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Friday, November 18, 2011

Fresh Islamist movement building up in Valley

Mass mobilization begins against Facebook blasphemy, conversions, promiscuity, drug addiction, liquor consumption

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 18: With the clerics and separatist politicians asserting against “serious threats to the religion”--- blasphemous pages on Facebook, recent conversion of some youth into Christianity, menacingly spreading drug addiction, promiscuity, flesh trade and spiraling liquor consumption--- a fresh Islamist movement appears to be taking shape in the conflict-riddled Kashmir valley.

The ground is not as fertile as it was during the pre-militancy halcyon days of 1989 when groups like Shabir Shah’s Peoples League, Shakeel Bakhshi’s Islamic Students League, Asiya Andrabi’s Dukhtaraan-e-Millat, followed by Islamic Jamiat-ul-Tulaba, Hizb-e-Islami and Allah Tigers, shut cinema, liquor shops and even cultivation of certain species of flowers. The provocation too is not as sweeping as Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”. Yet, the inertia that has demobilized many of the frenzied religionists in the last over a decade of disillusionment, has not been all-pervading.

Even if the separatist leaders and clergymen have been politically at the receiving end from the masses for several years of high turn-out elections, they can be down but not out. Paradoxically, their existence and influence has received the best of nourishment from the politics of competitive separatism and appeasement employed by principal pro-India political parties---notably PDP and National Conference. Successive regimes have left no stone unturned to discredit the “controlled separatists” with mundane privileges like free movement overseas, importing of spouses and huge Police protection. Yet, at the end of 21st year of insurgency, the fact remains that this stuff of clerics and politicians is the liability for New Delhi and asset for Islamabad. Thus, neither discredited nor irrelevant in the Valley.

Cutting across ideological barriers, almost all of the Valley’s separatist political as well as Islamic outfits are once again asserting against social evil and “fresh threats to the faith”. This time around, the maximum of mobilization is coming from ‘moderate’ clergymen like Saddar Mufti Mohammad Bashir-ud-din and Karwan-e-Islami founder Maulana Ghulam Rasool Haami. Mainstream politicians as well as bureaucrats from New Delhi to Srinagar have been privately hailing these clergymen as “anti-extremism”. Earlier this year, government kept its official machinery at the disposal of Karwan-e-Islami which held a massive congregation in Srinagar. Senior officials like Director of Information were seen conspicuously in company of these groups than with Ministers and bureaucrats. Official electronic media and Department of Information ensured envious coverage to their activity.

This very outfit today organized the first rally against social evil that the government has been hailing as the major source of revenue. On the other hand clerics like the “moderate” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mufti Bashir-ud-din have taken lead in denouncing conversions. In this race of cementing emotions, nobody can afford to be ‘moderate” as the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani today succeeded in staging the first demonstrations against ‘serious threats to the faith’. Geelani’s well-timed call has come close on the heels of a blasphemous page though Police claims it has been got blocked.

First incidents of stone pelting, though still low intensity, were witnessed after months of calm at certain traditional flash points in Srinagar. Maulana Haami’s followers remained peaceful all through the route from Dastgir Sahab Masjid in Sarai Bala to Hari Singh High Street. Still, the crowds at Maisuma turned violent. Rounds of stone pelting with Police came with a wake up call for the authorities who are said to be already on red alert. In its first detentions, Police arrested at least two youth in Maisuma.

Maulana Haami served an ultimatum on the Government and asked Omar Abdullah-led coalition government to impose blanket ban on trade, circulation, transportation and consumption of liquor “within two months”. “If this evil can be fully banned in BJP ruled Gujarat, why can’t it be completely banned in the Muslim majority Jammu & Kashmir?” he asked.

Will this embryo of religious emotion snowball into a full-fledged mass movement like in 1989, 2008 and 2010 remains to be seen. Is it emerging as the first serious threat to year-long calm in the Valley? Weather appears to be conducive but season doesn’t. Traditionally, uprisings have gone into hibernation in the months of chilling winter. But disruption, like death, does not always keep a calendar.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Govt issues red alert over Facebook mischief in Valley

Demonstrators blame authorities for being ‘permissive’ to blasphemous pages

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 17: Sensing serious threat to over year-long tranquility, authorities have issued red alert against any attempts to create communal unrest in Kashmir Valley. This time around an outrageously blasphemous Facebook page, coupled with some recent religious conversions, is leading to a palpable mass mobilization in the heavily Muslim-dominated population. Low intensity demonstrations at several places today alerted the authorities who are now frantically trying to track down the administrators of the controversial page on the world’s largest social networking domain.

Shops remained shut in protest at Chadoura in Budgam district for some time, thin groups of demonstrators burned rubber-tyres on Srinagar-Chadoura Road, classes of Veterinary Science at SKUAST-Kashmir remained suspended and students shouted slogans at Press Enclave in Srinagar. Participants of the low-intensity demonstrations said that their protest was directed on the “Government’s permissiveness” to operation of blasphemous pages on Facebook. They complained that one of such pages had crossed all limits as “extremely offending” sketches and slogans had been posted to hurt religious sentiments of the population in Kashmir.

Even as there were no clashes between the demonstrators and Police, youngsters in the groups said that they were “surprised” over the way authorities were permitting operations of these highly objectionable and illegal pages. They pointed out that entire Internet traffic in this country was being regulated either by Government’s own telecommunication companies like BSNL or the registered private telecommunication companies. Besides, there was regular surveillance on all Internet operations by Department of Telecommunication, Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India, Central and state intelligence agencies and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

“If Police and other state authorities claim to track operators of anti-national and separatist websites and Facebook pages, why don’t they who who the hell is running these anti-Muslim pages on Facebook?” asked a number of demonstrators.

Authoritative sources said that Police were kept on high alert as today’s Facebook mischief had potential of causing rupture to the peace and tranquility that had of late completed one calendar year in the Valley. However, there was not a direct and serious provocation to prompt Police to use force.

SSP Srinagar, Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari, told Early Times that Police took cognizance of the Facebook mischief late last night and today it got the “highly objectionable page” blocked with the help of union Ministry of Home Affairs and union Ministry of Communication in New Delhi. He confirmed that cyber surveillance had been immediately increased to ensure that nobody got an opportunity to foment trouble and mistrust among the local population, particularly the youth.

SSP Srinagar revealed that cyber crime sleuths of J&K Police were on the red alert and some arrests were likely in the next 24 hours. Asked if Police had got any clue with regard to administrators of the offending Facebook page, Mr Bukhari said that In the last two years Police had gathered enough knowledge and understanding about certain “anti-national groups” like Aalav and Kal Kharab and efforts were underway to investigate if any of these “exposed mischief mongers” was attempting to shatter the Valley’s peace and tranquility.

A spokesman of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, expressed surprise over operation of the Facebook page that has surfaced yesterday. He said it was astonishing that Geelani’s telephone numbers had been mentioned as contact numbers of the page operator. He urged all surfers and others to immediately report to Geelani’s office if they came across any clue or evidence about identity or whereabouts of the Facebook mischief mongers. He asserted that the guilty would be punished at all costs.

Today’s expressions against the outrageous Facebook pages included slogans against some recent incidents of conversions. Valley has been abuzz with reports and rumours about conversion of some Muslims into Christianity in recent months, allegedly with the greed of money and mobilization by a Christian missionary group. One of the prominent Pastors had been summoned for an explanation by head of a local Shariat Court Mufti Bashiruddin. The Pastor deposed before Mufti and a number of Muslim clerics and theologians while claiming that he and his missionary were not involved in any forced or illegally offered conversion. Sources said that Mufti played a CD containing audio-visual evidence of the baptism of some converts, reportedly at a Church in Kashmir.

Cleric-politician Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is himself alumnus of a Christian missionary school set up in Srinagar nearly a hundred yeas ago, has also expressed concern on recent conversions whose exact number is still not known. Chairman of his rival group of separatist Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has also issued several identical statements and called upon the Muslim religious leaders to unite against “such religious aggression”. Yet another separatist leader and cleric, whose followers are among those who have been baptized, has called for “social boycott” against the converts. He has urged them to renounce and return to their faith.


Timber mafia smashed but encroachment of 183 sq km forest area still existing

153 vehicles, 1620 horses seized; PSA slapped on over 100 timber smugglers

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Nov 16: Forest Minister Mian Altaf Ahmad today claimed to have liberated four hyper-sensitive divisions from timber mafia with slapping of Public Safety Act (PSA) over more than 100 smugglers and seizure of 153 vehicles and 1620 horses. He, nevertheless, admitted that 183 sq km encroached forest area was still under the occupation of land grabbers in Jammu & Kashmir.

Available at the Winter Secretariat for current week, Mian Altaf revealed at a crowded news conference that despite acute shortage of manpower, Forest Department and Forest Protection Force (FPF) had decisively curbed the menace of timber smuggling in four hyper-sensitive divisions of Kashmir Valley in the last three years. He said that non-availability of human resource was a major handicap as recruitment of ACFs and Range Officers (ROs) had remained frozen from 1984 to 2011. He admitted that during this long period of nearly 27 years, IFS officers from outside Jammu & Kashmir dominated the Forest Service in the state.

Mian Altaf said that due to paucity of staff and involvement of Forest officials at several places, timber mafias had set up their dens in certain areas in the strife-ravaged Kashmir valley in the last many years, particularly from 2006 to 2008. “When I took over in January 2009, I found that officials of Forest Department and Forest Protection Force had completely surrendered in Pir Panjal Division in Budgam, Forest Division Shopian in South Kashmir, Rafiabad in North Kashmir, besides Sindh Division in Ganderbal district”, Mian Altaf said. He said that he made liberation of these critical areas from timber smugglers as the top priority of his Ministry.

“Thousands of green conifer trees had been felled by the smugglers with involvement of Forest officials in Shopian, Budgam and Rafiabad areas. Timber mafias had established their regime”, Mian Altaf said. A number of officers, who held senior positions in Forest Department and FPF during this infamous period, were present at the Minister’s press conference. Their faces turned read. “But when we began asserting our writ, common people and civil society lent us unflinching support and within three years we succeeded in curbing the menace of timber smuggling to a large extent”, Mian Altaf said.

Forest Minister said that as many as 153 vehicles, carrying illegally felled and smuggled timber, were seized---61 in 2009-10, 68 in 2010-11 and 24 till date in 2011-12. In addition to that, officials also seized 1620 horses for the same illegal activity---822 in 2009-10, 508 in 2010-11 and 290 till date in 2011-12. He said that PSA was slapped on 74 timber smugglers in 2009-10 and on 28 in 2010-11 but only 29 detention orders were implemented in 2009-10 and just 13 in 2010-11.

According to Forest Minister, dwindling of the figures of the vehicles and horses seized to 24 and 290 respectively in 2011-12 was an indication of the success of his campaign as least number of people were currently indulging in the forest crime. He said that cheques and balances had also been employed to ensure that innocent civilians don’t become victims of his department’s drive against timber smugglers. He revealed that Rs 16 Lakh was the department’s expenditure on fodder and transportation of the seized horses in 2009.

“Of late, we received a complaint from a detained civilian in Shopian through Chief Minister’s Grievance Cell. We immediately sought a report from CID. Two investigations confirmed that an innocent person had been arrested and booked under PSA. Thereupon, we immediately ordered his release”, Mian Altaf said. 

In reply to a question, Forest Minister said that he had not found security forces in any incident of green felling or timber smuggling in the last three years of his government. However, complaints regarding the firing range at Tosamaidan, in Budgam district, were being addressed.

Forest Minister said that his government had initiated several measures to improve the system of making timber available to domestic consumers in the state as 95 percent of the population use it in construction of their residential houses and other buildings. The system of sanctioning timber was made transparent and people-friendly. Different teams would conduct spot inspections and ensure that timer was sanctioned only to genuine applicants and it was not diverted to any other use or re-sale by the applicants. As many as 1400 sanctions were found fake during a verification process in South Circle alone.

Mian Altaf revealed that in addition to auctions by J&K State Forest Corporation, Forest Department was providing 13 Lakh cft of timber to the consumers on concessional rates. He said that import of timber from foreign countries had been encouraged by the government so as to ensure that timber remained available to consumers through parallel channels and people were not constrained to resort to illegal felling and smuggling. While as 23 cft of imported timber was used in the state in 2009-10, it rose to 43 Lakh cft in the current year. He said that officials were asserting to see that the traders did not fleece the consumers with exorbitant rates and that only good quality timber was allowed in.

Mian Altaf further revealed that nurseries of conifer trees were being laid and hundreds of thousands of trees were being planted in affected areas out of the funds available under CAMPA. Departments acquiring forest land for different developmental projects were providing particular amounts of money under Supreme Court of India direction for development and protection of forests every year. Chain Link fencing was also  being laid around hundreds of endangered compartments under CAMPA. He said that Rs 3 Cr had been allocated out of CAMPA funds to the worst hit divisions of Pir Panjal, Rafiabad and Shopian during the current year. Nurseries were being set up in all ranges. He said that Forest Department under this scheme would plant 12 Lakh conifer trees in the forthcoming season while as 6 Lakh plants would be provided to common people.