Srinagar: It is finally official. Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari, former Srinagar police chief who gained notoriety for his pro-active role in counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir, has joined the People’s Democratic Party. The party is reluctant to admit his entry, though.
A press release issued by the party said that “senior leader” Ashiq Bukhari addressed an election meeting in Kupwara on Wednesday. Party patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and PDP nominees for upcoming Assembly elections, Ghulam Mohiuddin Sofi and GN Panditpuri, also attended the meeting.
According to a PDP leader, who requested anonymity, Bukhari joined the party in February this year soon after his retirement and “was a major driving force” in the PDP’s Lok Sabha campaign in Kupwara. Bukhari is a native of Drugmulla in Kupwara.
The PDP, till date, has not announced Bukhari’s association with the party officially.
Even before his retirement, the media were abuzz with speculations that Bukhari would join the PDP. But the party remained circumspect about these reports, fearing his past association with a pariah force might harm the party’s “soft-separatist” image.
In fact, when Kashmir Reader called party’s chief spokesman Naeem Akhtar to confirm whether Bukhari has joined the party, he said, “I read his name in the press release. I don’t know anything about his joining the party.”
On being contacted, Bukhari told Kashmir Reader he would get back for his comments. But after a while when Kashmir Reader called him, he had switched his phone off.
Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, former BBC broadcaster and PDP media adviser, initially told KR that she knew nothing about Bukhari’s party affiliation. Later, when KR called her she said, “He has not joined the party formally. He attended and addressed the rally. He is a well-wisher of the party and is welcome to join.”
Asked why he was addressed as the senior leader of the party, she said, “He is a well-wisher and he has to decide about joining the party.”
When told about his controversial past, Mehjoor said, “I have no clue about what he has been doing. I can’t answer it.” According to Kashmiri Pandit writer and journalist, Rahul Pandita, Bukhari has been “instrumental in the killing of 300 militants”. During the visit of a journalists’ delegation from Pakistan nearly a decade ago, Bukhari reportedly told a journalist that he had killed more than 300 militants in the areas under his jurisdiction. The boast reportedly prompted the journalist to reply, “What are you doing here. Musharraf needs you in Waziristan.”
In January 16, 2010, issue of Open Magazine, Pandita profiled Bukhari along with some other Kashmiri Muslim police officers, whom he called India’s “Khaki Fidayeen”.
“Budgam district is the first militant-free district of Kashmir. There was a time when there were more than 200 ‘most wanted’ militants operating in this area. Most of them were done for once Aashiq Bukhari took over the reins of the police in the district. Once posted, he lost no time in leading extensive operations against militancy, and with undaunted energy,” Pandita wrote.
Before Bukhari, former IPS officer Farooq Khan joined the BJP. Khan was instrumental in the creation of Kashmir police’s dread counterinsurgency wing, the Special Task Force, a predecessor of the current Special Operations Group. Bukhari was one of the key officers in the SOG.
The STF and SOG have been synonymous with state atrocity and Kashmir’s two main political parties, PDP and NC, have always dissociated themselves from the two dreaded forces.
The PDP blames the National Conference for setting up the STF and takes credit for disbanding the SOG when it came to power in 2002. The NC counters saying the STF was formed in 1995 and it came to power in 1996. As far as the SOG is concerned, the NC accuses the PDP of mainstreaming the SOG, exemplifying by saying that former SOG officers like Bukhari and Khan were given plum postings during the PDP rule.
An example of how uneasy an association with such officers can be came to fore in the aftermath of the 2010 anti-India uprising.
Bukhari, who was appointed as the senior superintendent of police, Srinagar, at the fag end of the agitation, told a press conference in March 2011 that “72 percent of the 1,000 stone pelters arrested by the police were either drug addicts or had parental problems”.
“This has happened mainly due to lack of proper upbringing and lack of education,” Bukhari said.
At that time, however, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti expressed surprise over his statement. “During summer unrest last year, 60,000-70,000 youth were involved. Going by the recent statement of police, we can say there is a huge population of drug addicts in Kashmir. It is unfortunate that our own people are defaming our youth. Initially, they were dubbed as agents of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and paid agents. Now, they’ve been referred to as drug addicts,” Mehbooba had told a press conference.