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Lone brothers on tricky terrain

Srinagar, Sept. 3: The tension was palpable even in the cosy living room flooded with sunshine. People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone knows that the Pakistan-backed terrorists who had eliminated his father, Abdul Gani Lone, are out to get him and brother Bilal.

“We know both of us are targets of the terrorists. We also know we cannot trust the state government to provide us with security. There is no one we can turn to for help, no one we can really trust except our own people,” says Sajjad who, along with Bilal, dared to challenge the Hurriyat leadership by fielding dummy candidates in two constituencies in the Valley.

Sajjad’s fears are understandable — he and Bilal are walking on dangerous ground and have antagonised powerful forces. The family is besieged. They suspect Pakistan of killing their father. India had let him down and Delhi’s words can no longer be taken at face value. The National Conference is against them and the Hurriyat leaders are suspicious of the younger Lones. Their father’s murderers have not been caught.

Although the People’s Conference has said they have no links with the dummy candidates, very few believe they would have dared to go ahead without the blessings of the family.

It was obvious from the beginning that the Lone brothers did not fit the Hurriyat mould. Their father was killed because he had renounced the use of violence and had asked foreign militants in Kashmir to go home.

The Hurriyat leaders have been shaken by the open defiance of their diktat by the People’s Conference. That a compromise has been worked out and the party has not been expelled by the Hurriyat executive is a reflection of the waning powers of the conglomerate’s leadership. Though the Hurriyat is still a symbol of Kashmir’s azadi, the group has lost much of its initial shine.

The younger Lones are reluctant politicians but believe they have a duty to keep their father’s legacy alive. Both are sworn to a non-violent struggle for Kashmiri rights. “The civilised way to solve any problem is through talks. I think talks are very important and we need to keep the lines alive,” Sajjad explains. Both are aware, as was their father, that after September 11 the world community would quickly lose all sympathy for the Kashmiri cause if it continues to rely on violence.

Soon after his father’s killing, Sajjad publicly blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. But he allegedly retracted his remarks the next day.

“I did not go back on my charges. Don’t people understand simple English' I said Pakistan was responsible for my father’s death, but that the state government was equally to blame because they did not care to provide enough protection to my father, even when both Delhi and Srinagar knew he was under threat,” Sajjad says.

The two brothers are in a difficult situation and are unlikely to go out of their way to antagonise the Hurriyat further. By all accounts, Sajjad and Bilal are expected to keep a low profile and watch how the post-election situation develops before making their next move. For now, Sajjad and Bilal would concentrate on the family business. “Our father always insisted that we should have our own money if we want to be in politics. People without funds are often at a disadvantage and are easily corrupted,” Sajjad explains.

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