Mobile Towers of Silence!

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The ongoing attacks on people who are connected with telecommunication business in the Valley are mysterious.  This whodunit is unique since it has a host of suspects but not a shred of evidence to prove anyone’s involvement.

For those who like solving complex mysteries or enjoy reading intriguing ‘conspiracy’ theories, Kashmir is the right place as here you’ll find both in abundance. There are the ‘evergreen’ mysteries and conspiracies as well as the new and novel ones. The former category has age old unsolved riddles like that of the ‘unknown gunmen’ who go about killing innocent civilians and New Delhi’s ‘grand conspiracy’ to alter the demographic composition in Kashmir. While these stereotype mysteries and conspiracies may not arouse much interest anymore, but the latter category which consistently spawns unique mysteries and curious conspiracies would capture the imagination of every armchair detective and amateur investigator!

One such latest mystery relates to the ongoing attacks on people who are connected with telecommunication business.  This whodunit is unique since it has a host of suspects but not a shred of evidence to prove anyone’s involvement. It all started one fine morning in the third week of May when residents of Sopore town in North Kashmir woke up to find ‘warning posters’ pasted all over. While such incidents are not uncommon in Kashmir it is mainly the ‘agents’ working for the security forces or other intelligence and law-enforcing agencies of government who are periodically cautioned to mend their ways. However, in this case, the posters were directed against telecom companies with the ‘advice’ to either close shop or face dire consequences. 

Since the threat to telecom companies didn’t make any sense and was issued by an unknown organisation calling itself ‘Lashkar-e-Islam’, no one took this warning seriously. Probably, everyone must have thought that this was the handiwork of mischief mongers or at best some petty criminals trying to use the ‘militant threat’ angle to extort some money from gullible telecom operators. So, it was business as usual till a series of grenade and gun attacks directed at those connected directly as well as indirectly with the telecom business made the people realise that this previously unheard of militant outfit meant business! And with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as well as United Jihad Council (UJC) chief and Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Sallauhdin denying the involvement of their outfits in these attacks, the identity of those behind the ‘anti-mobile campaign’ has become a mystery.

Let me try my hand in solving this mystery by adopting the investigative method used by the legendary Miss Marple created by Agatha Christie. So I start with the most unlikely suspect- Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani. While the very thought of questioning the antecedents of Geelani sahib may appear to be offensive but it is not meant to demean the venerable patriarch in any way. It is only that in trying to solve any mystery, one has to ‘doubt’ all those who may have an interest in the case to narrow down the list of suspects and then ‘home-on’ to the real perpetuator. Of course one could always contend that Geelani sahib is a man of peace who has nothing against the telecommunication sector and that he has himself promptly and univocally condemned violence against those telecom operators by calling it an act of terrorism. Further, by saying that “telecommunication is working as a lifeline in the modern era and the life looks impossible without this system,” the Hurriyat (G) chairman has amply demonstrated that he doesn’t support anything that curbs telecommunication. 

However, even though the Hurriyat (G) chairman has extolled the virtues of telecommunication in the “modern era,” and condemned the Sopore attacks, his aversion to mobile phones is well known to all. After all, wasn’t it Geelani sahib who in 2011 said “ My heart aches to see our young daughters using these mobile phones and parents allowing this open intrusion into the privacy of their lives and homes. I appeal all of us that if some honour is left in us, we should collect these mobile phones and throw them into the Jhelum River. After all, we were able to live our lives, do our businesses properly before the advent of mobiles!” However, listing Geelani sahib as a ‘suspect’ merely on the basis of this belief of his would be grossly unfair. His matter of fact statement that “the target killing of the employees and the people related to the telecommunication companies in Sopore is beyond understanding and we fail to understand what could be the objectives behind these attacks and who have done these dastardly acts,” says it all and completely exonerates him.

Hurriyat (G) chairman has also mentioned that “the picture about the killers is unclear but the recent statement of the Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar (that) target killings and terrorism is the solution to militancy in Kashmir gives birth to many questions and doubts and in this perspective, we cannot rule out the another angle of these actions; that it may be a deliberate attempt to put the terrorist tag on the struggle of Kashmiris.” Thus, New Delhi becomes the next suspect and it could well be possible that the center is behind the violence against those in telecommunication business. But, things don’t add up and this speculation is not very convincing. Presently, the BJP led government at the center is facing flak from all and sundry for following a ‘weak-kneed’ Kashmir policy and for its inability to curb militant violence. Thus at a time when its own credibility is at stake, the idea of targeting people in telecom business merely  to discredit the “struggle of Kashmiris” would be nothing but cutting off the nose just to spite the face! Thus, the role of the center in this case appears to be highly improbable.  

With the role of the Hurriyat and the center behind the Sopore killings being unlikely, the mystery deepens further and despite denials issued by LeT and the UJC chief, the militant outfits too come under the scanner. Though it is yet to provide evidence to support its claim, the J&K police is confident that this is the work of militants concealing their true identity by adopting the hitherto- fore unknown name of ‘Lashkar-e-Islam” . While the separatists haven’t blamed the militants, it is pertinent to note that they have not given them a ‘clean chit’ either. By saying that, “Kashmir faces two types of guns; one of state and the other of militants and both have disowned and condemned it in a very straight forward manner. So the question arises who did it,” JKLF chairman Yasin Malik has himself pointed a finger of suspicion the militants. Even the Hurriyat (G) chairman has done the same by saying that “although the militant organisations have distanced themselves from these attacks, but they should also investigate these incidents at their own level and find out the real culprits and objectives hidden behind these attacks.” 

Establishment of a plausible motive or objective behind this spate of attacks in Sopore may perhaps provide a clue regarding the identity of those responsible for these despicable acts of senseless violence. Initial newspaper reports did mention police sources telling reporters that these attacks were carried out by militants against those people in telecommunication business whom they suspected of having informed the police about the hi-tech communication equipment which the militants had surreptitiously installed on mobile towers for their own use. If this claim is true, then everything fits into place and the mystery stands solved. But a question still remains- why is the militant outfit responsible for these attacks hiding its true identity by adopting a new name? Though I have no definite reply to this, the answer probably lies in the fact that militants in Kashmir have a history of assuming a new identity whenever they apprehend that the act being carried out by them could invite public wrath or international criticism! 

Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani has made a very significant observation that “the persons or the agencies involved in these killings are not only the enemies of humanity but they are also working against the struggle of Kashmir Nation.” In the past we have been ‘protecting’ militants and this folly has cost our struggle dear. We first made this mistake in 1990 when Mirwaiz Mahammad Farooq was assassinated, then again in 1993 when Professor Abdul Ahad Wani was shot dead. We repeated this mistake again in 1995 when Mohammad Sultan Bhat was murdered and also in 2002 when Adbul Gani Lone was gunned down. Thus, Geelani sahib’s announcement that “we will not hesitate in raising our voice against those people or agencies that are behind these inhuman incidents,” is really reassuring. One only hopes that even if the truth is unpalatable, it will not be suppressed this time as was unfortunately done in the past! 

Author can be reached at: niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com

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