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In a First for Hurriyat, Son of Geelani's Successor Takes to Arms

Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai recently took over as head of the Geelani faction of the Hurriyat.

Srinagar: In a first for the camp of political separatism in the valley, the son of senior separatist leader and newly appointed Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) chairman Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai is believed to have joined the militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen.

Twenty-six year old Junaid Ashraf, a management graduate, went missing after leaving his home in the uptown Barzullah area of Srinagar for Friday prayers. On Saturday, the family approached the local police station to file a missing report.

In the afternoon, a picture surfaced on Facebook in which Junaid, wearing a black cap and black jacket, is seen holding an AK-47 rifle. The writing on the picture says that Junaid “joined the Hizbul Mujahedeen on 24 March 2018” with the code name Amaar Bhai.

This is for the first time in Kashmir’s three decade-old militancy that the son of a senior separatist leader has taken to arms. The development comes five days after Sehrai replaced Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani as the new chief of TeH, the principal constituent of the Geelani-led faction of the Hurriyat. While 88-year old Geelani held the post for past 14 years after the TeH was formed in 2004, Sehrai was its general secretary.

“We have received a missing report from his (Junaid) family and started our investigation. I can’t say anything beyond that,” an official  at the Sadder Police Station where the missing report has been filed, told The Wire.

Junaid is one of Sehrai’s four sons. The Hurriyat leader also has two daughters. After completing his studies from Kashmir University in 2014, Junaid worked with a private company in Srinagar for one year from December 2015. One of his brothers, who is a management graduate from the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Pulwama district was working in Dubai before he returned home a few months ago.

Described by many as the “shadow” of Geelani, Sehrai, who is 73, has been affiliated with the former since 1959. He hails from Tekipora village in Kupwara district and is considered more radical than Geelani. However, he has always maintained a low profile.

J&K director general of police Shesh Paul Vaid said he was not in a position to confirm whether Junaid had joined the militant outfit. But he said the police was trying to verify the reports.

“We too have come across the picture on social media, but we are verifying it,” said the DGP.

However, he termed the development as “unfortunate” and urged Sehrai to appeal to his son to shun gun, while adding that the trend of young and educated youth joining militancy was a “serious problem”.

At the same time, a senior police official confirmed that the police already have “reports” about Junaid joining the militancy.

Soon after taking over as TeH Chairman, Sehrai created a flutter by openly criticising those supporting global extremists organisations like the Islamic State in Kashmir, saying “such people were actually helping New Delhi”.

“Daesh and Al-Qaida have nothing to do with our movement and we will never accept them. Some youth are influenced by ISIS ideology, but I appeal to them not to go to extremes and read Islamic books…” Sehrai said in an interview to Greater Kashmir.

A source said Sehrai had gone to meet Geelani at the latter’s residence on Saturday for the first time after taking over as TeH head, when the news about the picture of his son on Facebook was broken to him. He has, however, maintained silence over the news about his son so far.

“The family was in touch with relatives and his (Junaid) friends yesterday to locate him,” said the source.

This is the second time in the last four months that a highly qualified youth has joined the militancy in Kashmir. In January this year, 26-year-old PhD scholar from Kupwara, Mannan Bashir Wani, joined the Hizbul Mujhadeen. Wani too is from Tekipora village.