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Explained: What Is the Now Banned JKDFP and Who Is its Leader Shabir Shah?

The crackdown on JKDFP started in 2017 when Shabir Shah, its president, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in a 2005 money laundering case.
Shabir Shah.

Srinagar: The decision to ban the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party (JKDFP), a separatist outfit led by the incarcerated Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah, marks another chapter in a process set in motion by the Union government in 2019 to curtail separatist politics in Jammu and Kashmir.

In a notification, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the outfit has links with Pakistan and it was involved in fund raising for “unlawful and… terrorist activities” in Jammu and Kashmir “which are prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty, security and communal harmony of the country”.

While calling for “immediate and prompt action” against the outfit, the notification states that the party has alleged links with “banned terrorist organisations” and it wants to create “a separate Islamic State” in Jammu and Kashmir.

“JKDFP and its members have been involved in the violent terrorist activities .., thereby endangering the security and public order of the State, and its anti-national activities also show disrespect and disregard to the constitutional authority and sovereignty of the state,” the notification said, declaring the outfit as an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for five years.

Crackdown on JKDFP

JKDFP is the fourth separatist outfit to face the ban under the UAPA after Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Jamaat-e-Islami and Dukhtaran-e-Millat.

The crackdown on JKDFP started in 2017 when Shabir Shah, its president, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a 2005 money laundering case.

The case was initially investigated by Delhi Police’s Special Cell following the arrest of Mohammad Aslam Wani, a Kashmiri resident who reportedly claimed to be working as Shah’s conduit in hawala funding.

A chargesheet by the ED, which took over the investigation of the case in 2007, accused Shah and Wani of being in touch with Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad based in Pakistan.

Cracking the whip, the agency seized Shah’s Srinagar residence. Another property in Kashmir, registered in the name of Shah’s wife, a prominent Srinagar-based doctor who has also been accused of money laundering, was also attached.

Meanwhile, Wani, the alleged hawala conduit whose statement became the basis for the financial investigation against the separatist leader, was cleared of hawala charges by a court in 2010, even though he was convicted for illegal possession of arms.

Sweeping crackdown

In June 2019, Shah was already in jail when the National Investigation Agency arrested him in a terror funding case, as part of a sweeping crackdown on separatist groups in Kashmir.

Several mainstream leaders were also detained ahead of the reading down of Article 370 and downgrading of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.

The terror funding case was filed by the NIA in the aftermath of a sting operation by a Delhi-based TV network which caught Nayeem Khan, another Hurriyat leader, allegedly admitting to receiving funds for financing protests and violence in Kashmir.

Khan has denied the sting and accused the network of using the footage “out of context”.

JKLF chief Yasin Malik and other Hurriyat leaders and activists are languishing in New Delhi’s Tihar jail in the case. Malik has pleaded guilty and was awarded a life term for waging war against India (Section 121 of Indian Penal Code) and raising terror funds under the UAPA (Section 17), besides other offences.

Altaf Shah alias ‘Funtoosh’, a middle-rung separatist leader and son-in-law of the late Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Geelani, passed away in jail awaiting the completion of the trial in the terror funding case.

Politics of separatism

Shah embraced politics at a young age and he has spent more than 30 years of his life in jail, earning the nickname of ‘Nelson Mandela of Kashmir’.

Born in south Kashmir’s Kadipora village in 1953, the JKDFP chief was reportedly first arrested as a teenager in 1968, marking his first brush with politics. In later years, he was repeatedly caught on the wrong side of law for advocating the right to self-determination of people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Shah’s repeated detentions is believed to have cast a shadow on his education and he couldn’t complete school.

The JKDFP chief formed the ‘Young Men’s League’, one of the first Kashmiri separatist outfits, along with other colleagues, writes Jammu-based historian and academic Rekha Chowdhary in her 2019 book, Jammu and Kashmir: 1990 and beyond: Competitive politics in the shadow of separatism.

When Pakistan split into two in 1971, Shah shuttled frequently between jail terms and hideouts, sometimes for opposing the Shimla Agreement between India and Pakistan and on one occasion for his criticism of the 1975 accord between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah.

The controversial accord has been blamed by opponents as an attempt by the National Conference founder, whose career rose meteorically on the basis of his opposition to New Delhi, to save himself from the wrath of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was fresh from inflicting a crushing defeat on Islamabad by splitting the country into two.

In 1974, Shah joined JKPL, which advocated secession of Jammu and Kashmir from India.

Shah’s father, a government officer, was reportedly killed in police custody, while his brother won the state assembly elections in 1987, the irregularities in which are widely believed to have become one of the trigger for insurgency in Kashmir.

The birth of Hurriyat

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was formed on July 31, 1993, clubbing together all the separatist outfits of Kashmir. JKPL was one of the seven members of the APHC’s Executive Council.

London-based Amnesty International declared Shah a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ in 1993 for his long run in jail. But he rubbed many in the Hurriyat the wrong way for consistently advocating dialogue with New Delhi at a time when India was facing a formidable challenge in the form of armed insurgency in Kashmir.

Shah also went against the Hurriyat by holding parleys with K.C. Pant, New Delhi’s first Kashmir interlocutor, V.P. Singh and the US Ambassador Frank Wisner.

In 2003, when the APHC, then led by Maulana Abbas Ansari, announced its intent to hold a dialogue with the Centre, Shah jumped ship along with the separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani and JKLF chief to form a rival faction of the Hurriyat.

A decade later, in 2014, Shah, who has been switching between the hardline and moderate factions of the Hurriyat, caused a third split in the APHC by launching the JK Hurriyat Conference after being reportedly miffed with the faction of the Hurriyat led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

The ban on JKDFP comes days after authorities lifted curbs on Mirwaiz who was allegedly put under house arrest a day ahead of the reading down of Article 370. It is interesting that it took the Centre more than four years to impose the ban on Shah’s outfit.

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