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J&K: Embryonic Investigations

J&K: Embryonic Investigations

Ajit Kumar Singh Research Fellow; Institute for Conflict Management | @indiablooms | 25 Oct 2017, 12:21 pm
On October 17, 2017, a National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court in Delhi extended tillNovember 15, 2017, the judicial custody of seven Kashmiri separatists arrested on July 24, 2017, in connection with the NIA case for funding terrorist organisations in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). These arrested separatists included Altaf Ahmad Shah Funtoosh Geelani, Ayaz Akbar Khandey, Raja Mehrajuddin Kalwal, Peer Saifullah, Aftab Hilali Shah aka Shahid-ul-Islam, Nayeem Khan and Farooq Ahmad Dar aka Bitta Karate. Farooq Ahmad Dar was arrested in New Delhi and the other accused persons were arrested from Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K. Altaf Ahmad Shah Funtoosh Geelani is the son-in-law of All Parties Hurriyat Conference-Geelani (APHC-G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Aftab Hilali Shah is a close aide of APHC-Mirwaiz (APHC-M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Ayaz Akbar Khandey is the spokesperson for the APHC-G.

According to the NIA website, the investigative agency had registered the case (No. RC-10/2017/NIA/DLI) on May 30, 2017, against the,

.separatist and secessionist leaders, including the members/cadres of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who have been acting in connivance with active militants of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Dukhtarane Millat, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and other terrorist organizations/associations and gangs for raising, receiving and collecting funds through various illegal means, including hawala (illegal transfer of money), for funding separatist and terrorist activities in J&K and for causing disruption in Kashmir Valley by way of pelting stones on the security forces, burning schools, damaging public property and waging war against India. In pursuance of this FIR, the National Investigation Agency had conducted widespread searches on the suspected persons in Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Haryana and incriminating documents, electronic devices, cash and other valuables worth crores were unearthed during those searches.

Earlier, on May 19, 2017, NIA had has registered a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) into the

.funding of Hurriyat leaders namely Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Naeem Khan, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Gazi Javed Baba and others in J&K by Hafiz Muhammed Saeed and other Pakistan based terrorists and agencies to carry out subversive activities in Kashmir and for damaging public property, stone pelting on the security forces, burning of schools and other Government establishments.

The PE was registered subsequent to NIA taking into cognizance news item related to the recording of conversations between the reporter and leaders of the separatist groups operating in Kashmir valley, by India Today TV, on May 15, 2017, in this regard.

Meanwhile, the NIA Court also extended, till November 15, 2017, the judicial custody of businessman Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali, arrested in connection with the same case on August 17, 2017. Watali's arrest followed the searches conducted by the NIA on the previous day (August 16) at multiple locations in Srinagar, Handwara, Kupwara and Baramulla, belonging to the relatives and employees of Zahoor Watali. The searches had unearthed, according to the NIA, highly incriminating material pertaining to receipt of funds by Zahoor Watali from foreign sources and its further distribution to the terrorists and separatists in the Kashmir Valley for anti-India activities.

The premier investigating agency (NIA) has also registered three other separate cases related to terror funding since September 2011. These include:

Illegal Transfer of funds in large scale from Pakistan to India through import of California Almonds (RC-17/2016/NIA/DLI): The case was registered by NIA on December 16, 2016, following the Central Government receiving information that

.a large scale transfer of funds from Pakistan to India through the import of California Almonds (badam giri) via the cross-LoC [Line of Control] Trade Facilitation Centers (TFCs) located at Salamabad, Uri, District Baramulla and Chakkan-Da-Bag, District Poonch has taken place. This is in violation of the policy of the prohibition of trade in 'third-party foreign goods' through this mechanism and that these funds are being used for fomenting terrorism/separatism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Terror Funding in Jammu & Kashmir (RC-12/2011/NIA/DLI): The case was registered by NIA on November 14, 2011. It was alleged that

Ghulam Nabi Lone, a distributor of funds for the HM and LeT sent about Rs.4 lakhs [INR 400,000] to Habibullah Lone through Irshad Ahmad Lone during the months of May and June, 2011 for illegally financing HM and LeT cadres. The fund was distributed through various conduits in Delhi and other states to the cadres of HM and LeT and used for anti-national and subversive activities".

Terror Funding in J&K through Hawala Transaction (RC-06/2011/NIA/DLI): The case was registered by NIA on September 7, 2011. The case deals with the information that the "money from Pakistan is being sent to Jammu & Kashmir through hawala channels via Delhi suspected to be used in funding terrorism and secessionist activities. The money so supplied might have been provided to the terrorist and their sympathizers' active in J&K".

Ironically, despite investigation for over six years during which a charge sheet (dated July 20, 2011) and a supplementary charge sheet (dated December 22, 2011) were filed in these cases, NIA stated that "there has been no considerable progress in the further investigation of the case after the filing of the supplementary charge sheet" in RC-06/2011/NIA/DLI and the case is still under investigation. Moreover, two of the six charge sheeted people still remain absconding; the other four are under judicial custody.

More appallingly, in the terror funding case (RC-12/2011/NIA/DLI) NIA completed and filed a final report in the court of Special Judge, NIA, New Delhi, on March 30, 2013. Subsequently, on September 6, 2104, the court accepted the closure report filed by NIA. Though three people - Gulam Nabi Lone, Habibullah Lone and Irshad Ahmed Lone - were accused, no charge sheet was filed during the entire period of investigation.

Further, no arrest has been made in the Illegal Transfer of funds case (RC-17/2016/NIA/DLI) and the case is still under investigation, though over 10 months have passed. In the case against secessionist and separatist leaders (RC-10/2017/NIA/DLI), eight people (mentioned above) have been arrested; however, no charge sheet has been filed despite the passage of over four months since registration of the case. However, searches were conducted at 27 locations in Delhi and Srinagar by the NIA teams on September 6, 2017, during which "cash amounting to approximately Rs. 2.20 Crores (22 million) has been recovered besides incriminating documents pertaining to financial transactions... The diaries pertaining to contacts of hawala operators/ traders, ledger books containing accounts of cross border LoC trade of various trading companies have been recovered..."

On January 16, 2017, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had informed the State Legislative Assembly that hawala money was being used to fund 'terror' activities and violence in the State and that 173 such cases had been registered in the State since 2001. In a written reply in the Assembly, she stated, "As per reports from CID [Criminal Investigation Department] hawala channels are being used to fund terror and violence in the State. Since 2001, 173 hawala cases have been registered. Challans were issued in 90 of these. Of the total, 45 cases are under investigation, while sanction is awaited in 23 cases. Nine cases were "untraced" and six not admitted."

Other measures to control the menace have also failed. Indeed, contradicting the Central Government's claim that after demonetization terror funding had come down to zero, Mehbooba Mufti informed the State Legislative Assembly on January 16, 2017, that, "The State Government has not received any report so far on effects of demonetization on the recent unrest in the Valley." In her written reply she had also disclosed that no case had been registered with regard to Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs) being used to fund violence during the unrest. On November 14, 2016, a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of INR 500 and INR 1,000 notes, the then Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar had claimed, "In the last few days after PM's daring move, there hasn't been stone pelting on security forces. Earlier, there were rates: Rs 500 for stone pelting (on security forces in Kashmir) and Rs 1,000 for doing something else. PM has brought terror funding to zero." Interestingly, the Central Government continues to push the same narrative, without providing any specific details. Most recently, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley claimed that terror funding had been 'squeezed' subsequent to demonetization.

It is, however, kinetic measures that have had the most significant impact on the trajectory of terrorism in J&K. Operation All-Out launched in March 2017 in Kashmir Division with the aim to "ensure that Kashmir is freed from violence and peace prevails", has thus far resulted in the killing of at least 152 terrorists (data till October 22, 2017) in the region (Kashmir Division). Another two terrorists were killed in Jammu Division - one each in Poonch and Jammu Districts - during the same period. The State Director-General of Police S. P. Vaid, however, conceded that these operational successes must be backed by several other measures. Stopping terror funding is indeed one such necessary measure. Regrettably, however, all existing initiatives to stop such flow of funds have failed to produce desired results, so far.

Given the past record, recent developments including action by NIA, can at best be seen as tentative moves in the right direction and nothing more. It would require superlative work from NIA to take the cases which are still under investigation to any final conclusion. Most prominently in, NIA Case No RC-10/2017/NIA/DLI, where top separatist leaders are under scanner, will require tremendous focus, not only on the part of the investigative agency but, even more importantly, unwavering political will. Terrorist funding by the separatist leadership has long been an open secret in J&K, but enforcement and investigative agencies have always been denied the mandate to take effective action. The NIA can achieve nothing unless there is unvarying support from the political class, both at the Centre and the State. Unfortunately, such support has been conspicuous in its absence within a political leadership manifestly bereft of political sagacity.