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Masarat set to be ISI’s poster boy in valley
ABHINANDAN MISHRA  New Delhi | 14th Mar 2015

akistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is looking at Masarat Alam Bhat as its new poster boy to provoke once again large-scale anti-India demonstrations in the Kashmir valley, say sources in Jammu and Kashmir. They claim that the game plan is for Kashmir to erupt into 2010-style confrontations between the youth and the security forces, so as to rekindle interest in mediation in the United States and among major powers in the European Union, and that assistance is being arranged via the Gulf region to further such a plan. Indian intelligence agencies have expressed serious concern over Masarat Alam emerging as the new face of the Kashmir separatist movement and have underlined his potential to be a rallying point for the anti-national forces active in the state.

"Rather than healing and stability, the release of Alam will reopen old wounds and may again create chaos in Kashmir," a senior intelligence officer warned, adding that "the lackadaisical approach (to such potential risks) even during Governor's Rule is incomprehensible".

Sources said that a very prominent section of the separatists has made up their mind to increase Alam's stature in the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference, which is led by ailing patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The plan is, eventually, to replace Geelani with Alam, whose "allegiance to the dictates of Pakistan when it comes to Kashmir is well known". "An organised effort is now on to turn Masarat Alam into a hero in the valley and this is a cause of great concern for us," an official said.

Alam, who was among the principal organisers of the ISI-directed anti-India protests of 2010 in the valley, which saw the death of 112 people, was freed from a Baramulla jail recently after Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed asked the state police chief to initiate the process of releasing political prisoners against whom there were no criminal charges. Alam was in detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) since October 2010 and had become a prominent figure in the valley for issuing protest calendars during the 2010 unrest and at one time carried a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head.

Officials said that Alam had established a very strong bond with anti-India elements within the youth of the valley during the stone throwing protests and the political drama that erupted over his release has added more to his attraction. Several visitors are meeting him daily, including known anti-India elements and mysterious visitors from unknown locations.

"Alam was slowly fading away from public memory, but the way his release was mishandled has given him a new platform," said an official in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The opinion among the security establishment is that the MHA could have handled the release in a different way rather than letting it become such a big matter that even the Prime Minister was forced to issue a statement in Parliament.

A worried Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked officials to keep a close eye on Alam and his supporters and according to senior officials, the MHA will not wait for one unnecessary minute in taking action against Alam if it finds him indulging in any anti-India movements. However, sources point out that Masarat Alam "has lost no time in trying to revive street protests in Kashmir with the objective of declaring independence from the Union of India" and that thus far, the MHA is "simply a bystander".

With the kind of response Alam has got from separatist elements in the valley, the MHA may not find it so easy to take action against him without generating serious retaliation and intense public protest engineered from outside. The Hurriyat Conference has already issued a stern warning of "severe" consequences in case Alam is "harmed" in any way by the government. Alam's release may cause consequences very different from those sought by the PDP-BJP government when the decision was taken to release him.

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