Pakistan is looking hard to find a new separatist voice to lead the Hurriyat Conference, multiple government and security officials familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
The separatist body, first formed in 1993, has played an important part in Kashmir but has been largely defunct since the state’s special status was changed last year on August 5.
“The deep state in Pakistan is looking for younger leaders and has been trying to persuade those who have been a part of militant organizations, including the more battle-hardened groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba,’’ a home ministry official said.
There has been no direction from the Hurriyat leaders to the general masses — diktats were common before that — in the past year.
In a surprise move, 91-year-old SAS Geelani who was the separatist group’s “chairman for life” resigned from the faction of the Hurriyat he headed. The parallel body, headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been silent for nearly a year.
“Pakistan is looking for fresh faces to take charge and channelize the anger and resentment over the government’s decision to strip the state of its special status, once guaranteed under Article 370,” said another official, adding that “the changes in the domicile law has also led to a lot of disquiet.”
On August 5 last year, the Rajya Sabha passed laws and resolutions effectively abrogating Article 370 and splitting Jammu & Kashmir into two Union territories. The Lok Sabha passed these the following day.
In March this year, the government enacted an executive order where it expanded the definition of domicile to include non-locals who have been living in Jammu & Kashmir for 15 years and the children of Central government employees who have worked in the region for 10 years.
The Hurriyat was at the forefront of several agitations in the past and both Geelani and the faction led by the Mirwaiz were instrumental in issuing protest calendars.
Most separatist leaders were placed under house arrest ahead of the Centre’s move to bifurcate the state into two Union Territories and have not been able to organise protests.
The Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq broke its silence after almost a year, when in July, it held a meeting and called for the Kashmir problem to be resolved through dialogue between India, Pakistan and the people of J&K.
The meeting was held a few days after Geelani resigned and accused his colleagues of inaction and corruption. Soon after the meeting, a statement was issued in which the Mirwaiz faction vowed to work towards “the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir conflict.”
In his resignation letter, Geelani accused his colleagues of having failed to evolve a strategy to counter the reading down of Article 370.
Many in the Hurriyat are also being probed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
“Pakistan is now trying its best to create a new team,” said the first official quoted above. Pakistan has provided a base to several terror groups operating in Kashmir and India has maintained that its neighbour exports terror and foments trouble in the Valley.
To mark the first anniversary of the reading down of Article 370, Pakistani Prime Minister released a new, “political map” in which it identified Kashmir as a “disputed territory.”