A new journey for Sehrai’s son

But for Sehrai, this is Junaid’s choice. “He has left on his way … Khuda ke hawale, usko wahi samaj aaya ki muje aise kaam karna chahiyee…hum bohat zulm o sitam me hain (In God’s protection, he thought that he should be doing this, we are under severe repression),” Sehrai said. He did not express any remorse and in a recent interview had justified the path of violence as part of the struggle to “end Indian occupation”. “Both the gun and our political struggle are important and both are playing their part. Our youth spill their blood for freedom. They pick up arms against the tyrant and Islam also tells us to rise against the tyrant. I believe armed resistance is an integral part of every freedom movement in the world,” he had said.

Amid political turmoil in the separatist camp, an unusual development took place when the son of the recently elected head of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat joined Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfit.

It created a stir as this was the first-high profile recruitment in recent years. Ashraf Sehrai, the long-time associate of hard-line separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, was nominated as TeH chief on March 18 and on March 25, Sehrai’s son Junaid’s picture holding an AK-47 rifle went viral. He had joined Hizbul Mujahideen. This is a young man with an MBA from Kashmir University, so his choice to join the path of violence sent more than one message at a time. In an extremely complex situation that has emerged in Kashmir in the past few years, this could be a turning point to a path determined by violence.

Sehrai’s elevation was itself a significant development, and many people see him as the successor to Geelani in the Hurriyat Conference as well. Since a number of Kashmiri youth have joined militant ranks in the past few years and the killing of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of militancy, pushed more into this fold, parents are losing control of their wards. It has been offset by a few examples of some boys returning home after their parents sent out an appeal. However, the number of those who joined is a matter of concern. As reports suggest, in first three months of 2018 27 boys joined the militant ranks and unlike 1900s they have immediately surfaced with pictures holding an AK 47.

When Sehrai’s son joined militant ranks, it was no different a situation than others except that his father had just taken on a new role. Junaid had quit his job at Paytm, an E-payment company four months earlier and was probably preparing to take this arduous step. Was it a coincidence that he announced his joining soon after the mantle of the TeH had entered his home? Only he can answer that question.

Many believe that Sehrai is more of a hardliner than his leader in many ways. Though soft-spoken, his unwavering stance on the resolution of the Kashmir issue has made him second to Geelani. While his is the political recourse to address Kashmir, he refused to listen to the government functionaries who had asked him to make an appeal to his son to return. But that is not possible for him to do, as a leader he would find it difficult to justify the consumption of others in violence.

However, Junaid’s decision has opened the debate from more than one angle. Many see it as an answer to the question: Why are the sons of Hurriyat leaders not picking up the gun and instead choosing better careers? Government functionaries and most TV channels would use this as a counter-argument. Will it help silence them? If yes, then it has come at a cost.

In any case, it is debatable whether Kashmir as a society should “celebrate” this as a terse reply to critics of those who are spearheading the struggle “for freedom”. What is disturbing is that the complexion of this movement has again changed. The transition from violence to non-violence seems to be a thing of the past. Youth choosing the path of violence has social sanction now. That is why no serious question was raised when Junaid headed towards the armed camp. He could have perhaps helped his father in his political struggle.

On the other hand, his entry has come as a booster shot in the arm of Hizbul Mujahideen that has been confronted with other ideologies. Notwithstanding a substantial increase in its strength in the recent past, its battle with other ideological forces has taken a new turn. Besides the crisis in leadership after Burhan’s killing, it has been struggling to overcome the challenge posed by those who profess IS and Daesh ideologies. Though fewer in number, their strategy has been to give the impression that they are all over the place. At the funeral of Eisa Fazili, a militant with Tehreek-ul Mujahideen, a few people “stole the show” by wrapping his body in an IS flag and took over the scene. The Hizb has already lost Zakir Musa to Gazwatul Hind, an off-shoot of Al Qaeda.

The ideology of Jamaat-e-Islami that runs through Hizbul Mujahideen has been challenged by these elements. The statements by them against Pakistan and the Jamaat herald a change on the politico-militant spectrum. And obviously the Jamaat is threatened by these developments in the same manner Muslim Brotherhood was in the Arab World. Even officials insist that Kashmir’s IS is a fringe that fancies itself as loftier. The reality is that they make their presence felt but in few pockets.

Many believe that Junaid could lead the Hizb as a strong political investment and this might help the Jamaat recover lost turf. The word on the street is that, “Junaid is our own boy.” Officially, though, Jamaat does not own the Hizb the way it did in the early 90s. Nevertheless the ideological battle it will have to endure may become real. Besides raising his father’s stock with high moral ground in this camp, Junaid’s entry is likely to attract more towards this path. His joining is likely to become a benchmark. How it will unfold is difficult to predict but one thing is clear that Sehrai and his son’s new roles have come at a critical time.

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