Omar Abdullah's sternest test yet (Kashmir Newsletter)
By Sheikh Qayoom, Srinagar, Feb 23 : The Jammu and Kashmir government might have aptly handled the law and order situation in the wake of Afzal Guru's hanging, but a "protest calendar" issued by a senior separatist leader has begun worrying the authorities here. The question that begs an answer is: Who will blink first? The separatists or Chief Minister Omar Abdullah?
Reminiscent of the 2010 summer unrest in which 110 protesters were killed in clashes between unruly mobs and the security forces, octogenarian Syed Ali Geelani has issued a protest calendar asking for shutdown and protests that is renewed from week to week.
Although Geelani is at present in New Delhi, where he says Delhi Police have placed him under house arrest, he has been continuously issuing statements detailing his protest programmes.
Another senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who arrived here Thursday, was escorted by the police from the airport to his Nigeen residence, where he has been placed under house arrest.
The separatists have been asking the people to stage protests against Afsal Guru's hanging and mount pressure on the government to return his body to his family. Afsal Guru's family has already refused to offer funeral prayers at his grave in Delhi's Tihar Jail, where he was buried after the Feb 9 execution.
Tihar Jail authorities have said the family has even refused to collect Afsal Guru's belongings that are lying with them.
Earlier this week, most residents in north Kashmir towns of Sopore and Baramulla had spent an anxious sleepless night when rumours spread that Afsal Guru's body was being brought to his native village by the authorities for a nocturnal burial. The rumour mill worked so powerfully that Afsal Guru's wife Tabasssum had to issue a statement that once brought back, her husband's body would be buried where the local residents wanted the burial.
An epitaph on a mysteriously put up tombstone in the city's Martyrs' Graveyard said Afzal Guru's mortal remains "are lying in trust with the Indian government".
The rumours were finally put to rest after home ministry officials said in Delhi that no proposal to return the body was under consideration.
Administratively, the state government seems to have waded off the turbulence caused by the hanging. What worries Abdullah and others in the state government is that the hanging might cast a shadow on the forthcoming tourist season and the annual Amarnath Yatra.
On their part, the separatists are planning to continue their protest calendars with intermittent spells of "normalcy" to allow local businessmen and office-goers to earn their livelihood.
During the 2010 summer unrest, the separatists had called for protests and shutdowns without any letup for almost three months. This dealt a serious blow to the local economy and the education system. The people finally defied the separatist diktats and opened businesses and educational institutions.
A haunting picture of a schoolboy wearing a helmet in a bus to reach his school through areas mobbed by stone pelters is still fresh in the memory of the people here.
At the bottom line, whether the separatists would become wiser from their past experience to think of more peaceful means to help Afzal Guru's family depends heavily on Abdullah's ability to handle the delicate law and order situation with firmness and restraint.
One more civilian killing, either during the ongoing protests or in some remote village, by the security forces could endanger peace in the Valley in 2013.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)