Over a decade ago, when Tim Sebastian of the BBC asked Kashmiri militant Yasin Malik how many people had he killed personally since setting up the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Malik did not give any number. His response was caustic: “It is not a matter of how many people I have killed. The government has registered 11 cases against me and in 11 years, they have not even been able to start a trial.”
All that changed yesterday.
A special NIA court in Delhi on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, awarded life imprisonment to Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik, who had previously pleaded guilty to all the charges, including those under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), in a terror funding case.
Yasin Malik is the chief of the JKLF, a non-Pakistani militant organisation that joined the political separatism recently but substantially introduced gun culture among the local youth after the 1987 Assembly elections were rigged. They seek independence of Kashmir from India and as well as Pakistan. “Definitely, I am the pioneer of the armed rebellion in Kashmir and its motive was to tell larger Indian conscience that we Kashmiris want to be heard,” Malik told Sebastian while not denying that he killed people.
Malik has a long line of cases against him. Some of the bigger charges against him involve perpetrating terror on Indian soil, kidnapping former chief minister and later home minister Mufti Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya Saeed, and killing of four Air Force officers in January 1990. Besides these horrendous crimes, he was also slapped with a UAPA or Unlawful Activity Prevention Act.
On May 10, 2022, he reportedly pleaded guilty to the charges of UAPA Sections 16 (terrorist act), 17 (raising funds for the terrorist act), 18 (conspiracy to commit terrorist act),and 20 (being a member of a terrorist gang or organisation) and Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 124-A (sedition) of IPC.
While these crimes of him date decades ago, framing charges and starting trials against the same have begun very recently. The UAPA was slapped on him just years back for “disturbing peace” of the valley in 2017. With regard to the killing of four Air Force officers in 1990, it was after 30 years that charges were framed against Malik in 2020 after the court concluded “sufficient evidence” to establish Malik’s involvement.
Malik has had a differing stand with the Hurriyat which has time and again promoted Pakistan as a guardian to Kashmiri separatism and eventually followed the notion of Kashmir being a part of Pakistan. Syed Alishah Geelani, who was the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference called Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) militants as their sons, the same HM who sees Syed Salahuddin, a Kashmiri-based in Pakistan as its supreme leader.
Yasin Malik however has had a pro-independence thought towards the Kashmir issue. He has consistently maintained a political distance with regard to relating the Kashmir dispute to Pakistan. He has also refused ever to partake in the election process conducted by the Indian government in Kashmir.
Malik has appropriated that participation in the Indian elections is equal to the “puppetry of an occupying state” and this repulsion with a democratic process draws its shades from what Malik has called a betrayal after he “tried resolving disputes with the Indian state through electoral politics”. After running a student organisation for a long time, he was hand in glove with the Muslim United Front or also known as “Muttahid Mahaaz” locally.
Along with more of his leaders in the student organisation, Malik would campaign for the MUF. Many contemporary historians believe that he along with more young men who became the first militants of Kashmir, who was a polling agent for MUF in the 1987 Assembly elections of Kashmir.
Malik was a cornerstone of the JKLF movement, however, the organisation itself was formed in 1977 by Amanullah Khan based in Pakistan, and Maqbool Bhat who was hanged in 1984, following the killing of the Indian Diplomat Ravindra Mahare in England.
AS Dulat, the former RAW chief said that most of the boys who first crossed over to Pakistan for the militant training under ISI after fraudulent elections were the HAJY group – Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Majid Wani, Javed Mir and Yasin Malik. “They committed the first acts of terror in Kashmir between 1988 to 1990, though their unwavering commitment to independence made them suspect in the eyes of Pakistan,” Dulat added.
While Malik was all guns blazing, his close aides say, he adopted to violence after he witnessed a sharp altercation between taxi drivers and the army at the infamous Maisuma locality, Malik’s birthplace and an ever hotbed of the violence. He went ahead with forming ‘Tala Party’ which later restyled itself as Islamic Students League (ISL).
ISL was instrumental in giving MUF which was contesting the elections against the invincible National Conference a boost with its members conducting rallies in Srinagar. One such rally was on February 27, 1987. That day was historic in Kashmir’s politics as a happier Muslim United Front (MUF) candidate, Mohammad Yousuf Shah who later on became the Hizbul Mujahideen Chief was taken by a jubilant and sloganeering crowd to file his nomination papers for the Amira Kadal seat, an NC bastion.
Most of them being young members, Islamic Students League (ISL) was the first in decades to have conducted a rally finally in NC’s heartland. “It was unimaginable to take out an anti-National Conference (NC) rally in Srinagar then,” Malik who was then general secretary of ISL told a local magazine years ago.
The Malik-led ISL included Ishfaq Majeed Wani, Javid Mir, Mushtaq Ul Islam, Abdul Hameed Sheikh, Abdullah Bangroo, Ajaz Dar, Showkat Bakshi, Mehmood Sagar, Iqbal Gandroo, Noor Mohamad Kalwal, Firdous Shah, Shakeel Bakshi, and Hilal A War, many of whom were subsequently killed after they picked up guns.
Malik reportedly was offered to contest from at least five seats in Srinagar on the ticket of MUF but he refused, given his disbelief in the electoral process but promised to support it from outside.
But Malik’s hate for India and love for an Independent Kashmir did not just begin with this. Before this as well he had shown a strong anti-India sentiment. His group reportedly dug up the pitch at a Srinagar stadium where India and West Indies faced off each other in 1983. 12 people were acquitted in this case later in lack of evidence but during 28 years of trial, among the lawyers that appeared for them, two were killed including Jaleel Andrabi who was allegedly shot dead by the Indian Army’s Major Avatar Singh.
Later in 1985, Malik with 70 more boys faked a bomb blast on an NC rally at Srinagar with 70 more boys, triggering chaos among its supporters. He confessed to a newspaper decades later that it was just a firecracker and he was caught badly by NC supporters and roughed up later and thrown in a pool of mud.
He was finally arrested in 1986 and sent to interrogation center ‘Red 16’ says one of his close aides. The atmosphere became more communal and Yasin too was released after three months.
“The Regional Engineering College at Srinagar that year had more non-Muslim candidates being selected allegedly provoking a reaction from ISL. This was followed by a mutton ban on Janam Asthami. This led to the fears in Muslims in Kashmir and Qazi Nissar, a chief cleric at Anantnag butchered two sheep in Lal Chowk area of Anantnag in August 1986,” says Malik’s friend adding Malik himself was organizing protest demonstrations in Srinagar against the same.
However, after the election in 1987 was rigged the HAJY group crossed over to Pakistan returning as dreaded militants giving nightmares to Indian forces for years until they renounced violence in 1994 and adapted to non-violent means of resistance. But during this time Malik has on and off remained in and out of the prison. Sometimes for days, sometimes for months, and more recently for years.
“The torture dehumanised them (JKLF). Many have been rendered sterile. Yasin is just a bunch of bones. He has no strength left and has been eaten up by the ailments that affected him post torture, there is nothing left in him now. Many are saying, he may be hanged before 2024 to serve an election purpose but he is just a dead man walking today,” his friend concluded.