Why terror leader Yasin Malik enjoyed ‘freedom of both worlds’ for 25 years
By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
New Delhi, July 21: After three years of appointments with terrorism and three years of imprisonment, the pioneer of Kashmir’s relentless gun culture and the successor of the founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Maqbool Bhat , Yasin Malik, enjoyed “the freedom of two worlds” for 25 years, from 1994 to 2019.
Since the day Malik, then a 28-year-old school dropout and the son of a government bus driver, was allowed to give his first press conference from the chair of Dr Ghulam Qadir Allaqaband of the Principal Government Medical College (GMC ) from Srinagar in 1994 to the day of the murder of 40 CRPF men in a major terrorist attack in 2019, all criminal cases against him have been virtually dropped. He was left free to grow as a politician, to visit the world, to marry in Pakistan and to organize campaigns and demonstrations across the country for “the liberation of Kashmir from India” and against the forces Indian security forces.
In Pakistan, Malik shared the stage with ideologue Lashkar-e-Tayyiba Hafiz Saeed, who is designated as a global terrorist and wanted in India for the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. He called himself a “peace activist” and was widely recognized as a “vegetarian Gandhian”. For more than two decades, he has been a guest at international conferences and on prime time shows of Indian television channels.
But at the end of the day, Malik’s game fell like a game of cards as his “freedom” ended and he received multiple life sentences in the 2017 NIA terrorism financing case in which he pleaded guilty to all charges. He was arrested immediately after the February 2019 terror attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad and has been held in Tihar Jail in Delhi for over two years.
The killing of the 40 CRPF members in a bomb blast on February 14, 2019, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, marked a turning point. Within days, Malik was expelled from his residence in Srinagar. His JKLF, as well as the Jamaat-e-Islami, were banned. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) obtained two high profile cases – the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed on December 8, 1989 and the assassination of four members of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on January 25, 1990 – revived against Malik after a 10-year freeze.
Last Friday, the main prosecution witness in one of these two cases, Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the former Union Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and sister of the former Chief Minister of J&K, Mehbooba Mufti, appeared in court for the first time in over 32 years to record his statement. She identified Malik and three of his JKLF associates as her captors. His statement, which renders Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti “politically incorrect” in the Valley election scrum, has the potential for serious consequences for Malik’s fate subject to his survival in cross-examination. .
The CBI completed the investigation and filed a complaint in both cases against Malik and his associates in a TADA court in 1990. There was no explanation of how these cases persisted in protracted litigation and the trial has not started for 29 years. For 10 years, from April 2009 to April 2019, there was no attempt to have the stay overturned during the trial of these cases in a court in Srinagar. After February 2019, the CBI overturned the stay and both cases were transferred to a court in Jammu for trial within weeks. Over the past 3 years, charges have been brought against Malik and his associates in both cases.
In June 2003, the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, gave his daughter’s alleged abductor free to promote his campaign for the ‘azadi’ in Kashmir’s schools and colleges. For granting Kashmiris “the right to decide their own future”, a political euphemism for separation from India, and including them as “a party in the tripartite talks with India and Pakistan” , Malik has set himself the goal of obtaining the signatures of two million people.
Interestingly, Malik started his campaign in Mufti’s own constituency, Anantnag. He was accompanied by his former fellow activists and senior JKLF commanders, Javed Ahmad Mir and Noor Mohammad Kalwal, who according to the CBI indictment were among the ten kidnappers of Rubaiya Sayeed. Abducted on December 8, 1989, Rubaiya was released on December 13, 1989, only after then-Vice President Singh’s government at the Center forced then-Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to release five militants from the JKLF in exchange for her.
In unprecedented political drama, nearly all criminal charges against Malik and his associates have been virtually dropped.
After a ceasefire in 2000, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee allowed and facilitated a visit by Kashmiri separatists to Pakistan. On February 17, 2006, Malik met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his office in New Delhi. In a television broadcast in August 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi interrupted meetings of Kashmiri separatists with Pakistani High Commission officials, Malik claimed that India’s seven prime ministers from the previous 24 years had facilitated meetings of Kashmiri separatists with the Pakistanis. government officials as well as their visits to Pakistan.
In return, until 2014 came politicians, government officials and journalists, including one who now publicly claims to have acted as a spy for a Pakistani agency at events with India’s top dignitaries.
During the Mufti’s PDP-Congress regime in 2005, Malik was allowed to visit educational institutions in the valley again to promote his campaign for “azadi”. In March 2006, he was allowed to attend a leftist-sponsored conference in Pakistan.
During the same coalition in 2007, when Ghulam Nabi Azad was the chief minister, Malik claimed to have obtained 70,000 signatures for his “Safar-e-Azadi” campaign from 3,500 villages and towns in the valley. A number of leading Indian politicians, scholars, lawyers, retired judges and journalists were encouraged to be Malik’s guests and hosts in Srinagar and New Delhi respectively. Many of them publicly sympathized with Malik’s cause of Kashmir’s separation from India. It was during this period that Malik not only visited Pakistan and many countries of the world as he pleased, but also married a Pakistani woman and took her home.
During one such visit to Pakistan in February 2013, Malik publicly shared the stage with ideologue Lashkar-e-Tayyiba Hafiz Saeed, the main defendant in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack flew for Srinagar and went directly to his home without being questioned by the Indian authorities. On another occasion, Malik was allowed to collect donations worth Rs one crore from the valley and hand-carry them for distribution in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
In April 2005, Malik organized an extraordinary exhibition to promote Pakistan’s cause and slogan for “self-determination” under the banner “Voices for Peace, Voices for Freedom” at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi. He exhibited 1,000 kilos of paper claiming to contain 1.5 million signatures.
A host of eminent personalities, diplomats and intellectuals attended the exhibit which also featured 340 hours of never-before-seen videotapes of “detention and interrogation camps run by Indian forces” at various locations in the valley of Kashmir, around 5,000 protests in 5,000 villages in Kashmir and coverage of signature collection campaigns over the past few years as well as over 5,000 photographs.
Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, who ebulliently posed for photos with the JKLF leader, said after visiting the exhibit that India ruled the people of Kashmir with the power of “800,000 soldiers of occupation”. Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) said: “The oppression of Kashmiris, the use of force against civilians through unlawful acts is fundamentally the reason that strikes the idea of India . Those who oppress others cannot live free themselves. “.
Those who eulogized Malik on this occasion included noted Gandhian activist Nirmala Desh Pandey, India’s former envoy to the UK, and noted journalist Kuldeep Nayar, who frequently traveled to Srinagar to break Malik’s “fasting until death”. Nayar said he and his colleagues visited Kashmir and prepared a report “which Pakistan then used in the United Nations”. Columnist Praful Bidwai said, “We need to innovate new methods to fight for justice and Yasin Malik has come up with an innovative and imaginative method.”
Malik slammed MORI, a British agency, which conducted a survey in 2002 and found that Kashmiris were happy with Indian rule. Malik said MORI’s survey only covered a small number of Kashmiris and his supporters had visited nearly 5,000 villages in the past two years. “We recorded the most transparent and democratic verdict made by people and each form marks the identity of the person questioned. Each village told us a new story,” Malik said while unveiling his main program.
Now that prosecution witnesses have begun to testify in the two CBI cases, Valley residents are wondering if Malik is stepping into the shoes of his azadi inspiration – Maqbool Bhat.