The 122 Hours

In two decades after the abduction of Rubiya Sayeed, many have debated its impact on Kashmir insurgency, and its many ifs and buts. Haroon Mirani revisits the event. 
On December 2, 1989, Ashfaq Majid Wani was at his home watching news on Doordarshan. The images of Mufti Mohammed Syed being appointed as India’s home minister in newly elected Vishwanath Pratap Singh government set his mind rolling.Ashfaq was desperate for a boost to the armed insurgency in Kashmir struggling to make an impact. The first armed batch of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) had already arrived. There had been couple of blasts and gunfire exchanges in Kashmir, but the impact was missing. People seemed apprehensive of the developments. The top leadership of JKLF including Sheikh Hamid and others were in jail. The situation was not emerging the way Ashfaq or the JKLF had imagined.But appointment of a Kashmiri as the union home minister gave him a ray of hope. He started making enquiries about Mufti’s family. He rang every friend, and party activists went on an information gathering operation. Within days, the search zeroed on Mufti’s “son”, who they were told, was a doctor at Lal Ded Hospital. Inspired by Palestinian guerrillas, Ashfaq’s plan was to abduct Mufti’s “son” and bargain with India for the release of his comrades.
The operation had to be quick, as he didn’t want the government to get security conscious about Mufti’s family. Reconnaissance operations were started. During the recce, Mufti’s ward turned out be his daughter and not a son. A dilemma erupted, with apprehensions that people might dislike JKLF for abducting a young woman. Ashfaq took the risk and gave the green signal to the operation, which later become a watershed in the history of Kashmir insurgency. At 3.25 PM on December 08, 1989, Dr Rubiya Syed, 23, left for her home from Lal Ded Hospital. The bus she boarded at Exhibition Crossing, was hijacked by JKLF activists along with the prized passenger. Ashfaq and his colleagues followed in a car. Terrified and bewildered passengers did not dare to inform the police. Syed’s family too was unaware, as it was normal for Rubiya to reach home late from work. When Javaid Mir of JKLF called daily Kashmir Times’ office at 5.30 pm to tell them that they had abducted Rubiya Syed, all hell broke lose. From Delhi to Srinagar, governments were taken unawares and frantic activities started. Meanwhile Rubiya was taken to a house where she was greeted by Ashfaq.
His words were, “You are our sister. Couple of your brothers are in jail and we need your cooperation in releasing them,” recalls Wajahat Qureshi, a close confidant of Ashfaq. “If government doesn’t release them, we will still set you free, but not before we will kill ourselves, said Ashfaq pointing a gun towards his temple,” said Qureshi.The impact was more than what the party had expected. It was the first crisis faced by newly elected government at New Delhi. Hectic negotiations followed. One after another, a group of mediators emerged, everybody wanted to secure the release. The mediators included Dr A A Guru, Zafar Mehraj, Shabnam Lone, Abbas Ansari and some others. The final deal was struck through Justice Motilal Bhat and Advocate Mian Qayoom.The entire operation culminated in the release of five militants, which included Sheikh Hamid, PaK resident Sher Khan, Noor Mohammed Kalwal, Javid Zargar and Altaf Bhat.

“This was the final list and it went through various modifications like dropping of the names of Ghulam Nabi Bhat, brother of late Maqbool Bhat and Abdul Ahad Waza,” said Javed Malik, who is currently deputy chairman of JKLF (R), headed by Farooq Ahmed Dar alias Bitta Karate.

From the JKLF side the entire operation was almost flawless. Security agencies were fanning across Srinagar to get any information on Rubiya Syed. JKLF, meanwhile had shifted Rubiya to Sopore in the house of Mohammed Yaqub Pandit. Only six people in JKLF knew about the location of Rubiya.

Mufti Syeed was union home minister in V P Singh government.A woman companion was also kept with Rubiya. Being himself from upper middle class Ashfaq knew her tastes. He made every effort to make Rubiya as comfortable as possible. “He ensured that chocolates and Gems (popular sweets of that time) reached her regularly,” said Mir.In order to confuse the security agencies JKLF started playing games with them. “We knew that police was bugging our phones, so we made deliberate calls to each other to tell that the ‘thing’ is alright and we have shifted it to Nishat, Bemina and some other places,” said Mir. “When government was unable find anything, they threatened us with a crackdown of entire Srinagar.”Even as government was denying taking any security action, on ground they were doing everything to cow down the militants. “Almost all the relatives of JKLF were arrested,” said Mir. “My father was tortured and soon afterwards he suffered a paralysis attack.”Government tried everything they could, but failed. Commandoes of National Security Guard (NSG) were flown to Srinagar, but due to absence of any concrete intelligence, they could not conduct any operations.
Impact
Twenty years have passed since the event which is considered as watershed in Kashmir’s history. The 122 hours of captivity of Dr Rubiya Syed set the tone for the present phase of Kashmir situation.There was an immense impact. “It was the first time that Kashmiris had tasted the victory,” says Shakil Bakshi. “Earlier we had been continuously being defeated. But the incident gave a ray of hope to people as they felt empowered.”

From a defeated community to a victorious crowd, the transformation was spontaneous. People started to believe that the “mighty India can be defeated too”.

During the negotiations, New Delhi had put forward two conditions for the exchange. The first was that the two sides will release their captives at the same time and second, there will be no victory marches.

Being on the higher ground the militants refused a simultaneous release. The officials, including two cabinet ministers Inder Kumar Gujral and Arif Mohammed Khan, monitoring the release were sitting at state police headquarters in DGP’s room.

The five militants- Sheikh Hamid, PaK resident Sher Khan, Noor Mohammed Kalwal, Javid Zargar and Altaf Bhat – were released at 3.05 PM. After the agreed to gap of three hours between the releases, the panicked officials were sweating profusely as there was no news of Rubiya. However, they heaved a sigh of relief when she reached the house of Justice Bhat in Sonwar at 7.15 pm.

But nobody could stop people from cherishing the rare “moments of victory”, not even the militants. People came out on roads dancing, chanting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans besides bursting crackers.

What happened to the five ?
Sheikh Hamid: Sheikh Abdul Hamid was killed by army along with five fellow fighters while crossing Jhelum river near Aali Kadal in Srinagar in a boat on November 19, 1992.

Sher Khan: A citizen of Pakistan Administered Kashmir Sher Khan returned to his home. He was killed under mysterious conditions in 2008 in Mirpur. A faction of JKLF accused Pakistan’s Military Intelligence for killing him.

Noor Mohammed Kalwal: Kalwal
was arrested in October 1991 and jailed. After 12 years in jail, he was released in 2003 and is at present executive member of JKLF.

Javid Zargar: Javid Zargar is a senior member of JKLF. He also spent 12 years in jail.

Altaf Bhat: Leaving aside his militant past Altaf Bhat, nowadays runs a business. Bhat remains an ardent sympathiser of separatist ideology.

“Kashmiris saw India brought to her knees for the first time. It made them feel that azaadi (independence) was only a short distance away,” recalls Saleem Shangloo, a close associate of Ashfaq Majid.

Summing up the situation right after the release, Ved Marwah, former Director General of the National Security Guard, in his book Uncivil wars: The pathology of terrorism in India, writes: “The militants had taken over the city, there was little doubt about that. They had succeeded in bringing the mighty Indian government to its knees and none could have stopped them from celebrating their victory.”

The fear of police and administration was gone. Its first causality became “Lion of Kashmir” – Sheikh Abdullah. It was for the first time that people came openly on roads calling him a traitor. The large hoardings with Abdullah’s pictures on them at Lal Chowk, were brought down by the people and spat upon.

“People were repressed, but it was not visible,” says Farooq Dar. “So when India released five of our companions, emotions exploded and people came to the streets.”

The Rubiya case also popular acceptance to armed insurgency. “Earlier people thought that the blasts and firings are done by Indian agents,” said Shakil Bakshi. “But when they saw youths from their own communities with guns and CRPF personnel being killed, they realized it is Kashmiris, who have started a revolution.”

The people on the roads also provided cover to released militants as it was impossible for security agencies to re-arrest them. The festivity last almost all night and people from every genre participated. Ved Marwah writes in his book: “When I reached state guest house at midnight I could see employees in festive mood chanting the slogans of Azaadi”.

Chance encounter
JKLF leaders and Rubiya Syed saw each other face to face after seven years. The occasion was the marriage ceremony of Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, in 1997. The marriage was attended by every who’s who of the state that included unionist politicians as well as separatists.

Javid Mir and Yasin Malik were interacting with guests in the Karan Mahal in Jammu when they confronted Rubiya Syed accompanied by her father. Both sides had a brief eye contact before they went their way. “It was interesting. But we didn’t talk,” said Mir.

Arms display
At Bohrikadal, it was also for the first time that gun was displayed by the militants. “Actually people went wild and they wanted to burn a branch of a national bank at Bohrikadal, but some of our boys stopped them,” said Qureshi. “At first people thought that these youth in pherans (long Kashmiri cloak worn in winters) were ordinary people, but during the scuffle, our boys were forced to show the Kalashnikovs to stop the people.”

As soon as people saw the guns, they became excited. “From everywhere we could hear the slogans for freedom” said Qureshi. “People came towards us in hordes and hoisted us on their shoulders.”

The officials had not informed the to-be-released militants about their name in demand list. Noor Mohammed Kalwal, who was one among the five released militants said, “I was in Srinagar central jail and I came to know about my name figuring in the list from a newspaper.”

The five militants had to be released at Bohri Kadal, but last minute negotiations finalised the place for release at Rajouri Kadal. People were already on the roads “celebrating”. Every passing vehicle was asked for money for buying fire crackers. “People who were mad with joy stopped our vehicle too in which all five of us were traveling towards Bohrikadal,” said Kalwal. “They asked us for money for buying firecrackers, as they didn’t know that we were the men – whose release they were celebrating.” The news broke at Bohri Kadal and the celebrations reached a “crescendo”.

Ved Marwah says, in his book, that their car was also stopped on way to airport and senior police officials in civvies couldn’t dare to refuse the donation for celebrations.

An aura was created around the militants heralding a “golden age” for them. Women came out on roads and showered gun wielding militants with flowers, sweets and almonds, singing traditional songs.

“Such was the situation that people scrambled to touch the hands and faces of militants,” said Salim Shangloo. “They touched our hands and then wiped their own faces giving militants the prestige of a holy man.”

Could events have taken a different course?
The abduction and its fallout has left one big question, that security circles in New Delhi have often debated. If the Rubiya kidnapping case was dealt harshly by India would things have taken a different turn. Would militancy erupt the way it did? Most Indian experts believe that the situation would have been different if only New Delhi had not released any militant or started any negotiation with them.

“It is just the Rubiya case which brought the militants into the limelight,” says a security expert. “Had India harshly acted on that time without caring for Rubiya’s fate, the situation would not have changed to worst.”

Experts cite the example of Al-Fateh case which was swiftly liquidated by security agencies in seventies. On January 13, 1971 the authorities claimed to have unearthed the Al-Fateh group. Its members were alleged to have been plotting to storm the Hazratbal branch of the Jammu & Kashmir Bank as part of its plans to “liberate Kashmir by resorting to armed struggle”. Ghulam Rasool Zahgeer headed this underground outfit which had been set up in 1967-68. Prominent among its members were Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, Nazir Ahmed Wani and Azam Inquilabi.

“Same logic could have been applied on JKLF, which was in its initial stages,” says a police officer of that time. “JKLF could not have dared to harm a young woman as it would have put them in the league of devils.”

But many disagree with the statement. “If it was not Rubiya kidnapping, some other incident would have provoked the people to come out on roads to demand freedom” says Bakshi.

On ground alienation was a reality. The wounds inflicted by mass rigging of elections were still fresh in popular memory. In fact the famous HAJY group comprising of Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Majid, Javid Mir and Yasin Malik personified the rage that swept Kashmir after the mass rigging. The foursome who had reposed their trust in Indian democracy, and were polling agents for Mohammed Yusuf (later known more as Syed Sallahudin) in 1987 elections were tortured and beaten. Their faith in democracy was lost.

“Same treatment was met with entire population at lower or higher level, which infuriated them,” says Bakshi. “They were broken, but seething with anger and waiting to get exploded.”

Rubiya abduction acted as the spark. 
The abduction was a risky affair for militants the mastermind Ashfaq knew it all along. He was aware that if the operation failed, there was a chance of major setback to the armed insurgency. It was one of the reasons he said to Rubiya that if Delhi refused to release the militants, he along with others will shoot themselves.

Conspiracy theory
In tune with Kashmiri mood, spate of conspiracy theories were in circulation following the abduction. The most circulated conspiracy theory was that the abduction was planned by New Delhi itself. The main motive was thought to be forcing the resignation of Farooq Abdullah government who was “literally refusing to come down from his seat, due to his immense love for the throne.”

“At that time Farooq Abdullah perhaps knew the plan and that is why he vehemently opposed release of militants” said a political commentator. Rubiya’s case proved to be the final straw in his removal as New Delhi ordered Abdullah to vacate.

JKLF leaders vehemently deny the theory. “They had gone mad and were propagating all kind of lies to probably settle their internal scores,” says Mir. “It was our own operation, fully conceived and executed by us.”

Abduction spree
High on the success of Rubiya case, abductions soon became a favorite tool for militants. A spate of abductions were carried out mainly by Students Liberation Front (SLF), which later rechristened itself as Ikhwanul Muslimeen and finally switched sides. The high profile abductions included relatives of politicians and officials.

They abducted Kashmir University vice chancellor Prof. Mushirul Haq, his personnel secretary Abdul Gani, HMT general manager H L Khera, IOC executive director Durai Swami, Nahida Soz and Sheikh Fayaz son of Sheikh Ghulam Rasool. Nahida, Swami and Fayaz were released in exchange of dozens of Ikhwan militants. Haq, Gani and Khera were not so fortunate and were killed.

Other militant groups too started the practice. Muslim Janbaz force headed by Firdous Baba abducted two Swedish engineers in August 1990. They were released in exchange of ransom of Rs 3 crore, after 92 days of captivity.

They also abducted a French engineer working on a power project in Kishtwar in 1992. He was released by Hizbul Mujahideen group after retrieving him from his abductors in a bloody clash.

In August 1993, five JKLF militants were released in exchange of release of a Deputy Inspector General, Abdul Hafiz Dar.

In 1994 two British nationals were kidnapped from Pahalgam by Harkatul Ansar, but were released safely after two weeks.

The kidnappings ended in 1995 with the kidnapping of five foreigners by mysterious Al Faran militant group in Pahalgam area. One was killed, another fled and the rest are still missing.

On December 04, 1995, an encounter at Dabran Anantnag left six Al-Faran commanders including Hamid Turki dead. Al-Faran claimed the army took custody of the hostages during the operation but army denied it.

The abduction spree by SLF or Ikhwan militants stopped after the killing of a businessman in Qamarwari who negotiated most of the swapping deals between militants and the government.

The Al Faran’s abduction of foreign tourists was the last major abduction by any insurgent group in Kashmir.

Court case
A case under Section 364 Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), Section 3 of TADA and Section 3/25 Arms Act was registered with Sadar police station, Srinagar on December 8, 1989 for the Rubiya abduction case. The case was later transferred to the CBI and they produced a charge-sheet in Jammu TADA court.

The charge sheet accused 13 persons of planning the abduction. The accused are Ashfaq Majid Wani, Yasin Malik, Javid Mir, Muhammd Salim Nanaji, Wajahat Qureshi, Manzoor Ahmad Sofi, Iqbal Gandroo, Ali Mohammed Mir, Zaman Mir, Mehrajudin Sheikh, Showkat Bakshi, Mohammed Yaqub Pandit and Amanullah Khan.

In 1999 Showkat Ahmed Bakshi, Manzoor Ahmed Sofi and Mohammad Iqbal Gandroo were granted bail after nine years.

Almost all of them have undergone jail sentences extending up to 11 years in case of Iqbal Gandroo. Salim Nannaji is currently in jail.

All of them have to appear before TADA court every 15 days, come what may. “Even if we are ill, there is some problem at home or other emergency, we have to go to Jammu to attend the court,” says Qureshi.

Surprisingly Rubiya Syed’s statement was not officially recorded by security agencies. “It is the CBI, which has filed the case,” says Mir. He claims that the “best treatment” to her (during abduction) was the reason that she never came out against them.

Courtesy: http://www.KashmirLife.Org

[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DjzQVQyhpY&w=420&h=315]
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3 thoughts on “The 122 Hours

  1. Did I listened firecracker sounds while going through this article ? Yeah I did!May Allah bless and Help all of us in defeating oppressors .

    Like

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