‘The Story of Kashmir’ Told Through Two Assassinations
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: Shruti Mathur / The Quint)

‘The Story of Kashmir’ Told Through Two Assassinations

David Devadas’s book, The Story of Kashmir, gives a blow-by-blow account of the most important events of the past 90 years, including what was discussed when Bob Gates met the prime ministers of Pakistan and India—the ‘Gates mission’ in 1990. It reveals how Gen Zia-ul Haq set up the JKLF militant operation in Kashmir in 1988, and a detailed account of how Sheikh Abdullah reached out to not only Nehru, but also Jinnah, in the years before independence. Those who know Kashmir well have appreciated its wealth of valuable detail.

The Quint excerpts some startling pages, which show exactly what led Pakistan to assassinate some of the most prominent Kashmiris. Mirwaiz Farooq had written a strong letter to Benazir Bhutto. Abdul Ghani Lone had spoken plainly to Gen Musharraf, and then told off the ISI chief three weeks before he was assassinated.

The two different sets of excerpts are on Mirwaiz Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone, respectively. The first set of excerpt shows that Mirwaiz Farooq had been in secret talks with George Fernandes, who was then a member of the Union Cabinet:

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Excerpt 1: The Mirwaiz’s Secret Talks With George Fernandes

… Among those with whom George talked over several weeks, were JKLF’s mentor, Dr Abdul Ahad Guru, and the mirwaiz. He struck a chord with both. Years later, he would describe Dr Guru as a true patriot. As for the mirwaiz, on a Friday in early May, George listened for an hour over the telephone in Farooq’s house, while the priest launched into a diatribe on the Abdullahs’ dynastic grip on power.

George was willing to listen. Indeed, by the end of that telephone conversation, both were in the mood for an agreement. Warming up to his new friend, the mirwaiz told George with gusto, that he would bring a hundred boys to Delhi for talks. George was going to Cairo the following weekend for a Socialist International meeting, and asked the mirwaiz to bring them on the Sunday after.

When he got off the plane at Frankfurt en route to Cairo, the Indian consul walked up, looking grim.

Excerpt 2: The Mirwaiz’s Brush With Militants

One significant figure in Kashmiri politics remained at large: Mirwaiz Farooq. Uneasy at the mercy of an unpredictable Kashmir, he had begun to wear a perpetual frown for the past four months, neither eating nor sleeping well. He had been particularly unnerved by the murder of the vice-chancellor of Kashmir University, who had been a neighbour and friend. In fact, the vice-chancellor had visited for dinner the night before Hilal had abducted him.

…The Pandit director of Srinagar’s television station too had been a friend. The day he had been shot, the mirwaiz was sitting at dinner when his teenaged son, who had been watching television, ran in shouting for his father. When he broke the news, the mirwaiz stopped eating and sat ashen for a long time.

In February, he too had borne the brunt of militants’ anger. A bunch of boys had roughed him up, pulling him out of his car on the road not far from his home. It was a Friday, and he had been on his way to the Jamia for afternoon prayers.

His assailants, brandishing weapons, had been on their way to Hazratbal to hear their leaders speak and had demanded that the mirwaiz go with them. When he insisted that he had to go to the Jamia, they showered blows on his back and burnt his car. To them, his temperate statements against violence in the movement branded him a traitor.

The Mirwaiz Feared For His Life

As summer approached, the mirwaiz became more irritable. He snapped at his secretary, Syed ur Rehman Shams, to bring pen and paper one morning in early May. Over the next three days, he laboured over a letter, re-drafting it several times. Finally, he told his secretary to make three copies. One was to be addressed to Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the second to President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, and the third to the prime minister of Azad Kashmir, Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan.

Pained and passionate, the letter was half-appeal, half-protest. Killing innocent persons must stop, he wrote, asking how he would answer God on Judgment Day for these deaths.

He instructed Shams to take the letters to Delhi and hand them to Riaz Khokkar, Pakistan’s high commissioner. Sofi Muslim, an old associate of the mirwaiz, went with the young secretary. At the mirwaiz’s home, the telephone continued to buzz through the next fortnight. Apart from promising George he would bring a hundred boys to Delhi for talks, the mirwaiz spoke to Mufti and Jagmohan, alluding to those who had been arrested the previous month and hinting that he too might be placed in custody. He even declared in the course of a sermon at the Jamia that his life was in danger.

Excerpt 3: The Mirwaiz’s Efforts in Paving the Way For Talks in Delhi

21 May began silently. One of the 140-odd militant groups that had sprung up by then, had demanded ‘civil curfew’, and fear of their guns was at that stage far stronger than fear of the State.

The mirwaiz spent the morning drafting a statement. It must say that Kashmir was disputed, he told his secretary, and the issue should be settled either in line with the 1948 United Nations resolutions or through tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and representatives of the Kashmiri people.

It was the second mechanism he was putting into play actually, paving the way for the talks he planned to lead in New Delhi the following weekend.

While they were at it, the old gardener who worked gratis, shuffled in to say that some men wanted to meet him. Engrossed in the draft, the priest did not even look up. The old man stood respectfully, his hands clasped below his waist for a few minutes before he summoned up the courage to repeat his message. Looking up testily, the mirwaiz asked who had turned up in the middle of a civil curfew. They had come on foot and said they had some urgent work, the old gardener replied reverently. The priest said they could wait in the office and went back to the papers in front of him. The office was in a small double- storey brick building at the end of the drive. There, the men were shown to sofas in a carpeted anteroom.

The Assassination of Mirwaiz Farooq

When the statement was ready, the mirwaiz told his secretary to dictate it over the telephone to his list of correspondents. He normally began with Mark Tully of the BBC and went on to IRNA, the Iranian news agency, the senior Pakistani correspondent in New Delhi and then the major Indian news agencies. Just as he was snapping these instructions, still frowning, a middle-aged woman arrived, also asking to see him. She too was led to the waiting room as the priest went into the office. He summoned her first. After a few minutes, he called the secretary to instruct that her son’s school fees at the Islamia School, which the Mirwaiz family had run for decades, should be waived.

Then the three men were shown in.

In the anteroom, his secretary went back to dictating the statement over the telephone. After a while, he heard muffled gunshots. Thinking the sounds had come from the street, he wet on.n Just then, the three men scrambled out, one of them holding a revolver.

The secretary sat transfixed while the old gardener tried desperately to grapple with one of them as they ran toward the gate, but he was no match for them. When the secretary finally found his wits and went into the office, Mirwaiz Farooq was prone on the carpet, blood oozing from his forehead.

Excerpts On Abdul Ghani Lone’s Assassination

Excerpt 1: Kashmir’s Desire to Quit Cycle of Violence

(Abdul Ghani Lone was the founder of the People’s Conference):

Catch-22 locked the neighbours in its grip again. India said it would negotiate only after the gunfire ceased, but Pakistan’s brass was sure India would back away as soon as the pressure of violence eased. Although nothing came of the Agra summit, Musharraf did return a little less confident than he had been that India’s back was to the wall—pinched between Kargil and fidayeen.

Far more unsettling, he had got a better idea of the bent of Kashmir’s mind—through the Hurriyat leaders. He had met them in the Pakistan high commissioner’s study, on the eve of the summit. Lone and the mirwaiz had buttonholed Professor the day before that, at the flat that Shabir had rented for the Hurriyat in south Delhi. Professor must speak for them, Lone had insisted, and the men in that room agreed on three points that he must make.

Non-Kashmiri Mujahideen Not Welcome

At the meeting with Musharraf, however, Professor made only two of the points. First, he said that the ‘guest mujahideen’ from outside Kashmir were causing complications. They were not welcome, he indicated. Second, he said that the Security Council resolutions for a plebiscite were unlikely at this stage to provide the basis for a solution.

When he saw that Professor was not going to make the third point, Lone interjected. The people, he said, were tired of violence. They had suffered enough.

Geelani spoke up then. Some people may be tired, he said spiritedly, but he was not. Turning to Professor, Musharraf said the points he had made were loaded. They needed to be discussed.

But the points Professor and Lone made were crystal clear. Kashmir wanted out of the cycle of violence, and the non-Kashmiri mujahideen who had increasingly carried the burden of Pakistan’s effort over the past few years, were unwelcome. More important, the Hurriyat—apart from Geelani—were not interested in the United Nations resolutions or any other device that would leave Kashmir with only one choice—being integrated into India or Pakistan.

Excerpt 2: On the Local Elections of October 2002

… Another round of elections was due by October 2002 and, egged on by the West, Lone and the mirwaiz at least were contemplating the possibility of getting involved. Other than the Jamaat, they were the only ones in the executive with ground support. Their conditions were that their candidates should not have to swear by the Constitution of India, that Western observers supervise the process, and that some of the constituencies be redrawn (they had been reconfigured over the years to suit parties in power, and the mirwaiz’s support base in Srinagar’s inner city had been split into three constituencies).

Since Farooq’s government was hugely unpopular, a number of Lone’s and the mirwaiz’s supporters could have been elected. If they formed the government, the stage would be set for what Vajpayee had targeted from the beginning: talks with the Hurriyat or its representatives after they won the people’s mandate.

Lone and the mirwaiz were uneasy, however. Their flank was weak. Yasin’s tune had changed since he had returned from the US—where he had been on 9/11. He had brought the gun to Kashmir, he now told his colleagues, and could not give it up.

He came up with a hare-brained proposal that the Hurriyat should contest elections only if these were conducted by an election commission appointed by the Hurriyat, on both sides of the Line of Control. He and Professor had even chosen a commission, and the Hurriyat executive had adopted the plan while Lone and the mirwaiz were in New Delhi—although the duo had pleaded that a decision be put off until they could attend. Miffed, neither attended a Hurriyat meeting for a long time thereafter.

Lone’s Top Priority: The Interest of the Kashmiri People

Pakistan was desperate to rein them in. So when the mirwaiz decided to go to Saudi Arabia to condole the death of the son of the chief priest of the Ka’aba, Abdul Qayoom Khan got in touch, asking that they meet in Dubai. The mirwaiz promptly suggested that Lone be asked to come as well. The meeting was arranged at a hotel in Dubai owned by a Pandit friend of Lone’s son Sajad.

Azad Kashmir’s leading politician turned up with a high-powered team from Pakistan, including the chief of the ISI and officers of the foreign ministry. Lone did some plain speaking, as was his wont, and got into a heated argument with an ISI officer who insisted that Geelani alone was the leader of Kashmir. The interest of the people of Kashmir was his chief priority, Lone said, that of India or Pakistan secondary. The people’s suffering must end, he thundered. He did make it clear, though, that the Hurriyat would act together.

Lone’s Assassination

Lone’s tough talk must have left the Pakistanis very worried.

He went to the US from Dubai and returned to Srinagar on 19 May 2002. The next day, he addressed a seminar at which the top leadership of the Hurriyat spoke. There, in Geelani’s presence, Lone said that there was no truth to the rumour that he intended to contest elections, but added with a grin that it was not heresy to participate in elections.

A day later, Lone was assassinated.

(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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