Now, ailing at his home in Lasjan on the outskirts of Srinagar, Rather says the separatist politicians have let Kashmir down. “I don’t regret having helped start the militancy, but I think it has come to naught because of Hurriyat’s policies,” he says.
Rather’s namesake, Abdul Qadeer Dar from the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), has a similar story. Dar was in Afghanistan for arms training during the heyday of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Hizbe-Islami chief, and Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance. In 1990, Dar returned to Kashmir and worked as HM’s “divisional commander” in north Kashmir. Apprehended in 1993, Dar quit militancy after three years in jail.
A small-time businessman now, Dar, 45, often tries to look back and make sense of his life as a militant. He is part of the J&K People’s Rights Movement — a 7,000-member body that addresses problems faced by former militants.
“Kashmir has moved on from the violent 1990s, but we are still mopping the fallout,” says Dar. “We have learnt that no one else would address our problems.” In 2007, he organised a meeting at a Srinagar hotel where several former militants narrated their personal histories.
IT HASN’T been easy for Dar and his ilk to adjust to a quotidian life and its pressures. Most of them were reduced to doing odd jobs to make ends meet. Their militant background made them ineligible for government employment, or even a passport. According to a list prepared by J&K Police’s Intelligence Wing, around 60,000 families in Kashmir are on the “security blacklist”.
The result has been two-fold: while most former militants have become “outsiders” in their own society and cynical about life, there are some who bask in the hangover of their militant past. “The political atmosphere and public sentiment made us pick up the gun. Driven by emotions, we were not mature enough to understand the politics of it all,” says Ashraf, a former combatant, who had crossed the LOC in June 1990. Of the 11 others who had crossed over with him, seven died in combat with security forces. “It’s just my good fortune that I’m alive,” he says.
Ashraf runs a shop in Baramulla town, and is also writing his own memoir. “It will be a chronicle of our sacrifices and sufferings — a reminder to society that we exist and are being passed over now,” he says.
Unlike many who “fell by the wayside,” Ashraf has made a successful transition to normal life, with his only son Abid pursuing a doctorate in Political Science. “I started from nowhere, became a part of the armed campaign for Azadi and ended up nowhere again,” he sums up his life.