Hawks A-flutter As Dove Mirwaiz Engages Most-wanted Zargar
26 January 2007
The Indian Express
Srinagar: By the time Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and his team met Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf for the second time today on the eve of their return home, the Hurriyat chief had already created a flutter by trying to rope in several militant leaders especially Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar alias Latrum. Although Mirwaiz met Lashkar and Jaish commanders, too, it is his four-hour long meeting with Zargar which is being seen as most significant. Zargar, who grew up in Gani Mohalla next to Jamia Masjid, joined the separatist movement way back in 1984 and was one of the first Kashmiri militants to be trained in 1988. Belonging to a Bakra family (a nickname for the supporters of the Mirwaiz family), he parted ways with JKLF and launched his own militant group Al-Umar Mujahideen. And as the Mirwaiz's Awami Action Committee has traditionally been pro- Pakistan, Zargar's new outfit established its base in Mirwaiz's bastion, the densely populated downtown Srinagar. At one point, Zargar, alias Latrum, was the most feared militant in the city. Zargar was finally arrested during a security force crackdown on his Al-Umar outfit in 1992. After Zargar's arrest, the Al-Umar's writ on downtown diminished. The young Mirwaiz - who had then become the chief of the united Hurriyat after his father's assassination - soon distanced himself from the militants and emerged as a moderate separatist politician which finally led to his split with Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Zargar was in a Jammu jail, off the radar until December 1999 when he suddenly returned to the headlines again. He was the only Kashmiri militant commander among the three militants released in exchange for the crew and passengers of IC 814 hijacked to Kandahar. Zargar slipped into Pakistan and soon established his base again in Muzaffarabad where he became a member of UJC, trying to re-activate his Al-Umar outfit with the help of Jaish chief Masood Azhar who, too, was released with him in the Kandahar swap. What has transpired between Mirwaiz and Zargar during their meeting is not known but if Mirwaiz manages to secure the support of militant leaders including Zargar, it will have implications on the power balance within the separatist camp in Kashmir. Although Mirwaiz's supporters claim that his meetings with the militant leadership were exclusively to discuss and garner support for the Hurriyat proposals, especially the intra-Kashmir dialogue, it is evident that Mirwaiz, aware of the security threat to him and his colleagues, wants a counter to Geelani's hardline supporters. The timing couldn't be more appropriate. Mirwaiz's closeness to Musharraf, especially the agenda to follow Musharraf's four-point Kashmir resolution proposal, and his willingness to continue a direct dialogue with New Delhi, is seen by hardliners as a strong deviation from the separatist cause. This political rivalry came out in the open when Hurriyat hardliners called for a strike against Mirwaiz's politics on January 17 which led to street- protests by Mirwaiz supporters. Then Mirwaiz's statement, calling for an end to militancy added fuel to the fire. A militant group, Save Kashmir Movement, issued a threat to Mirwaiz calling him 'political renegades'. This followed the statement by Pakistan government distancing itself from Mirwaiz's call to shun the gun, saying it's his personal view. This had put Mirwaiz and his team in a dilemma and they immediately postponed their return to Srinagar and try to meet with the militant leadership and also Pak establishment and seek support.