Once a militant, always an outsider

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They returned to the ‘mainstream’, but normal life eludes them. Riyaz Wani reports on former Kashmiri militants, now living in the shadow of the guns they once wielded

AS NIGHT fell on 30 July 1988, two men left their homes to plant bombs with timer devices at three places in Srinagar — Akhara Building, Central Telegraph Office (CTO) and Srinagar Club. Two bombs went off, one at the CTO later that night and another at the club in the wee hours of 31 July. The message was sent across: Kashmir was ready for violence to press for Azadi.

Kashmir’s “armed rebellion” is said to have begun with these bombings carried out by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Yet no militant had envisaged how this would rewrite Kashmir’s history. The blasts, followed by a series of attacks on the police, started a chain reaction that prepared the stage for a full-scale revolt, and by 1989 nearly all of Kashmir was rooting for JKLF. Hundreds of youth crossed the LoC into Pakistan for arms training. The state has been a blood-soaked battleground ever since.

Looking back, some of the surviving top-ranked militants of that time exude a mix of nostalgia and ambivalence. “We took recourse to violence in desperation. When all means of peaceful resistance were closed off, violence became the only way to make our voice heard,” says former JKLF chairman Javed Mir. Besides Yasin Malik, Mir is the only survivor from JKLF’s four-member HAJI group, which also included Ishfaq Majid Wani and Abdul Hamid Sheikh.

Sheikh was among the first to cross the LoC in March 1988. Malik, Wani and Mir followed him in June. On their return, they formed two separate groups and prepared for an armed struggle.

Twenty-four years later, life has come full circle. Though a few like Mir are still the face of the separatist movement, most of the others have returned to the “mainstream”. Yet, they find the going tough.

Take Abdul Qadeer Rather. In 1988, Rather hosted two persons from PoK who had come to help JKLF prepare for the first attack. He later sold his tractor to buy an Ambassador car to ferry youth to Kupwara in north Kashmir, from where they crossed the border. Rather quit militancy in 1993.

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