The Change Of Guard?

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Yesterday I was clever that I wanted to change the world; today I am wise, so I am changing myself.

                                                                                   Jalal-eddin Rumi

Sumera B. Reshi

Muhammad Ashraf Khan aka Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai’s appointment as Tehreek-i-Hurriyat interim chairman occupied news hole in almost all newspapers in Kashmir. Sehrai is Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s long-time lieutenant. Geelani and Sehrai share 65 years of comradeship, in Jamaat e Islami as well as in Tehreek-i-Hurriyat.

For Sehrai, Geelani is not only his colleague in politics rather his (Sehrai’s) mentor. Moreover, Sehrai has time and again made it clear that if he gets a chance to lead the Hurriyat (G), it would be “gunah-e-be’lazath (sin without pleasure)”. Despite the strong acquaintance and similarity in opinion, Sehrai’s appointment as the TeH chief surprised many in social and political circles.

Was the announcement an unexpected move? If not, then why the news of Sehrai’s appointment surprised almost all if not openly but subtly. Besides, the question is why this paradigm shift at this juncture? The possible answers are difficult to find.

If we examine and explore the previous news report published in 2016, we can find the hint of an event that took place in 2018. There was news in the Hindustan Times on 3rd May 2016 which read SAS Geelani had already chosen his successor but the person will be named after Geelani. The report, however, didn’t mention Ashraf Sehrai’s name clearly but shrewdly Sehrai’s name popped up.

“We don’t want to comment on who will succeed Geelani sahib. Sehrai sahib is second-in-command and it is Geelani sahib’s wish that he should take over the party after him. He has been leading the party in Geelani sahib’s absence,” said party spokesperson Ayaz Akbar.

This is the quote taken directly from the report just to make the point that Sehari’s appointment was hinted two years ago. The two stalwarts gel because they are from the same school of thought, Jamaat e Islami. It was SAS Geelani who conceptualized Tehreek-i-Hurriyat on 7 August 2004 with an objective to earn Allah’s pleasure through unambiguous service to the basic principles of Islam, Azadi, and Itihad-e-milat. Since 14 years Geelani sahib controlled and maintained the reigns of TeH.

As of today, the wider opinion is that due to Geelani’s ailing health and eight years of continuous house arrest, TeH is unable to achieve its objective. Thus Geelani decided to name his successor. Many believed his son might take the reins in future but JeI, as well as TeH, believes in democratic values, thus  the party followed the democratic setup.

However, the decision surprised one and all. Political commentators believe that the appointment of Sehrai for the new role signals a change of guard in the separatist group. Since many worthy TeH members are in NIA custody on charges of receiving secret funding for provoking unrest in Kashmir.

Despite the change of guard, Geelani shall continue to be the chairman of the hard-line faction of the Hurriyat Conference (G) of which TeH is a constituent. Moreover, political commentators are of the view that the face-lift in the organization will pave way for more interaction with the cadres within the party and outside the party.

Certainly, modifications often lead to changes and since Sehrai is considered thick-skinned than Geelani, stern changes are possible once Sehrai takes the full charge of the role he has been given.  Oftentimes, innovation demands change and that is what Geelani did.

In spite of Geelani’s sabbatical leave from his own brainchild TeH, his shadow will loom large. Like Geelani, Sehrai will barely detach from the core ideology that dialogue is impossible until Government of India (GoI) accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory. So the basic principles won’t be altered even if the commander is known but a new face.

Additionally, for the entire resistance camp, the only challenge is not India which is an emerging economic and military power in South Asia but the internal factors and the changes taking place at the political as well social front. Burhan’s death has initiated an unrelenting vicious circle of the bloodbath, especially of youth. The reins of the freedom struggle aren’t in the hands of resistance camp now, rather the power has shifted from old to young, moderate to intense.

Former Hizbul Mujahideen leader, Zakir Musa who is a new face of resistance in Kashmir has in a way challenged an entire resistance camp including Hurriyat (G) which has a stern & firm stance vis-à-vis Kashmir. However, Musa’s new platform Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind is more uncompromising than Hurriyat (G) with regard to Kashmir’s freedom struggle. Zakir Musa clearly endorsed jihad and rule of shariah in Kashmir and his statement has unnerved one and all.

Musa even went a step further when on 12 May 2017 he issued an audio message threatening to behead separatist leaders at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk for terming the movement as a freedom struggle. To Musa and his cohorts, the movement is totally Islamic, based on ‘shariah’ and ‘shahadat’.  Musa’s statement was a clear-cut message for the entire resistance camp.

The chief patron of Hizb, Syed Salahuddin condemned the message and dissociated from Zakir and his views.

…as far Kashmir movement is concerned, it is indigenous and has ‘azaadi’ as its sole aim and no other agenda,” stated Syed Salahuddin.

Undoubtedly, Burhan’s death has set a precedent; more and more educated youth are joining the militant ranks in local militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahedeen. Unpredictably, after the appointment of Sehrai as TeH chief, his son Junaid Sehrai, an MBA from Kashmir University was reported to have joined militant ranks. Thus far, police hasn’t confirmed the report but the event can be a challenge for Sehrai senior when he hasn’t properly settled as TeH chief. Junaid’s enrollment in Hizbul Mujahedeen might be a planned strategy by those who call the shots.

It is very early to comment on the objectives of Junaid’s enrollment, however, it could be seen as an attempt to replace Musa or minimize his (Musa’s) influence in the militant circles or to provide a parallel commander to militants. If so, then the change of the head of TeH is not only the change of the command, but surely it indicates a paradigm shift in future strategy. It appears that Sehrai wants to promote an indigenous leadership in the militant ranks.  

Furthermore, soon after Sehrai’s appointment as TeH chief, he in an interview to the local newspaper on 22nd March 2018, asserted that “Daesh and Al-Qaida have nothing to do with the freedom movement of Kashmir and we will never accept them”.  Sehrai, thus subtly replied to all extremist forces and cautioned youth not to be swayed by the extremist ideologies and even to those who want to steal the show.  Unambiguously Sehrai affirmed that resistance movement has no global agenda and is purely indigenous. Therefore, Sehrai reflected Geelani’s viewpoint but also send the message across that things won’t be taken for granted and indicated that being old doesn’t mean being slothful.  Sehrai’s views since then have been debated on social media. Undeniably Zakir Musa  who formed the Ghzawatul Hind militant outfit after parting his ways with Hizb as a pan Islamic militant organization also has the fan following on social media, thus it has to be seen which side is heavier, the new TeH lieutenant or young Musa or Junaid Sehrai who according to news reports has joined the armed struggle and of course the digital crusade. Only time will tell.

Geelani being old and a prominent stalwart of Kashmir freedom movement never shied away from associating himself with new age leaders and youth icons like Burhan Wani and Essa Fazili, though Eisa’s father Naem Fazili urged youth not to go by his son’s way. Geelani openly expressed his likeness for the late Burhan and Essa. Extremism and radicals have least followers in the present age of political spectrum, thus giving a less hardliner a chance to run a party, could be a viable reason for the change of guard. And as such change, as we know is ruthless. When it moves in, it turns the landscape upside down and inside out.  Let Kashmir witness the present change in political circles.

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