Updated at 2:24 p.m. ET on 2017-07-24
India’s top counter-terror unit charged seven Kashmiri separatist leaders Monday with allegedly funding terror groups and instigating violence in the disputed Himalayan region, officials said.
The suspects in the custody of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) were identified as Nayeem Khan, Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Mehraj Kalwal, Shahid-ul-Islam, Farooq Ahmad Dar and Altaf Shah.
“We have technical and electronic evidence that establishes the roles of the accused in funding terror groups and fomenting violence in Kashmir. We also know that they were involved in arranging funds through illegal channels to instigate Kashmiris to pelt stones at [Indian] security forces and burn down schools and government buildings in an attempt to disrupt peace in the region,” Alok Mittal, the NIA’s inspector general, told reporters in New Delhi on Monday.
“Evidence collected so far clearly proves a financial trail as well as a direct link between terror activities and funding from Pakistan-based terror groups,” Mittal said.
The NIA said the arrests were part of efforts to unravel how Pakistan and terror groups allegedly backed by Islamabad, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), were funding separatism in Indian-administered Kashmir. The intervention by the NIA marks the first time that a central agency is probing the alleged involvement of Pakistan in instigating regional separatism since the insurgency broke out in the late 1980s.
India has on several occasions accused Pakistan, its arch rival, of funding separatists – a charge repeatedly denied by Pakistan, which says that the conflict in Kashmir is a result of India’s oppressive rule in the Muslim-majority region. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, more than 70,000 people have been killed in the insurgency in Kashmir over the course of decades.
“All the accused will be produced in a Delhi court on Tuesday, following which we will thoroughly interrogate them,” Mittal said.
More arrests likely: police
More than a month ago, the NIA conducted raids at the residences of the accused and claimed that it recovered almost 20 million rupees (U.S. $310,872) in cash along with letterheads for the LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the oldest and largest separatist faction of Indian Kashmir.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who head different factions of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), and Pakistan-based Hafiz Saeed, co-founder of LeT, also have been named as suspects in the first information report (FIR) filed by the NIA, Mittal said.
“Hawala operators from Punjab and Delhi are being used by Pakistan-based terror groups to incite violence in Kashmir,” a senior police official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity. Hawala is an illegal way of transferring money internationally where money is paid to an agent who then instructs an associate in the relevant country to pay the final recipient.
“More separatist leaders, such as Geelani, Farooq and Yasin Malik, will also likely be arrested soon as the NIA has sufficient incriminating evidence to establish their roles in funding terror activities in Kashmir,” the official said.
In January, the NIA blamed LeT for orchestrating last year’s months-long unrest in Kashmir that followed the killing of Burhan Wani, a top HM separatist, in July 2016. More than 100 people were killed and over 10,000 injured in near daily street clashes between anti-India protesters and security forces, between July and December.
Separatists spearheading the agitation against Indian rule called for a complete shutdown of Indian Kashmir on Tuesday to protest what they described as “arbitrary, revengeful and illegal arrests” of their leaders.
“The Indian government is using [the] NIA to malign and suppress an indigenous movement and the genuine Kashmir leadership,” APHC’s Farooq told BenarNews.
“[The] NIA carried out the arrests only to mislead the international community. In actuality, Kashmir is reeling under terrorism sponsored by the Indian government for over two decades. But we are committed to taking our fight against this hegemony to its logical end,” he said.