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The arrest, prosecution and the court verdict of life imprisonment in the case of Muhammad Yasin Malik will remain a bizarre legend in the history of criminology. How a murderer, a seditious thug and a diehard enemy agent can project himself as a Gandhian peace-maker, hoodwink the country’s most prestigious intelligence agency and escape the clutches of the law for more than three decades is the unbelievable tale of this kingpin of crime. The three-page judgement of the court on 25 May 2022 unveils many weird questions that the Indians will continue to ask for many years with little hope of a convincing answer.
Yasin Malik and his three companions (Hameed Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani and Javed Nalka) were among the first batch of Kashmiri Muslim youth who clandestinely crossed the border and landed in a terrorist training camp set up by the ISI in PoK in the early 1980s. There were several training camps manned by retired officers of the Pakistan army engaged by the ISI for Operation Topac. The Kashmiri boys were given training in arms, and subversion and were also subjected to anti-India and anti-Hindu indoctrination. After receiving training and arms, the group re-entered Kashmir but was apprehended by the Border Security Force and handed over to the J&K Police which framed a case against them. In July 1989, they were released from jail on the intervention of the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. Yasin Malik walked out of the jail unscathed.
Kashmir Liberation Front (KLF) was formed by the ISI in Rawalpindi in the early 1980s with Maqbul Bhat at the centre stage. The ISI adopted a two-pronged strategy for destabilising Kashmir. One was to lure the valley-based Muslim youth to dozens of terrorist camps set up in PoK and adjoining areas in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) for short-term training in arms and brainwashing. They were to re-enter the valley and carry forward the agenda of the ISI. The second strategy was to propagate “aazaadi” among the large PoK, especially the Mirpuri, Diaspora in London. Birmingham and Luton’s cities were transformed into the epicentre of the anti-India front, and Amanullah Khan, originally from Skardu in Baltistan and an alumnus of S.P College, Srinagar was made the President of the resistance force with the name of KLF. Ravindra Mhatre, the Consule at the Indian Consulate in Birmingham was the first victim of KLF. According to Hashim Qureshi, the conspiracy of kidnapping and murdering Mhatre was hatched in the house of Amanullah Khan in Luton. Hashim Qureshi argues that it was a calculated murder masterminded by Amanullah Khan who hopefully expected the execution of Maqbul Bhaat in Tihar Jail as a consequence of the murder of Mhatre. Amanullah was happy that his potent rival was eliminated.
The London branch of KLF became extraordinarily active, collecting huge funds for Kashmir jihadist liberation, meeting secretly but regularly to plan the strategy and establish close links with its activists in Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar, Muzaffarabad and Srinagar. The members of the Diaspora working in Saudi Arabia or European countries, one and all, were galvanized into action ready to run whatever errand was assigned to them. The Kashmiri youth in Pakistan or PoK were provided with money, arms and logistic support to form groups and clandestinely cross into the Kashmir valley. By the end of 1989, KLF had established its moles and conduits in Kashmir where the renegades of the Plebiscite Front (the creation of Sheikh Abdullah during his internment years) had joined the Muslim United Front (MUF), the frontline of the Kashmir separatists.
With full support from the ISI and Pakistan government, financial and logistic commitment from the Mirpuri Diaspora in the UK and the support from media in London, Pakistan and Srinagar, KLF succeeded in derailing law and order in Kashmir. They found invaluable support in the then Indian Home Minister (Mufti Muhammad Saeed of Kashmir) opting to take no counteraction. The key role was performed by the Jamat-i-Islami of Kashmir especially in polarising and fundamentalising the state bureaucracy. The genocide of the Kashmiri Hindus and subsequently their mass exodus by creating a vicious atmosphere of fear and intimidation were the achievements of KLF. The killing of hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits was undertaken by the local activists of KLF and Tika Lal Taploo, the regional President of BJP was the first to fall to the bullets reportedly of Yasin Malik on 14 September 1989. On 4 November 1989, Justice Neel Kanth Ganjoo was shot dead in broad daylight and under the nose of the shopkeepers of Maharaj Bazar, Srinagar again reportedly by the Yasin Malik gang. Riding the pillion of a motorbike, Yasin is reported to have shot dead four Indian Air Force officers who were waiting for the bus at the bus stand in Barzalla.
In Luton, Amanullah Khan announced a new J&K Government (in exile) with Dr Karan Singh as its President and Bhushan Bazaz as a cabinet member. By the end of 1991, KLF was jubilant that the “aazaadi” slogan had gone deep into the psyche of Kashmiri youth as their final goal. The literature that aazaadi wave produced also reaffirmed that Kashmir was on the way to independence from both India and Pakistan. Intoxicated with the dream of aazaadi, Amanullah Khan and his cohorts declared direct action in the form of mass movement across the LoC at Chakothi into the Kashmir Valley to install the Azad government in Srinagar. This was about the spring of 1992.
The ISI and Pakistan rulers were upset. It was contrary to their game plan. At the ceasefire line, thousands of KLF volunteers assembled to cross the line even if they were slain. Pakistan army ordered them to disperse and abandon their agenda. When the mobs refused to disperse, Pak soldiers opened fire. Media reports say 35 were dead and scores were wounded but private sources believed the fatalities were higher. Amanullah was ordered to announce the closing down of KLF and a new organization was formed under the name of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Yasin Malik was made the President of JKLF (Kashmir branch) with powers to create his separate cadres. JKLF was midway between aazaadi and pro-Pak accession. Yasin stuck to that agenda. But not taking any risk, the ISI created a new organization called Hizbul Mujahideen (a name borrowed from Afghan warrior groups) which completely dropped the aazaadi slogan and loudly raised the cry for cessation from India and accession to Pakistan. With full support from ISI, the HuM liquidated the KLF and JKLF elements in Kashmir one by one. However, since Yasin had played his cards shrewdly, and even had fraternized with the Hurriyat at one time, he carried forward ISI’s agenda in a subtle way. He became the conduit for receiving hawala money for distribution among the Muslim youth in Srinagar or what is generally called the stone-throwers; he paid visits to Pakistan, and sat by the side of Hafiz Saeed on the platform, offered flowers at Jinnah memorial and brought his Pakistani wife to Kashmir.
Now he donned the garb of a Gandhian non-violence. He began talking of peace. He fraternized with some of the Kashmiri Pandits he knew closely and duped the super intelligence organization of India (or the organization let him dupe them) by convincing them that he would work for peace and normalcy in Kashmir. He managed access to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi, who, in his turn, gloated over his triumph of winning over to Congress ideology the most dreaded murderer from Kashmir. He posed with him for a photograph which he must have given as a gift to the party High Command. The question of framing a charge sheet against him did not arise because the entire Congress administration projected him as the Gandhi of Kashmir.
But as we find in the judgement of the NIA Special Court which convicted him to life imprisonment, he, mesmerizing the law and order authorities with the Gandhian aura, continued to receive hawala money from his Pakistan handlers for distribution among the stone-throwers and vandals who burnt schools, laboratories, and bridges and attacked police stations.
Many intriguing questions arise from this lucid narrative. Why did Yasin Malik confess guilty to all the charges brought against him and why did he not challenge these? Well, he was smart enough to confess the charges for he knew contesting the charges would mean capital punishment. After all, he knew that the sleuths had laid hand on even the smallest proof of his involvement that blocked his escape from death. By confessing he saved himself from the gallows. Secondly, he has been punished for only two charges viz. obtaining hawala money and running sedition against the state. The charges of murder of four air force officers or that of Tika Lal Taploo and Justice Ganjoo and others were not raised by the prosecution. Why it has done so remains a mystery. Then remain the questions of how he was allowed to meet with the Prime Minister, how he was issued the passport, how he was allowed to travel abroad and why was not an FIR lodged against him for 33 years, are the questions which speak much about how the then central governments compromised with the ideology of terror.
Not only that, he had created such a widespread atmosphere of terror for the helpless Pandits and the administration as well that he managed to grab the prime land of the Pandit Ram Kaul clan originally residents of Ali Kadal. Here is what a descendent of that House narrated to this writer in person:
“The descendants of Pandit Rama Kaul originally lived across Vitasta at Ali Kadal. They moved to Kothi Bagh in the early nineteen fifties and the Kaul settlement started from Residency Road, right opposite Ahdoo’s Hotel and extended up to Maulana Azad Road – the boundary point being Prakash Seed Farm, named after Pandit Prakash Kaul, of Pandit Rama Kaul Clan.
In early 2003, one front man named Manzoor approached the family through intermediaries and offered enticement to various family members for the sale of the property to him, as he was fronting for Yasin Malik. It was a mix of pressure and enticement to break the family asserting that it was leased land and under the Roshni Act would revert to the Kashmir Government for being allotted on a fresh lease, to Yasin Malik through his front persons. This was what happened in 2004. In 2021, when the writer visited Srinagar to see his lost paradise, all he found was a magnificent new mall standing where he once played with his cousins and worked in the gardens to grow flowers and seeds. A sinking feeling, hard to put in words. The premises value thousands of crores of rupees. Of course, this deal could not mature without the collusion of the revenue and other concerned authorities.”
Some residents of Maisuma locality in Srinagar, wherefrom Yasin Malik comes, tried to come out on the streets to protest the imprisonment of Yasin. But the strict security arrangement made by the government in anticipation of the court decision dispersed the crowd within a few minutes. No protest rallies were reported from any other part of the valley. However, the Gupkaris did voice their resentment against the court verdict and Mahbooba Mufti went to the extent of saying that the judiciary in Pakistan is more honest and efficient than the judiciary in India. This comparison is made by a woman whose sister was abducted by the very person for whose imprisonment she doubts the integrity of the Indian judiciary.
It is not surprising that Pakistan leadership of all hues is almost mourning the imprisonment of Yasin. PM Shabaz Sharief, ex-PM Imran Khan and Pak foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto all have tweeted that the icon of Kashmir freedom has been given unjust punishment and that India is choking the voice of freedom in Kashmir. One may ask them why they did not express the same sentiments when a Pakistani court sentenced Hafiz Saeed to 31 years of imprisonment. Why do they have different measuring rods for the same crime? The fact is that after the death of Ali Shah Geelani, the only dependable conduit that Pakistan had in Kashmir was Yasin Malik. With his imprisonment, Pakistan has to do the skulduggery of searching for a new conduit because they no more trust Molvi Farooq of the Hurriyat.