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Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai.
On March 19, 2018, senior separatist Kashmir leader Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai was appointed chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH, or Freedom Movement), replacing the hard-line pro-Pakistan leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Both leaders are from Jamaat-e-Islami for Jammu and Kashmir. Sehrai's appointment is interim, but is likely to continue.
Tehreek-e-Hurriyat represents the hard-line faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Under Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat had always favored the integration of Kashmir into Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1947-48, with the main Kashmir Valley under Indian control.
According to a media report, the appointment of 74-year-old Sehrai "could well be the beginning of the end of the Geelani era in Kashmir's separatist politics... Geelani, the 88-year-old firebrand separatist leader who has been at the helm of affairs of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat's affairs since 2004 when it was founded, has been pressing for the inclusion of his eldest son Nayeem Geelani as rukn [member]. But this was opposed by others in the group..."
From his first interview, excerpts from which are given below, it appears Sehrai differs from Geelani in two respects: First, while Geelani stood for Kashmir's freedom from India and integration into Pakistan, Sehrai leans toward Kashmir's independence as a sovereign nation; second, Geelani was openly sympathetic to jihadi groups worldwide, but Sehrai appears to distance himself from jihadi groups and views them as a threat to Kashmir's freedom.
Neither of these positions articulated by Sehrai will be acceptable to Pakistan. It could therefore have two consequences: First, Pakistan has the effective influence in Kashmir to reduce Sehrai's influence to almost nothing; second, Pakistan could create new militant groups which will act against Sehrai and expand the jihadi movement in Jammu and Kashmir.
"In 1965, When He Was 22 Years Old, Sehrai Was Jailed For The First Time For 'Anti-Government Activities'"
According to a media report, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai "was born in 1944 in Tekipora Lolab in Kupwara district. His forefathers had migrated to this part of Kashmir from pre-Partition [region now known as] Pakistan. Sehrai studied in Tekipora till primary level before moving to Sogam High School for further studies. He passed his matriculation examination in 1959.
"He was a bright, intelligent but shy student who took great interest in debates and discussions on religious and political discourses since his childhood. Sehrai earned a scholarship in class 10 for his excellent command over Persian, Arabic and Urdu languages. He did BA (Hons) in Urdu from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
"When Syed Ali Geelani was the district president of the Jamaat-e-Islami for Kupwara district, he would visit Tekipora frequently. The two struck a chord instantly. Sehrai was impressed by Geelani's knowledge of the Koran, Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and writings of Jamaat[-e-Islami] founder Maulana Abul A'la Maududi.
"He has been affiliated with Geelani since 1959. Sehrai’s love for literature and poetry hasn’t diminished, but he doesn't write anymore because of his political engagements. In 1965, when he was 22 years old, Sehrai was jailed for the first time for 'anti-government activities.' He was imprisoned at Srinagar Central Jail for about six months. He has also been detained in jails outside the state. In 2004, he and Geelani formed the TeH."
Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai: "Daesh [ISIS] And Al-Qaeda Have Nothing To Do With Our Movement And We Will Never Accept Them..."
After taking over as the new chairman of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai gave an interview with the Greater Kashmir daily in which he outlined his views on the Kashmir issue as well as on the role of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS). Given below are excerpts from the interview:
"Azadi [freedom] camp in Kashmir does not have a global agenda and has nothing to do with the Daesh and its ideology...
"Some elements are creating confusion among masses by raising ISIS flags at the funeral of militants. We have kept a close watch on them, and will soon chart out a plan to stop them...
"[Pro-ISIS resonance among Kashmiri youths] could be the handiwork of [Indian intelligence] agencies keen to defame the Kashmir movement and undermine its indigenous character... Our agenda is simple. We only want Kashmir to be free from Indian occupation. Nothing else...
"Daesh [ISIS] and Al-Qaeda have nothing to do with our movement and we will never accept them...
"Some youths are influenced by ISIS ideology, but I appeal to them not to go to extremes and read Islamic books, the Koran, and the Hadith, and see what rules and regulations Prophet Muhammad... has laid down for war. Then they must decide for themselves as to what is right and what is wrong...
"[On the disturbances at the funeral of pro-ISIS militant Eisa Fazili who was killed on March 11, 2018,] These things are unacceptable. Mysterious forces are creating chaos among the masses. Youth have to maintain discipline in the freedom movement... Those raising ISIS flags are strengthening the roots of [India's] occupation in Kashmir. India directly benefits by this. These youths tell the world that we are extremists and deserve to be killed...
"Zakir Musa [emir of Al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group Ansar Ghazwatul Hind] is the light of my eyes. He left everything for the sacred cause. But I want to tell him that by moving towards extremism he was doing India a favor."