The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has achieved its first milestone with the framing of the charges of murder and criminal conspiracy against the outlawed Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, and six of his associates, nearly 30 years after it concluded the investigation into the killing of four Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel in Srinagar.
The designated court of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) offences in Jammu initiated the process of the prosecution with the framing of charges against the accused on Monday, 16 March 2020, even as the terrorist-turned-politician, Malik (54), pleaded not guilty, and told the presiding officer Subhash Chander Gupta, through a video conference from Delhi’s Tihar Jail, that he had no counsel to defend him.
Charges are also likely to be framed later this week in the kidnapping of Dr Rubaiya Sayeed, former Union Home Minister and two-time J&K Chief Minister late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter.
According to the CBI charge sheet, Malik and his associates kidnapped Rubaiya while she was returning to her Nowgam residence on the outskirts of Srinagar, in a minibus on 8 December 1989, within six days of Mufti’s taking over as Home Minister in VP Singh’s cabinet. She was released on 13 December 1989 in exchange for five JKLF militants, notwithstanding the then chief minister, Farooq Abdullah’s, sustained resistance to New Delhi’s deal with the Valley’s pioneering guerrilla group.
Four Unarmed IAF Men Shot Dead in Jan 1990
Malik and his JKLF associates allegedly planned and executed a major terror strike on the unarmed IAF personnel routinely waiting for their bus at Rawalpora Crossing on 25 January 1990. Four IAF men, including Squadron Leader Ravi Kumar Khanna, were killed and several others left injured.
Both the cases, that sent shockwaves across India and triggered an unending spell of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, were assigned for investigation and prosecution to the CBI. It concluded the investigations and filed charge sheets before the TADA court in Jammu in the two cases on 31 August 1990 and 24 November 1990.
JKLF’s first chief Ashfaq Majid was in command when the two incidents happened in 1989-90.
Malik took over the command after Majid was killed in a brief encounter with the paramilitary forces in Hawal area of downtown Srinagar on 31 March 1990. In August that year, Malik was for the first time arrested, along with the slain separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone’s two sons, Sajjad Lone and Bilal Lone, from a hideout at the residence of Lone’s confidante and businessman Zahoor Ahmad Wattali, who is facing NIA’s charges of terror-funding.
Escapades of JKLF Top Brass in 1990s
While Malik and many of his key associates, including the co-accused Javed Mir and Shaukat Bakhshi, were arrested and released from time to time, Majid died in an encounter in March 1990, and another ‘chief commander’ Abdul Hamid Sheikh was arrested in 1992. However, the BSF released him in 1994, reportedly to undercut the growing influence of the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen.
Sheikh and the co-accused in the IAF killings case, Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, got killed when paramilitary forces opened fire on a boat carrying a group of the militants across the river Jhelum in Nawakadal area of the Srinagar interior in 1994.
Another key associate of Malik’s and Maqbool Bhat’s brother Ghulam Nabi Bhat, too died in November 1994. Javed Mir’s successor, JKLF chief Rafiq Ahmad Dar, has been in Pakistan for the last over 25 years.
The ‘key conspirator’, JKLF founder and former minister, Sajjad Lone’s father-in-law, Amanullah Khan – who had been banished from England after the Indian diplomat Ravinder Mhatre’s kidnapping and assassination in Birmingham in 1984 – died in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in April 2016.
The First ‘Compromise’: Releasing Hamid Sheikh & Malik
‘Go-slow’ in both the cases from New Delhi, to both, prosecution as well as judiciary, was tell-tale on several occasions. Immediately after his release from jail in 1994, Malik was permitted to hold an impromptu press conference on the chair and table of the chief administrator of SMHS Hospital and Principal of Government Medical College Srinagar Dr Ghulam Qadir Allaqaband. Even as much of the JKLF’s arms and ammunition had been either seized by security forces or snatched away in a trail of internecine clashes by the pro-Pakistan guerrilla group Hizbul Mujahideen, Malik announced ‘unilateral ceasefire with India’, claiming to pursue the political course.
By projecting himself as ‘a vegetarian like Gandhi’, Malik endeared himself to India’s political, bureaucratic and intellectual circles – to the extent that for years, he enjoyed travelling across the world and shuttling between New Delhi, Islamabad, London and New York.
On one occasion, he was permitted to collect donations worth Rs 1 crore in Kashmir, and distribute the same among the victims of an earthquake in Pakistan. Nobody in India obstructed his plans of marrying a Pakistani artist Mushaal Mullick in 2009. He was not arrested even after sharing stage with the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba patron Hafiz Sayeed in Pakistan in 2013.
Taking a cue from New Delhi, then Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed permitted and facilitated Malik’s ‘million signature campaign’ in which he met with college students and got them signed a memorandum seeking ‘resolution to the Kashmir dispute’. He also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in February 2006.
Delhi’s Cat-and-Mouse Game of Arrests & Releases
Parallel to what he called his ‘politics of non-violence’, Malik was arrested, detained and released scores of time from 1994 to 2019.
On 17 June 1995, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, issued a notification and shifted the trial in both cases from TADA Court, Jammu to a designated TADA Court in Ajmer, Rajasthan. Malik challenged it in J&K High Court, and got it transferred back to Jammu. Thereafter, he filed an application in TADA Court, Jammu, seeking transfer of the trial further from Jammu to the additional TADA Court in Srinagar. It was rejected by TADA Court, Jammu.
Malik approached the Srinagar wing of J&K High Court and got the trial transferred to the additional TADA Court, Srinagar.
Thereafter, on another application by Malik, a single Bench of J&K High Court in Srinagar stayed the trial in April 2009. For the next 10 years, there were no proceedings as the CBI either failed to get the stay vacated or stood silent – possibly under instructions from New Delhi.
Fidayeen Attack on CRPF Came as Malik’s Nemesis
The dismissal of the Mehbooba Mufti government in June 2018 came as a turning point. NIA began a series of raids and arrests of the separatist as well as some mainstream politicians like MLA Engineer Rashid in a terror-funding case filed in 2017. Malik’s old associates, Zahoor Watali, Shaukat Bakshi, and Farooq Ahmad Dar alias Bitta Karate, were also arrested and lodged in Tihar and other jails outside J&K. After a long pause, JKLF was banned and its offices sealed.
Days after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February 2020, in which 40 CRPF men were killed, Malik was arrested, detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), and lodged in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal Jail. Thereafter the NIA took over cushis tody and lodged him in Tihar. In a quick succession of events, the CBI moved fresh applications in J&K High Court, got the 10-year-old stay vacated, and finally, an order to hold trial of both the cases back in TADA Court, Jammu.
“The chargesheet was presented in the designated court on 24 November 1990, but there has been no movement in the case since then,” CBI’s Special Public Prosecutor, Pavittar Singh Bhardwaj, said in September 2019. “These people (Malik and his supporters) had powerful backers among the mainstream. It won’t be wrong to say that Malik and his fellow accused had supporters in positions of power. The wheels of justice were not allowed to move by vested interests”.
‘Malik and His Men Enjoyed Freedom Before 370 Was Revoked’
CBI’s counsel at J&K High Court, Monika Kohli, declined to admit straightaway that there had been ‘politics’, first behind the freedom of the accused for about 30 years, and now behind the tough action against Malik and his associates.
Mrs Kohli told The Quint: “Before abrogation of (Article) 370, things were entirely different in the state. But now, post-370, things are entirely different, and the matters are being taken up by the investigating agencies, more particularly by the CBI... Earlier also we had moved a number of the memos of urgency so that the matter is taken up on priority basis, but we didn’t get a favourable order”. She asserted that both of CBI’s J&K cases were “watertight”, and the accused would be brought to justice. According to her, trial would be completed in “one to two years”.
(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 them.)
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