|A policeman stands guard on the roof of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq’s house after the attack. (Below) His supporters throw stones at policemen in Srinagar during a protest. (AFP, AP)
Srinagar, Jan. 15: Militants threw a grenade near the heavily guarded house of Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, but no one was hurt in the attack that came three days before the separatist leader’s proposed visit to Pakistan.
The chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir’s main separatist alliance, was not at home when the grenade exploded around noon today.
Minutes after the attack near his residence at Nigeen on Srinagar’s outskirts, the moderate leader said he wouldn’t be cowed by such tactics. “I’m not afraid of these attacks,” he said before leaving for Delhi from Jammu where he is expected to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on January 17.
“The policy of coercion and intimidation is not going to hold us back from finding a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue,” Mirwaiz, who left with two other separatist leaders, added.
The Hurriyat chairman is scheduled to travel to Pakistan on Thursday at the head of an alliance delegation to hold talks with leaders and Kashmiri politicians from that side of the divided territory, a move that has been criticised by hardline separatists.
After the blast, which came minutes after a news conference Mirwaiz addressed, parts of Srinagar erupted in anger. “Long live Umer,” his supporters shouted as they burnt tyres, stoned vehicles and forced a shutdown.
Kashmir DIG Farooq Ahmad said the grenade fell in the kitchen garden of an adjoining house and exploded without causing any injury. “Nobody from his (Mirwaiz’s) family was in the house at the time of the attack,” he added.
The guards at Mirwaiz’s residence opened fire after the blast, which triggered panic in the area. Senior police officers rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation.
State police chief S.M. Sahai said the attack appeared to be linked to the ongoing political activities in Kashmir, a reference to the rivalry within the separatist camp.
Mirwaiz’s supporters chanted slogans against his rival Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who they claimed was behind the attack. Police lobbed tear gas shells at some places to disperse the protesters.
Mirwaiz said he would go ahead with his Pakistan visit. “Disgruntled elements who have set up political shops (in Kashmir) are behind this attack and they do not want the peace process to succeed,” he said in a veiled reference to his rivals in the separatist camp. “These people do not want to see an end to sufferings here.”
Earlier at the news conference, he had asked Delhi to declare a ceasefire in Kashmir and release all prisoners.
Mirwaiz, who enjoys Z-category security with a platoon of police deployed at his residence, has lost both his father and uncle to the separatist insurgency.
Kashmir’s separatist camp is divided on support to the ongoing peace drive between India and Pakistan. While Mirwaiz supports the process as well as Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s proposal of self-rule for resolving the conflict, Geelani has accused both moderates and Islamabad of selling out on Kashmir.