Band-ae-Sahraie–Ashraf, the man of the desert



Tehreek-e- Hurriyat (TeH) on Sunday formally elected Muhammad Ashraf Sahrai as the chairman of the organization for next three years. The post was earlier held by Syed Ali Geelani for 13 years. He relinquished it in favor of Ashraf Sahraie in March this year.

The change of guard in the Tehreek was interpreted as Geelani handing over the party reins to his second-in-command.  For my association with, both, Syed Ali Geelani and Ashraf Sahraie, I know it for a fact that Sahraie is second to none. He is no less a Geelani in his own right. He may not be matching the public profile of Syed Ali Geelani and many others in the separatist camp but Sahraie’s resoluteness and indefatigable spirit, hard-earned experience, invaluable knowledge and understanding power is there to place him at the top of all other leaders.

Tehreek-e-Hurriyat was formed as a political face of the Jamaat with complete understanding with Jamaat leadership. Both, Geelani and Sahraie were spared by the Jamaat to form the Tehreek and take up its reins. However, after the formation of the Tahreek, Jamaat leadership kept distance from Geelani and Sahraie. Jamaat even withdrew from the Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference. Presently it is not affiliated to any faction of the Hurriyat Conference. Though, both, Geelani and Sahraie are still the basic members of the Jamaat-e-Islami, however, their association with Jamaat is only in name.

His real name is Mohammad Ashraf Khan. But better known as Ashraf Sahraie—Ashraf, the man of the desert. Sahraie is a poetic reference to Tikki Pora—his native village of splendid beauty in the foot of a majestic mountain in the picturesque Lolab valley.

The men of woods have been qualified as dignified, selfless, fearless and of indomitable spirit and courage.

Iqbal, the poet of the east or Islam, is all praise for men of the desert, and says that only they can further the laws and cause of nature.

Fitrat Ke Maqasid Ki Karta Hai Nigehbani
Ya Banda-e-Sehrai Ya Mard-e-Kuhistani

The man of the desert or of the mountains
Alone can further the purposes of Nature.

Some people may like it going overboard to call Ashraf Sahraie Iqbal’s “Band-ae-Sahraie” but he is, indeed, a man with exceptional character few people matching him among the given lot. He has proved by his conduct that, at least, he is not a “Band-e-Shohrat”.

He has been a Jamaat-e-Islami man right from his younger days. I have known him for around 40 years—from my college days. Barring the front line and founder leaders of the Jamaat—Moulana Saduddin, Moulana Ghulam Ahmad Ahrar and Moulana Hakim Ghulam Nabi—I am yet to see someone selfless matching to his level and degree in and outside the Jamaat.

In the Jamaat, he is known as an erudite scholar, powerful and fierce speaker, man of exceptional intelligence and understanding and a bold and steadfast fighter. He has held highest organizational positions in the Jamaat including the all challenging post of general secretary during politically turbulent times in late 80s and militant days of early 90s of the past century. He is also a creative writer and has remarkable grip over Urdu language. But true to his nature and character, he always maintained a low profile and never tried to promote his person.

The highest point in his political life was challenging Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah in the by-elections in Ganderbal assembly constituency in 1975. The ‘lion of Kashmir or Sher-e-Kashmir’, as the Abdullah would be called by his followers, was seeking election to the state assembly after entering into an accord with then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which saw him return as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir though having been dismissed as Prime Minister of the state some 22 years ago (in 1953).

Nobody had given any chance to Sahraie. Not even Jamaat or Sahraie himself had thought of winning against the “great” Abdullah. But challenging the ‘lion’ in his own den was a show of extraordinary nerve and guts, more particularly when Shiekh Abdullah was in power and had all the support of state as well-non-state machinery. He, indeed, gave Abdullah and his party National Conference sleepless nights. Shiekh Abdullah used all dirty means including intimidation and attacks on Jamaat supporters during campaigning and booth capturing and false voting on the day of polling to win the election which he could easily won even without improper means.

The very moment Shiekh Abdullah was declared elected, he imposed ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and Sahraie along with several other leaders was jailed for two years. He has spent around 18 years of his life in jails on different occasions as a Jamaat-e-Islami strong-man and an ideologue of ‘azadi’. But he never made show of what others credit themselves with as ‘sacrifices’. Unlike others he is selfless always keeping away from public and media glare.

 A senior Jamaat functionary some time back told me that his family had to sell portions of their property for sustenance during his incarceration on different occasions. His frequent arrests and prolonged jail stays have badly told upon his health. His hearing power is impaired and he is caught up in several other ailments.

He, for the party and people who know him, is deemed as a keen strategist, knowledgeable, resolute and a fiery speaker—in fact, the first among equals. But he always slid into supporting role for not to be seen as an over-ambitious political competitor or rival. That is what made him to be known as ‘second-to-Geelani’.

Sahraie believes that the struggle for the right of self-determination in Kashmir needs to be fought on all fronts—political, diplomatic and militant. A week after he took charge of TeH as its chief, his son Junaid Ashraf (30) left his home to join militant ranks.

The separatist leadership has always suffered for credibility in Kashmir. They would be often questioned for their ‘duplicity’ of not espousing their children to join armed movement the same way as they wish the children of common people.

But Ashraf Sehrai is exceptionally beyond the reach of this taint.

Sahraie refused to appeal his son and other armed youth of Kashmir, as sought by Jammu and Kashmir Police chief SP Vaid, to shun the gun. He, in reaction, said that it (joining militants) was his (son’s) way of fighting for ‘azadi’. That makes the father-son duo espousing a common cause.

Sahraie, in his very first interview as Tahreek chief, was also quite emphatic in denouncing ISIS, Al-Qaedah and other international militant outfits saying “we have no global agenda”. “Our struggle is limited to our right of self-determination only. ISIS and Al-Qaedah type organization would only but damage our cause”.

Today he is seen as taller in the lot.

Sahraie has also been speaking for united face of all the ‘pro freedom factions. Though, it would not have any immediate effect on Joint Resistance Leadership (JRP) comprising of Geelani, Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik but he would definitely go for more broad-based platform by including other meaningful people in it.


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