CBI Reopens Cases Against Yasin Malik: A Pre-Election ‘Gimmick’?
In one of the ripple effects of the killing of over forty Central Reserve Police Force men in Pulwama district on 14 February — and, significantly, ahead of the parliamentary elections in India — the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has begun the process of reopening the virtually buried cases of terrorism filed against the Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik, in the last (over) three decades.
Change of Policy or Election Stunt?
Many in the Valley, including cynics in politics and intelligentsia, believe that the current crackdown on separatists was part of the Narendra Modi government’s attempts to placate a vote-bank across the country. “They will be all back home and their freedom will be restored immediately after the (Lok Sabha) elections are over,” says a senior journalist working with a premier television news channel. “Yasin Malik has over 100 FIRs against him. Nobody touched him ever, after he shared the dais with Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan in February 2013.”
“Each one of us has been put on tenterhooks to collect material and evidences to ensure that none of them comes out for next ten years. Prosecutors in Police and CBI are now questioned why a stay order on Malik’s trial in high profile cases has not been vacated in the last ten years,” a senior Home Department official revealed.
Malik has been a free bird since April 2009, when the Srinagar wing of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court stayed his trial in a designated TADA court in Jammu in the CBI’s charge-sheets in two high-profile criminal matters—kidnapping of the then union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya Sayeed on 8 December 1989, and the killing of the four Indian Air Force (IAF) officials on 25 January 1990.
Squadron leader Ravi Khanna, Corporal DB Singh, Corporal Uday Shankar and Airman Azad Ahmad were gunned down at Rawalpora Chowk, when over 40 IAF personnel were waiting for their morning bus on the outskirts of Srinagar.
CBI ‘Sleeps’ For 29 Years
After lying low for around 10 years, the CBI is now seeking shifting of the cases involving Malik and his one-time militant associates, from Srinagar to Jammu. On Wednesday, 6 March, it argued before Chief Justice Gita Mittal in Jammu, that the main accused in the matter, namely Mohammad Yasin Malik, was “an influential person in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and there is every likelihood that he will influence the proceedings of the matter”.
With Malik’s attorney hooked via video-conference from Srinagar, the CBI asserted: “Hence, in order to ensure effective adjudication of the matter, it would meet the ends of justice if the matter is transferred” to the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir at Jammu.
The Chief Justice directed Malik’s lawyers to file objections within one day, and asked the registry to list it for orders on 11 March.
Initially the FIRs in both the matters were filed against “unknown terrorists” at Saddar police station in Srinagar. Subsequently, however, both the matters were assigned to the CBI that established the crime against Malik and other JKLF militants, and filed challans separately for trial in the designated court for TADA cases in Jammu in 1990.
Trial Stayed Until Kingdom Come?
On 25 October 2008, Malik filed two separate petitions in the TADA court at Jammu, seeking transfer of the trial of both the matters, from Jammu to Srinagar. After hearing arguments and counter-arguments from both sides, the judge rejected Malik’s petitions on 20 April 2009. On 30 April 2009, the JKLF chief filed two writ petitions before the Srinagar wing of the J&K High Court, that stayed the trial court proceedings.
The J&K Police officials, who invariably insisted on remaining anonymous, revealed to this reporter that JKLF’s one-time “District Commander” and co-accused in the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping, namely, Showkat Ahmad Bakshi, had also been arrested and detained at the Kothibagh police station in Srinagar.
Immediately, there were no instructions to let him off or shift him to Jammu or any other jail. While another co-accused, Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karate, was arrested by the NIA in the FIR related to terror-funding of Kashmiri separatists and militants in 2017, and detained at Delhi’s Tihar jail, the fourth co-accused, Javed Ahmad Mir, has not been summoned.
Justice Sacrificed for Politics
Malik had been first arrested from the businessman Zahoor Watali’s home in Srinagar along with the slain separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone’s sons, Bilal Lone and Sajjad Lone, in August 1990.
Days after he was released in May 1994, Malik announced JKLF’s unilateral ceasefire with the Indian security forces at a press conference in the office chamber of Dr GQ Allaqaband, the then principal of the Government Medical College Srinagar. Showkat Bakshi was arrested and later released on bail in 1999. Javed Mir and Bitta Karate were also arrested, but subsequently released.
While acquitting Karate, the trial judge ND Wani remarked that the “allegations leveled against the accused are of serious nature and carry a punishment of death sentence or life imprisonment, but the fact is that the prosecution has shown total disinterest in arguing the case”. Speaking to a Doordarshan reporter in custody, Karate had admitted to having gunned down around 20 Kashmiri Pandits. However, that statement was not admitted in the court.
Malik too had reportedly admitted to the JKLF’s killing of the four IAF personnel in BBC’s Hard Talk, albeit, calling them “enemy agents, not innocent civilians”.
Malik and other JKLF commanders were also booked in the assassinations of the retired Sessions Judge Neelkant Ganjoo, who had convicted Maqbool Bhat in a murder case, and Lassa Kaul, the then Director of Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar, in 1990.
Promoting Malik As An Extremist-Turned-Peacenik
In April 2007, Renee Garfinke, a professor at George Washington University, United States, claimed in her report “Personal Transformations: Moving from Violence to Peace”, released by the United States Institute of Peace, that Yasin Malik had “transformed” due to the treatment he received during a surgery by two Kashmiri Pandit doctors. The author clubbed Malik with other extremists-turned-peaceniks from Nigeria, Israel and other conflict areas, where religious extremism defined social interactions, ‘otherising’ people.
Governments of the Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, besides J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, encouraged Malik to carry on his political activities, even as he continued to call for Kashmir’s separation from India, orchestrated mass campaigns and shared the dais with the Lashkar-e-Taiba supremo Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan.
Journalist Kuldip Nayar and former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, were among the stalwarts from the Indian intelligentsia who promoted Malik as a ‘peace activist’ and managed to have the criminal cases against him buried.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. 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.)