New Delhi: The arrest of seven separatist leaders, remanded to 10-day police custody on Tuesday, for their alleged involvement in terror funding could drastically alter the landscape of militancy in Kashmir, experts say.
While one of them, Altaf Shah, is hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s son-in-law, the other six—Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Mehraj Kalwal, Shahid-ul-Islam, Naeem Khan and Bitta Karate—are alleged to have close links to the Hurriyat.
While the Hurriyat and other separatist leaders have been the intellectual and political face of militancy in Kashmir, this crackdown sets in stone the fact that the separatists have links to Pakistan- sponsored terror organizations, security experts said. It also proves that internal trade routes across India too are actively involved in the process, they said.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which made the arrests, has come to the conclusion that the funding was received through “illegal means and hawala channels." A senior intelligence officer, who did not wish to be identified, stated that one of the main sources of illegal income was the carpets and dry fruits trade route.
“One of the main sources of funds is invoicing fraud during trade deals. If a retailer in another state says that he is buying dry fruits from Kashmir worth Rs25 lakhs, he actually pays the wholesaler in Kashmir Rs1 crore, while the invoice reflects the former amount. The remaining Rs75 lakh is then released in very small instalments of Rs1.5-2 lakh to fund the (protesting) stone pelters," the officer said.
The officer also added that while the separatists were under the scanner for having allegedly received funds from the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to carry out subversive activities in Kashmir, the hawala money laundering network was also actively used to fund to sponsor home-grown militants.
“A significant portion of these funds are also used to sustain home-grown terrorists. This money is used to finance their food, provisions, upkeep and other expenses that they incur," the officer added.
Early in June, NIA had raided 23 locations across Srinagar and Delhi, following the questioning of the seven separatist leaders. A week later, Altaf Shah was also quizzed by NIA after the investigative agency found evidence that was incriminating enough to indict him, according to NIA. While Shah’s property was sealed by the NIA, on Monday the agency finally cracked down on him.
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“A case has been registered against the separatist leaders and member cadres of the Hurriyat Conference, who have been acting in connivance with the Hizbul Mujahideen, Dukhtarane Millat, LeT and other militant organisations for collecting funds through illegal means for funding terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir," NIA said in a statement.
The Union home ministry stated that it was actively looking at rounding up all those in the Valley and other states, who were actively or tacitly lending support to the ongoing civil unrest and militancy in Kashmir.
“These arrests are indicative that nobody will be spared. We are actively investigating all the links to terror funding through all possible links and we will soon reach a conclusion in this regard," said a senior home ministry official, requesting anonymity.
Experts also added that it was imperative to first identify the actual sources of terror funding, before cracking down on militancy and terrorism in Kashmir.
“It is not just important to nip terrorism in the bud, but it is first important to identify and choke the source of funding. Once you identify how the money comes in, it becomes easier to get to the root of the problem and identify who and what factors are responsible for what is happening in Kashmir," said Gaurav Arya, former Indian Army officer and defence expert.
The separatists were produced in Delhi’s Patiala House Court on Tuesday following which they were remanded to police custody for 10 days.