A ban under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act may be imposed on both factions of the secessionist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference which has been spearheading the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir for over two decades, officials said. They said a recent probe into the granting of MBBS seats to Kashmiri students by institutions in Pakistan indicates that the money collected from aspirants by some organisations which were part of the Hurriyat Conference conglomerate was being used for funding terror organisations in the union territory.
The officials said both the factions of the Hurriyat are likely to be banned under Section 3(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or the UAPA, under which “if the Central Government is of opinion that any association is, or has become, an unlawful association, it may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare such association to be unlawful.”
They said the proposal was mooted in accordance with the Centre’s policy of zero tolerance against terrorism.
The Hurriyat Conference came into existence in 1993 with 26 groups, including some pro-Pakistan and banned outfits such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, JKLF and the Dukhtaran-e-Millat. It also included the People’s Conference and the Awami Action Committee headed by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.
The separatist conglomerate broke into two factions in 2005 with the moderate group being led by the Mirwaiz and the hard-line headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. So far, the Centre has banned the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JKLF under the UAPA. The ban was imposed in 2019.
The officials said a probe into funding of terror groups indicated alleged involvement of secessionist and separatist leaders, including the members and cadres of the Hurriyat Conference who have been acting in connivance with active militants of proscribed terrorist organisations Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
The cadres raised funds in the country and from abroad through various illegal channels, including hawala, for funding separatist and terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir, they said.
The funds collected were used for causing disruption in the Kashmir Valley by way of pelting stones on security forces, systematically burning schools, damaging public property and waging war against India as part of a criminal conspiracy, they claimed.
Supporting the case for banning the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference under the UAPA, the officials cited several cases related to terror funding, including the one being probed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in which several of the conglomerate’s cadres were arrested and jailed.
Many of the second-rung cadres of both the factions are in jail since 2017, they said. Among those in jail are Altaf Ahmed Shah, the son-in-law of Geelani; businessman Zahoor Ahmed Watali; Geelani’s close aide Ayaz Akbar, who is also the spokesperson of the hardline separatist organisation Tehreek-e-Hurriyat; Peer Saifullah; Shahid-ul-Islam, spokesperson of the moderate Hurriyat Conference; Mehrajuddin Kalwal; Nayeem Khan; and Farooq Ahmed Dar alias ‘Bitta Karate’.
Later, JKLF chief Yaseen Malik, DeM head Asiya Andrabi and pro-Pakistan separatist Masarat Alam were also named in a supplementary charge sheet in a case of terror financing.
Another case which is likely to be cited for banning the two Hurriyat Conference factions is the one against PDP youth leader Waheed-ur-Rahman Parra, who is alleged to have paid Rs 5 crore to the son-in-law of Geelani for keeping Kashmir in turmoil after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen terror commander Burhan Wani in 2016, the officials said.
The NIA has alleged that after the death of Wani, who was killed in an encounter with the Army in July 2016, Parra got in touch with Altaf Ahmad Shah, alias Altaf Fantoosh, and asked him to ensure that the Valley was kept on the boil with widespread unrest and stone pelting.
Also, the Counter Intelligence (Kashmir), a branch of CID department of Jammu and Kashmir Police, registered a case in July last year following information that several unscrupulous persons, including some Hurriyat leaders, were hand in glove with some educational consultancies and are selling Pakistan-based MBBS seats and admission in other professional courses in various colleges and universities.
At least four persons, including Mohammad Akbar Bhat alias Zaffar Bhat, self-styled chairman of Salvation Movement which is part of moderate Hurriyat Conference, were arrested in this case.
It is alleged that the constituents of Hurriyat Conference were “selling” MBBS seats in Pakistan to Kashmiri students and using the money collected, at least partly, to support and fund terrorism.
During the probe, it had surfaced that individual Hurriyat leaders had their quota of seats which were sold to people desiring to obtain MBBS and other professional degrees in one way or the other, the officials said.
The officials said evidence showed that the money was “put into channels that ended up in supporting programmes and projects pertaining to terrorism and separatism like payment for organising stone pelting.”
Citing investigation, the officials said that average cost of an MBBS seat in Pakistan was anything between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 12 lakh. In some cases, the fee was brought down on the intervention of Hurriyat leaders. Depending upon the political heft of the Hurriyat leader who intervened, concessions were extended to aspiring students, the officials said.