J&K: Who is leading stone-pelting protests?
Srinagar: A little-known Kashmiri separatist leader is spurring stone-throwing protests against Indian security forces in the Kashmir Valley with tactics such as YouTube recruitment videos and protest calendars published in local media.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has identified the separatist leader as 39-year-old Masarat Alam Bhat.
He told the WSJ that these protests would intensify after the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, which falls around September 10, unless India offers major concessions to appease protesters who want Kashmir to be its own nation or a part of Pakistan.
The Indian Government says publicly the protests are either backed by Pakistan, which has fought two wars with India over Muslim-majority Kashmir, or are spontaneous and leaderless.
But Bhat conveys a picture of a movement that is home-grown and highly organised.
"We are hopeful and sure we will win this war," Bhat, who rarely speaks to media, said from a location in Srinagar, the summer capital of India`s Jammu and Kashmir state.
He claimed that he changes his location every few hours to avoid arrest on charges of inciting violence. He also says that he isn`t backed by Pakistan.
"People are all against India now. They will do anything. They will sacrifice anything," he claimed.
"Mass mobilisation has happened before, but never so systematic, never for so long and never so widespread. He`s strategised it," says Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a law professor at the University of Kashmir.
Kashmir`s Inspector General of Police SM Sahai says the authorities are on the lookout for Bhat for playing a central role in the protests.
He believes Bhat`s core supporters, unemployed youths aged under 25 years old, have intimidated other Kashmiris to shut down schools and shops but that many are now tired of the closures.
A senior Indian Home Ministry official said Bhat has a larger support base than other separatist leaders.
"He represents the extreme form of Islamism in Kashmir," the official said, adding that his tactics will be fruitless.
"We`re not giving in to threats. There`s no chance," the official said.
Bhat is a science graduate who speaks fluent English and wears a long, unkempt beard in the Islamic fashion—is the leader of a separatist party called the Muslim League. He is also the deputy of the hard-line faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a separatist group with conservative, Islamist leanings that rejects talks with India on Kashmir`s status.
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