Recently, I was in north Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir to cover elections of state legislature which are held after every 6 years. Elections are being conducted in 5 phases and I covered the initial 2 phases. I was in Doda & Poonch districts of the state. Both these districts have seen a long spell of militancy and are still vulnerable. While Poonch having proximity to frontiers of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a hotspot for infiltration, Doda is known for hideouts of terrorists who intend bloodbath in other parts of the state. For an average Indian living outside this state, when he hears the word Jammu and Kashmir, the first thing comes to his mind is “terrorism”. Ironically 3 decades ago the state was known for another word beginning with letter T, “tourism”. While roaming around the towns of Doda and Poonch, I came across few people who were terrorists till few years back & decided to surrender after being promised a good life by the government. I had interesting conversations with them and found them worth sharing on this blog.
At Poonch, I met Mohammad Iqbal. This 41 years old man who is educated uptil class 12 was a section commander with militant organisation Al Jihad from 1991 to 1996. In 1996 he gave up his weapon after being attracted by the government’s surrender policy. Two years later Mohammad married Farida Begum in 1998. From this marriage he has 2 sons and a daughter. Mohammad said that he wants to lead a life of a normal Indian citizen, but his past is still haunting him and has made his life terrible. Let us see Mohammad’s story in his own words –
“I came in contact with the terrorist organisation through people who were organising public protests on the streets for separation of Jammu and Kashmir. I was brain washed by them & they convinced me that gun is the only solution to safeguard our interests and self respect. So I went with them and got training to handle fire arms and explosives in PoK. But during my life as a terrorist, I realised that truth is not that what we were told. I felt that me and other youngsters like me were used. We were also not treated respectfully by our leaders. At that time Indian government came up with a surrender policy. We were promised employment. I surrendered before the armed forces…but things didn’t happen as expected. I was given Rs 1500 per month for a year for survival but no job was provided. Some of the ex militants who held higher posts in the militant organisation got some benefits.
After surrendering 10 of my batchmates in Al Jihad were killed by other militant organisations for betraying their cause. So far six attempts to kill me have been made. Some of my other batchmates after feeling cheated went back to militancy again. Few of them have joined Lashkar-E-Toiyba. When a surrendered terrorist returns back to militancy he becomes more deadly and cruel.
In 2001, when my first son was 6 months old I was picked up again by the cops on suspicion of my association with LeT. My wife Farida went to the office of then home minister to plead for his intervention in securing my release, but he kicked the door of his office so hard to throw out my wife that she got hurt and started bleeding. I was released after spending 2 years behind the bars.
Today I am earning my livelihood by repairing wrist watches at a small shop in Poonch. Apart from my wife & kids, I have old parents to look after. Even after so much suffering I have faith in Indian democracy & today I pressed the button of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) with the same finger which was used to trigger AK-47.”
Ishtiaque Ahmad Dev :
“Before republic day I am arrested, before independence day I am arrested, before festivals I am arrested, before some VIP comes to town I am arrested…this is my life after I kicked the gun.” These words of Ishtiaque Ahmad Dev reflect the plight of those people who have quit militancy & are trying to lead a life of a normal citizen. Ishtiaque joined militancy in 1989 & surrendered in 1996.
Ishtiaque’s story in his words – “The general environment after 1987 state assembly elections became very hostile towards the Indian government. We were convinced that the elections were rigged. Several protests were being organised and such protests also facilitated militant groups to recruit their members. They took advantage of people’s anger. Being a young blood, I too got swayed away with the circumstances & became a militant. We were taken to PoK for weapons training. We were asked to attend speeches & sermons by people invited by Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) to convince us for our mission. Once we had interaction with PM Nawaz Sharif also. ISI decided everything. They finalised the locations of attacks. Their attitude was very condescending towards us. They tried to dominate us but they had to face resentment also. They were trying to treat us like slaves & once we were about to have a violent clash with them.
Hindus were never the target of Indian militants initially. It was Afghani Mujahideen who joined alongside and started targeting Hindus of Jammu & Kashmir. I have a friend who fought alongside Afghani terrorists. Once during militancy he took shelter at a village home of his Hindu friend. His Afghani colleague accompanied him. For few days they stayed at this Hindu’s home. His family members cooked food for them. One day Afghani got enraged for some reason & killed all the family members of that Hindu. Now my friend too has quit militancy & he is unable to face his Hindu friend due to shame.
I gave up militancy, but have not got anything promised as per surrender policy. Infact, I have been detained, arrested and tortured several times after surrendering. I have faced almost all kind of interrogation tactics you have seen in movies. Even today after so many years of quitting militancy, I am being harassed by various security forces. I want to lead a normal life, but this system doesn’t allow you to forget your past.”
Ishtiaque Ahmad is now working as a journalist and contributes articles to an Urdu daily Udaan.
Ashfaque Rana :
Ashfaque Rana also joined militancy in 1989 when there was widespread resentment against 1987 election results. One of the first leaders to quit mainstream politics and join militancy was Yasin Mallik. He raised a separatist militant organisation named Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Influenced by the thoughts of Mallik, Ashfaque Rana who was a 25 years old young man that time decided to join JKLF. He took training and vowed to participate in a violent struggle against Indian government for securing separation of
However, very shortly he realised that the agenda of separatist militant
organisation was very hollow and Jammu and Kashmir Pakistan
was using youths of
to pursue its own purpose. This made him disillusioned with the militancy and
he surrendered before the Indian armed forces. Jammu and Kashmir
Now 45 years old Asfhaque Rana has completed his post graduation in M.A. He has full faith in Indian democracy and has contested legislative assembly elections from Surankot seat of Poonch district. He is a member of Panther’s Party and development of villages in his constituency is his prime agenda. When I met him during his election campaign he said - “
country which gives true freedom to the followers of all religion. I am happy
that JKLF also has quit militancy and has come on table top for discussions.” India
(Read in part 2: Plight of refugees living near LOC)