arrested). Visibly shattered by the killing but unfazed Omar kept tweeting onb his BlackBerry while driving through crowded Sopore. Like BJP leader Sushma Swaraj in Jammu on January 26th, Omar kept the world informed about his visit. He called the killing a great tragedy and generated a huge discussion on the social networking site Twitter. He stayed at his Srinagar residence and arranged a high level meeting with GOC 15th Corps, Lt Gen Hasnain, in the forenoon tomorrow.

“Yes, I am meeting the Army commanders tomorrow to make it unmistakably clear that killings like that of Handwara would have to ended for ever”, Omar told Early Times over telephone. He indicated that he would take more decisive initiatives with the political and Defence leadership in New Delhi to ensure that no more civilian deaths occurred in violation of SOP by Police or armed forces in Jammu & Kashmir.


Omar meeting Hasnain over Handwara killing

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 5: The first threat to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah top priority of the year 2011 has come neither from Hurriyat nor from militants. Not even from ISI in Pakistan. Had the year’s first civilian killing happened in a segment of the local MLA’s or Minister’s disconnect with the masses, it would have arguably marked the beginning of what Omar has been desperately attempting to prevent. It remains significant as no civilian killing by troops or Police has happened since September 13, 2010. Over a hundred deaths had occurred in previous three months of mass turbulence.

“I have taken the Handwara killing extremely seriously. I am meeting Corps Commander and other officials in a meeting here tomorrow to chalk out how to put an end to such deaths for ever”, Chief Minister told Early Times. He called 21-year-old Manzoor Ahmed Magray’s killing “deeply regrettable” and asserted that he would pursue things “more seriously” with the concerned at the state as well as the national level to ensure that repeatedly made promises of political and defence leadership were seriously and sincerely enforced in the field.

The Chief Minister described the incident most unfortunate and said that he had given categorical directions to the Army, other security forces and Police in the Unified Headquarter meetings to apply highest degree of caution and restraint and stick to the Standard Operating Procedure to avoid civilian killings at every cost. “I repeat this once again”, he said and emphasized the need for such cautions while laying ambush for militants.
 “There are people who would try to exploit your pain and feelings for disturbing peace and order as was done by them after the killing of Tufail Mattoo last June”, he earlier told the bereaved family and a large number of people who gathered in Handwara village on the occasion. He appealed them not to get led astray by such elements.
Earlier he regretted in a Tweet that the incident could have been avoided if a "suggestion" made by him at a meeting of the Unified Headquarters had been implemented. "I am even more upset with the knowledge that if a suggestion of mine, made in the Unified Command (sic), could have avoided this incident," he posted. He, however, did not elaborate on the “suggestion”

"How can one not condemn the death of 21-year-old Manzoor at the hands of the Army late last night. Another needless death in a bloody Kashmir," Omar posted on the global social networking domain. He said he was trying to understand the circumstances in which the youth was killed but was not getting enough answers to his many questions.


Thursday, February 3, 2011


Widespread condemnation forces Geelani to call shutdown in hometown

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 3: Cold-blooded killing of two young women, that has been conveniently downplayed or completely ignored by most of the separatist leaders and human rights groups for allegedly being a handiwork of separatist militants, today generated first protest demonstration in the summer capital. Under the impact of widespread public condemnation across the Valley, hardliner separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani has finally called for a shutdown in the north Kashmir apple town on Friday.

Carrying placards and asking Hurriyat (G) Chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, why he had not called for any shutdown against the Sopore killings, scores of men, women and children, appeared at Sher-e-Kashmir Municipal Park in Civil Lines in the forenoon today. They registered their strong protest against killing of two young daughters of a poor labourer, Ghulam Nabi Dar of Muslim Peer, Sopore, while shouting slogans against the killers. For fear of reprisal from militants, a number of the participants had their faces covered. As already reported, 17-year-old Aarifa and 20-year-old Akhtara, had been dragged out by gunmen late in the night on January 31 and shot dead near Rahim Sahab shrine in Sopore.

Participants described themselves as members of a non-governmental organization even as many in media suspected it as a Police-sponsored demonstration and did not lend too much of importance to the outburst. Similar demonstrations had been witnessed in the Civil Lines during the thick of last year’s mass uprising that was publicly sponsored by Geelani and his hardliner supporters. That time, demonstrators had questioned Geelani’s wisdom of enforcing over a hundred shutdowns through four months of the academic and tourist season.

Demonstrators in today’s rally, whose number was not legion, expressed surprise over the “double standards” adopted by politicians and human rights activists vis-à-vis killings happening at the hands of security forces, Police, counter-insurgents and separatist militants since 1989 in Jammu and Kashmir. They pointed out that politicians, human rights groups and media had raised hue and cry selectively on the killings committed by Police, armed forces and other government agencies but the same civil society groups and politicians, separatist as well as mainstream, had conveniently downplayed the twin murder in Sopore that was widely believed to the handiwork of separatist militants.

An elderly woman lashed out even at the mainstream politicians and government officials and expressed surprise that none of them, with the exception of a junior Minister and NC’s Sopore MLA, had called on the bereaved family. According to her, pro-India politicians in the Valley were acting as blotting papers on India’s exchequer, making it poorer and poorer by drawing all kinds of benefits and privileges but simply following the separatist politicians in selectively condemning the incidents of violence.

Hours after the demonstration dispersed, Geelani issued a statement from his New Delhi residence and asked the residents of his hometown to observe complete shutdown against the twin killings tomorrow. Geelani as well as other separatist leaders have earlier issued mild statements of condemnation but none of them has visited the victim family in Sopore in the last three days. A spokesman of Jamaat-e-Islami also issued a statement of condemnation today.

Cornered by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on the twin murder on day one, most of the separatists have now condemned the assassination. Significantly, however, none of them has pointed fingers on Police and other government agencies that have been always at the receiving end on such occasions.

Calling for shutdown in Sopore and protest demonstrations after Friday prayers across the Valley tomorrow, Geelani expressed hope that killers of the young women would be exposed sooner than later. He was critical of forces and Police for patrolling in the apple town by night but avoided to directly put the blame of double murder on them.

Residents in Sopore said that Geelani was himself perturbed over the activities of a particular guerrilla outfit that had allegedly gunned down his confidante, cable operator Ashiq Hussain, last year and was now believed to be responsible for kidnapping and killing two young women---members of the poorest family in Muslim Peer locality.


Kar survives rifle grenade attack on Sopore house

Police launches manhunt for Muz Maulvi in killing of two sisters

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 2: In a day of the assassination of two young daughters of a poor labourer, seniormost Congress leader Ghulam Rasool Kar today survived yet another militant strike at his residence in Sopore township of Baramulla district. Even as both factions of the separatist Hurriyat Conference have begun to condemn the gruesome double murder and militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba has denied its involvement in the Muslim Peer slaying, Police have launched a manhunt to arrest or eliminate the dreaded guerrilla operative Muzaffar Ahmed Naikoo alias Muz Maulvi in North Kashmir.

Informed sources told Early Times that around 0955 hours, suspected militants fired two rifle grenades towards the CRPF-guarded private residential house of senior Congress leader, Ghulam Kasool Kar, at Town Hall in Sopore township of North Kashmir. The first one exploded in the air and failed to hit the target but the following one landed precisely on the courtyard. It went off with a deafening blast but the inmates, as well as the CRPF guards, escaped the brunt. Glazed windows and ventilators of the house suffered minor damage.

Sources said that 90-year-old Kar, who had returned from New Delhi and reached home last evening, was present in his bedroom when his residence came under attack in the forenoon. He came out while loudly hurling invectives on militants and asked Police and CRPF officials to ferociously strike on “these terrorists”. He was heard shouting that such dastardly attacks would never succeed in terrorizing him.

A die-hard pro-India politician, Kar has survived several attacks on his life. In one of such strikes, he had a providential escape when a militant gunned down his PSO, Hakoomat Singh, but his gun got accidentally locked on the main road outside a mosque at Jamia Qadeem in old town Sopore about a decade ago.

Not holding any position in top brass of his party now, Kar has served in the past as President of J&K Pradesh Congress Committee and a Minister in the state governments headed by Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, Syed Mir Qasim and Dr Farooq Abdullah. He has also functioned as a member of the state Legislature and Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha as well as Rajya Sabha. He also happens to be the printer and publisher of Congress party’s official organ, daily Khidmat, published from Srinagar.

Officials, however, insisted that the militants’ real target was Superintendent of Police of Sopore, Altaf Khan, whose residence as well as office are next door to the Congress leader. In a hard-hitting statement on Tuesday, Khan had held Lashkar-e-Toiba responsible for killing two young daughters of one Ghulam Nabi Dar at Muslim Peer. He had also identified three militants of the group, including the locals Muzaffar Ahmed Naikoo alias Muz Maulvi of Khushaal Matoo and Waseem Ahmed Ganai of Chinkipora, as the killers of the young female duo.

Having survived a number of militant strikes, Khan had a providential escape when militants tossed RPGs straight into his bedroom at the midnight on December 6th, 2010. He had shifted to an adjoining room minutes before in search of something. In an earlier broad daylight strike on him at entrance of Police Station Sopore earlier, he had an equally narrow escape though one of his driver-guards got killed.

Since today’s strike occurred in a high security zone, that also houses headquarters of CRPF 179 Bn and BSNL exchange, more than one guerrilla groups claimed responsibility. In a statement, LeT spokesperson, Jameel Ahmed, told a local news agency that militants of his organization had attacked Kar’s residence after learning of his return from Delhi. He claimed that Kar had, however, returned to Delhi when his house came under attack. The spokesman made it clear that all pro-India politicians were on the hit list of his outfit as India, according to him, would not have succeeded in establishing its foothold without support from Kashmir’s mainstream political activists. Striking on these politicians, he said, was LeT’s “top most priority”.

According to KNS, spokesman of Al-Badar Mujahideen, Mohammad Qasim, claimed that cadres of his group had actually attacked CRPF battalion headquarters and left several paramilitaries injured.

Meanwhile, Early Times learned from authoritative sources that J&K Police, CRPF as well as Army had launched a manhunt to arrest or eliminate local militants, Muz Maulvi and Waseem Ganai, in entire Sopore belt. These militants, according to Police, had kidnapped and gunned down 17-year-old Aarifa and 20-year-old Akhtara, daughters of Ghulam Nabi Dar in Muslim Peer locality the other day. Killing of the young women has spread a wave of terror in Sopore which was evident when not more than 100 residents participated in their funeral rites yesterday. Silent condemnation was nevertheless in evidence everywhere in the Valley.

Issuing a statement from New Delhi today, separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani condemned the double murder in his home town. He called upon separatist leaders to visit Dar’s residence. A number of other separatist leaders, including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik, have also condemned the brutal slaying. However, in sharp contrast to previous incidents like that of Shopian in May 2009, in which Police and government agencies were suspected, none of the separatist leaders has either visited the Sopore family or called a shutdown against the killings. Absence of such reaction from the Valley’s human rights groups, media and separatist leaders, has led Kashmiris to believe it as the handiwork of separatist militants.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

[In daily Early Times ( dated Feb 2, 2011]

Shopian condemned, Sopore condoned!

Yet another slaying of two young women exposes Kashmir’s double standards on violence

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 1: Brutality has yet again surfaced with a macabre dance of death. Like on scores of occasions in the last 21 years of violence, it has consumed two young women---siblings as usual. In the year 2009, eight young women, most of them in the age group of 15 to 25 years, were found dead in South Kashmir. Valley ignored all---including the killing of a woman who was gunned down alongwith her 4-year-old child---but erupted selectively on the death of two women. Neelofar and her sister-in-law, Asiya of Shopian, alone carried the promise of implicating J&K Police and “Indian” armed forces. The world of politicians, clerics, human rights activists and mediapersons was on the boil for next seven months.

People, perhaps, are not to blame. In fact, the most protected and the most privileged among the politicians, who served as Chief Ministers in the state and Cabinet Ministers and Governors in Government of India, rarely uttered a word to stigmatize violence, perceived to have been committed by pro-Azadi and pro-Pakistan militants. Exceptions like Farooq Abdullah lost themselves in jingoism that appeared less an obituary on the victims and more a labour to strengthen New Delhi’s hold on Jammu & Kashmir.

These dramatis personae did not chose a mime for themselves. They left even the militant leadership and the Hurriyat miles behind in their oral diarrhea of praising all killers brandishing a Pakistani gun. They condemned their acts only after these non-state actors of violence switched over their allegiance to the state. Those who had reneged on Kashmir’s “freedom struggle” and decided, or felt compelled, to eschew violence were almost officially denigrated as “renegades”. Many in PDP as well as NC call them by this sobriquet alone.

Even as the ordinary “renegades” were given a bad name and got killed, seats were cleared for their powerful leaders in not only Legislature but also in the Council of Ministers. Hundreds of them were even used as private army to eliminate political rivals. Some were encouraged to outclass all separatist guerrillas in getting the women raped, men tortured to death and children orphaned. The politicians needed body bags to shed their tears on. The state needed wounds to utilize its stuff of healing touch.

In a strange confluence of interest and vested interest, exactly the same came handy to masters of the “proxy war” across the border. The poor, ordinary Kashmiris kept dying. Every death brought fortunes to stellar players as well as all character actors in the conflict. In the process, all good deeds were placed in the basket of Pakistan, militants and the separatist leadership and all the bad ones in that of “terror state India”. This exactly explains why there is invariably a beeline of politicians, clerics, mediapersons and so-called human rights activists when there is a Shopian and total absence of sympathy when “Mujahideen” are perceived to be the actors.

It is admittedly unfair to identify the killers who, most often, operate under darkness or a mask. But, it needs to be a resident Kashmiri to know as to who has killed whom. The formula that was discovered with the first assassinations in 1988-89---Ghulam Hassan Halwai and Tika Lal Taploo---has remained unchanged. Even today, it takes the Valley a minute to erupt over an act suspected or believed to have been done by Police, troops or counter-insurgents. Nobody has shed tears on killing of all four male members of a family at Gopalpora (Budgam) in December 2002, merciless slaying of dental surgeon Dr Mushtaq in Sopore in October 2006 or half-a-dozen others that happened in South Kashmir in 2009.

That the dingy alleys of Muslim Peer remained deserted in Sopore today serves as a statement of the public perception. That militants are believed to be the killers is evident from the fact that none from Hurriyat to JKLF to PDP has raised fingers on Police or “Indian occupational forces”. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who himself played safe in many of such assassinations---including that of the poor dental surgeon---has succeeded in extorting some statements of condemnation from politicians in the late afternoon today but nobody has heard his own colleagues (including MLA Sopore Ashraf Ganai) sympathise with the bereaved parents of 20-year-old Aarifa and 17-year-old Akhtara.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

DD Director forced artist Jai Kishori suffer till death

Five DDK Srinagar producers die of stress and cardiac arrest in one year

Early Times Report

SRINAGAR, Jan 30: Director Doordarshan Kendra (DDK) Srinagar, Rafeeq Masoodi, traveled all the way from Srinagar to Jammu to deliver payment cheques worth Rs 8 Lakh on residence of a Jammu-based private producer last week. On Masoodi’s direction, Executive Producer Shammi Shair has acquired hundreds of tapes from this freelance producer cum property broker who has helped both the DD officials in purchasing plush houses in Jammu. Fifty-two episodes of his two programme serials at the rate of Rs 40,000 each episode have been telecast in the last few months. However, elderly Kashmiri migrant woman artist-producer Jai Kishori was mercilessly made to suffer for 18 months, with the false argument of non-availability of time and funds, till she died helplessly in Delhi on Friday last.

One among the pioneering theatre, radio and television artists in Jammu & Kashmir, Jai Kishori is the 5th private producer in the state who has died of acute stress, caused by DD officials, in the last eleven months. Eminent producers and artists who have invariably died due to cardiac arrest in acute stressful conditions since February 2010 include Syed Gulzar Rizvi, Abdul Rasheed Farash, Saleem Khan, Tasleem Khan and now Jai Kishori.

According to informed sources and those close to the bereaved family in Jammu, 70-year-old Jai Kishori had submitted her life’s first 10-episode musical series, titled ‘Hee Thar’, to Masoodi in the middle of 2009. In the last 18 months, she was forced to shuttle between Jammu and Srinagar for at least four times but the series never went on air.

“Every time, Masoodi Sahab asked her to wait and sweared that there was no availability of time and funds. Her payment was never released till she died in total helplessness at a relative’s house in Delhi on Friday”, said a family source. He revealed to Early Times that similar treatment was accorded to DD’s icon Bharti Zaroo whose performance led Bashir Badgami’s legendary serial “Hazaar Daastaan” break all records of popularity in 1980s. Like Kishori, all ten of Zaroo’s programmes are gathering the dust on cupboards at DDK Srinagar.

While Bharti Zaroo rose to zenith of fame with her performance in scores of Radio Kashmir Srinagar and DDK Srinagar plays in 1980s, Kishori was among the first Kashmiri women who came out to perform on theatre in 1970. She also performed in more than 250 of Radio Kashmir Srinagar plays and drama serials including Pushkar Bhan’s phenomenally popular comedy serial “Machaama” till her displacement from Srinagar to Jammu in 1989. In 1972, when DD established its first station in J&K at Srinagar, Kishori had the privilege of being the first Kashmiri woman actor to perform on television. In the last 40 years, she is estimated to have worked in more than 100 television drama episodes to achieve distinction of being arguably the most famous female artist in Jammu & Kashmir.

“Fraternity of drama artists has lost its mother in Mrs Jai Kishori’s death”, Rafeeq Masoodi said in his condolence statement in Jammu yesterday. His crocodile tears trickled only after the artist’s death who lived in penurious conditions but was never supported by either of the premier organs of Prasar Bharti Broadcasting Corporation of India--- Radio Kashmir Srinagar and DDK Srinagar--- she served with her sweat and blood for over 40 years.

On the other hand, Masoodi and Shammi Shair acquired more than 400 programme episodes from the Jammu-based property broker, Kohli. Payment of more than Rs 50 Lakhs is estimated to have been released in different names to Kohli who has shown a number of his relatives, friends and other contacts as facility providers of the in-house productions he has submitted to DDK Srinagar. Sources revealed that five DDK Srinagar officials, namely Rafeeq Masoodi, Ghulam Mohiuddin, Nasir Mansoor, Bashir Qadiri and Mohammad Yusuf Parray, traveled to Jammu to participate in the IMPCC meeting and one of them delivered cheques worth Rs 8 Lakh at Kohli’s residence.

Like Jai Kishori, famous singer and freelance producer, Abdul Rasheed Farash had called on Masoodi a day before his death last year and begged him to release a part of the payment due to him. He was not obliged as the lion’s share of the funds stood reserved for five particular producers, including Kohli, who have been paying 30 to 40 percent of their payments as “commission” to the senior DDK Srinagar officials. Executive Producer of Farash’s submitted programmes, Kausar Parveen, has been shifted from Srinagar after she was found involved in a major embezzlement of musical programmes by CBI last year.

Srinagar-based officials of CBI are now working hard to hush up this scam to exonerate Masoodi who quickly allotted programmes to a private producer having his brother posted as DIG at CBI headquarters in New Delhi.

Support from union Minister of Health, Ghulam Nabi Azad, inability of Omar Abdullah-led coalition government to take cognizance of rampant corruption besides sharing a part of the ill-gotten money with CBI, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and senior Mandi House and Shastri Bhawan officials in New Delhi are said to be Masoodi’s strength. 

While Masoodi’s mobile phone was continuously switched off, none of the DDK Srinagar officials was available for comment due to holiday on Sunday.