Rise and fall of JKLF
R C Ganjoo
February 26, 2021
In March 2019, Government of India banned Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) under its anti-terror law. The history of the JKLF since its inception, on May 29,1977 in Birmingham, England, to its current state of affairs is an interesting one. The common thread connecting all the years that the organisation has been active is the role played by Pakistan’s secret agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in keeping it strategically divided.
The JKLF was established by Amanullah Khan as an armed wing of the Plebiscite Front (PF) with Jabbar Butt as its first Chief. But soon, Amanullah Khan himself became the organisation’s chairman. He expanded the organisation by setting up units throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. He also set up a unit in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) in 1982 and appointed Hashim Qureshi as its convener. The other prominent members of this unit were Dr Farooq Haider, Raja Muzaffar, and Sardar Rashid Hasrat. But soon Plebiscite Front (PF) distanced itself from JKLF as it was formed by Amanullah Khan without the consent of PF leadership.
Before dwelling deep into the history of JKLF, it is important to clear the confusion regarding JKLF (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) and JKNLF (Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front) and the two Amanullah Khan’s. The one Amanullah who founded JKLF in Englandbecame more famous. The other one was a retired Major of Pakistan Army who, along with Maqbool Bhat, launched JKNLF (Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front) in 1966 in PoK.
Contrary to popular belief, MaqboolBhat was never the co-founder of JKLF as he was already in jail by the time it was founded. In fact, JKLF and other entities active in PoK exploited his name in his absentia. It is interesting to note that the main exploiter of MaqboolBhat’s name was Amanullah Khan who used it to publicize JKLF.
Who was Maqbool Bhat?
On April 25, 1965, Maqbool Bhat and his associates had founded the Jammu Kashmir Plebiscite Front (JKPF) in PoK. Bhat was elected as its publicity secretary. JKPF was the first Kashmir-centric political organisation of any significance in PoK, and many secessionists groups emerged out of it. He became famous by talking about a united and independent Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK. Bhat once said that the Pakistani establishment neither knew nor cared about the Kashmiri problem. JKPF believed in armed struggle to achieve the political objective and so, an armed wing in the name of Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (JKNLF) was formed in 1966.
After launching JKNLF, Major Amanullah Khan and Maqbool Bhat infiltrated into Kashmir Valley in India. They were accompanied by young boys Aurangzeb alias Tariq, who was a native of Gilgit, Kala Khan, Amir Ahmed, and Ghulam Yasin. Once in the valley, Tariq, with the help of others, stabbed to death a CID official named Amar Chand. Subsequently, Tariq was killed in an encounter with police at Baramulla. The encounter ended in the arrest of Maqbool Bhat and his other accomplices. Bhat was implicated as the prime accused in the murder of Amar Chand and was sentenced to death by a court presided over by Justice Neel Kanth Ganjoo. Major Amanullah Khan was lucky to have avoided arrest. He ran back to PoK where he died a couple of years later.
However, on the intervening night of December 7 and 8, 1968 Maqbool Bhat, along with Khan, Ahmed and Yasin escaped from jail.The escape of Maqbool Bhat and others created a huge uproar but nothing substantial came out of investigations. Many people suspect that police and jail officials were involved in the escape of Bhat and others.
The Jail Superintendent Mehmood-ul-Hassan Qurashi alleged that he was forced by Surinder Nath, DIG and Ghulam Hassan, Superintendent Police to keep Maqbool Bhat along with Kala Khan, Amir Ahmed and Ghulam Yasin in a separate compartment but not in a condemned cell. The further instructions were that watch and ward would be the responsibility of police, and not of prison authority. Only medical aid and basic facilities will be provided by the prison authority. Accordingly, the female ward which was not in use was converted into a lockup room with all protective measures leaving no scope for escape. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was given the responsibility of watch and ward of the compartment. Qurashi had at that time observed that directions to prison were against jail manuals.
According to Qurashi, an unqualified person from Bihar, Noor-ul-Haq, was appointed IG Prison and Anwar Qarim his co-brother and one jail official Harbhajan Singh from Uri were hand in glove in executing the escape plan. It was also noticed that during day time government officials in CRPF uniform would visit Maqbool Bhat and discuss for hours together.
In a preliminary report on jail escape, Qurashi mentioned that watch and ward staff, in connivance with deputy superintendent jail, Harbhajan Singh, who was appointed against his wishes, were responsible for the escape.
Meanwhile, an inquiry commission constituted under the chairmanship of S A S Qadri who was Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir in his report mentioned that not even a cat could pass through the hole in the wall wherefrom the prisoners had allegedly escaped. His report put a big question mark on the escape story. One day before the jail escape, Harbhajan Singh had left Srinagar jail for Uri without informing his immediate officers. Later, he was appointed Watch and Ward officer in the J&K assembly.
Before the inquiry commission, Qurashi pleaded his case and raised questions on IG Prisons’ visits to jail frequently. When the inquiry was in progress Noor-ul-Haq requested to go back to Bihar on the pretext that his house was taken over by non-Muslims by force and his family was in danger. Qurashi alleged thatHaq knew that he would be held responsible for the jail escape plan and therefore wanted to run away from inquiry.
However, Jail Superintendent Qurashi and his Chief Warden Makhan Lal Bamzai, both were suspended. For two years Qurashi remained under suspension and during that period he was getting Rs 300 per month and Makhan Lal Bamzai Rs 100 per month as suspension allowance.
The inquiry commission in its report had said the escape was due to negligence overtly and covertly with the cooperation of watch and ward staff and Qurashi and his assistant Makhan Lal Bamzai were not found responsible. Despite this report, both were penalized whereas the watch and ward staff members were allowed to go scot free. The six punishments awarded to Qurashi included no increments for three years, no further promotion for three years and withdrawal of previous increments during the suspension period. Makhan Lal Bamzai was promoted after three years but Qureshi was never promoted till, he retired in Feb 1979.
Meanwhile, on June 20, 1976, Maqbool Bhatagain infiltrated into Kashmir Valley, accompanied by two comrades Abdul Hamid Butt and Riyaz Ahmad Dar. He entered the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Langete Branch and demanded money from bank manager Gulam Nabi Magray. But Magray caught hold of Bhat and raised alarm. Upon seeing his leader overpowered, Riyaz Ahmad, who was then just 17, shot down the manager. Meanwhile, villagers rushed to the spot, caught hold of all the three, and handed them over to the police. Bhat was tried in 1981 and again sentenced to death. Earlier, Bhat was also arrested by Pakistan in 1971 on the suspicion of being an Indian agent after the Indian Airlines plane Ganga hijacking episode. Since Pakistanis could not prove this charge, they released him afterwards.
It is an open fact that no political, social, separatist or terrorist activities can sustain without having legal or illegal funding from known or unknown channels or sources. Similarly, protection and patronage by political players also play critical role. Militancy in Kashmir was also clandestinely supported by regional political parties, and financed from Pakistan and other countries.
G M Shah, installed as chief minister in 1984, released a document against Dr. Farooq Abdullah on his acts of omission and commission in relation to the security of the state, communal harmony, and national security. The White Paper was prepared by the Cabinet Subcommittee constituted on July 10, 1984, vide govt order No. 1206 GD. It was presented by D.D. Thakur, thenDeputy Chief Minister, before the state cabinet for consideration on September 3, 1984. The report also mentions another fact which is not yet disputed that Dr. Abdullah himself had taken and administered to others the oath of allegiance and dedication to the cause of the so-called liberation of Kashmir with Maqbool Bhatin PoK.
The report further adds, “The accord between Mirwaiz Farooq and Dr Farooq Abdullah, known as the double Farooq accord, in 1980 created an impression in the Valley as if there was need to fight against India. In that process, all the anti-national and secessionist organisations in the valley like Mahaze-e-Azadi, People’s League, Jamat-ul-Tulba, and Kashmir Liberation Front came to the surface in support of Dr. Farooq Abdullah projecting assembly elections as a fight between Kashmiris on the one hand and India as a sovereign country on the other.”
It was not only Dr Farooq Abdullah who encouraged secessionist forces in J&K, but the founder of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was also equally responsible. Mufti Sayeed after his resignation from Congress in August 1987 received a warm reception in Kashmir, which was arranged by Muslim United Front (MUF).
MUF, headed by QaziNissar, was creation of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and had gained strength and position to earn political prominence. After Rajiv-Farooq Accord, Mufti disassociated himself from Congress and prevailed upon Qazi Nissar to launch MUF. Qazi Nissar belonged to Mufti’s home town Anantnag.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s connection with militants was exposed when DIG, Kashmir A. M. Watali was attacked on Sept 17, 1988, by six terrorists at his residence in Rajbagh. One of the terrorists Azaz Ahmad Dar was killed by police. He was son of G M Dar, state general secretary of Jan Morcha headed by Mufti Sayeed which was floated by V P Singh. He was a criminalassociated with disruptive and secessionist forces. During a search of G M Dar’s house, police found Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's diaries, photographs, and documents. Mufti Sayeed used to stay at G M Dar’s house who was also caretaker for the construction of his house. The kidnapping and release of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of Mufti, when he was Home Minister of India, in return of release of five JKLF terrorists from prison is a watershed moment in Kashmir terrorism history. The exodus of Kashmiri Hindus also took place during Mufti’s tenure as Home Minister.
“Politics of Plebiscite Front which continued from 1955 till 1975 was supported with arms and financial aid from Pakistan”, wrote B N Mullik, former director, Intelligence Bureau (IB), in his book “My Years with Nehru”. Pakistan started sending financial aid to PF members but a large part of the money used to come to Begum Abdullah.
Financial support to secessionist forces in J&K from Pakistan never stopped. It kept flowing in supportof terrorist and secessionist forces through various channels.
A prominent fertiliser dealer Iqbal Bukhari alias Iqbal Diethene was caught by CBI in the Hawala racket in 1991-92. The story of Iqbal Bukhari came to light when Prof Shiekh of Physics department Amar Singh College, Srinagar and Mufti Mehraj U Din, NC activist were caught on the tip of Nepal government, for working as ISI agents to send Kashmiri boys to Pakistan for armed training and get them back via Nepal route. They disclosed that Iqbal Bukhari was a known conduit for funding the anti-India movement in Kashmir. But he was released soon due to his contacts with all prominent politicians in Kashmir. Shabir Ahmed Shah, Prof Gani, SAS Gillani, AG Lone were regular visitors in his house at Sainik Farms, New Delhi. He used to host dinners and wazwan for Kashmiri separatists whenever they were in Delhi.
In 2006, Delhi police slapped charges of funding and supplying weapons to militants on NasirShafi Mir, a Dubai-based Kashmiri businessman close to Hurriyat Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Similarly, in 2011, J&K police arrested Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a close associate of Geelani, and claimed that it had seized Rs 21 lakh from him.
It is important to know the modus operandi of terror groups funding through the LoC trade. Some traders from Kashmir import items at a very low cost and sell at a higher cost. They use the profits to fund subversive activities in India. Drugs-for-arms and money laundering are fundamentally linked to destabilizing the state.
Militants and extremists have a nexus with criminal networks involved in dealing with drugs and arms. The main sources of funding are - State-Sponsored (such as ISI), funding generated from narcotics with the help of terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul-Mujahideen etc, which is in the range of millions of dollars. In the name of Kashmir trade“Money Laundering” became a more lucrative and profiting industry than genuine business in which top businessmen from Delhi were found involved.
Pakistan’s establishmentgradually side-lined JKLF, because Pakistan was not in favour of JKLF’spreference for the independence movement. Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Chief of Jamaat-e-Islami set up the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen to oppose the Kashmir Liberation Front demand for the complete independence of the Kashmir region. He was funded with Rs 10 crore by Nawaz Sharif, the then PM of Pakistan to launch Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), the armed wing of Jamat-e-Islami under Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Master Ahsan Dar member of Ansar-ul-Islam outfit headed by Hilal Mir alias Nasir-ul-Islam, after his return from Pakistan in 1989 met Geelani where it was discussed that armed struggle in Jammu& Kashmir was desirable option. Under the watchful eyes of Pakistan, its Army and the ISI and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, HM was created in August 1989. Ghulam Muhammad Safi, Muhammad Maqbool Pandit, Ali Muhammad Dar alias Shaheed Burhan-ud-Din went to Pakistan in March 1990. Under the command of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami opened the first training camp of HM at Muzaffarabad for Kashmiri boys. In November 1992, about 6300 active youth with weapons were operating across Kashmir Valley and Doda in Jammu region. In addition, there were many more youth getting arms training across the border.
JKLF’s Present Status
Today Amanullah Khan’s JKLF is divided into two major groups. One faction called the Rawalpindi group, comprising Rafiq Dar as Spokesman, Khawaja Saifuddin as Head of Interim Committee, Raja Zaffar Khan as Diplomatic Head with PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan headed by Dr. Toqeer Gilani its president and Advocate Arshad Jalal Secretary-General and Nawaz UlHaq, Vice-chairman of GB unit. The US-based second party is backed by UK and EU groups.
The JKLF was first divided in the year 1981 when Dr. FarooqHyder along with Sardar Rashid Hasrat and others, who were in touch with ISI, expelled Amanullah Khan, Raja Muzaffar, Khawaza Saifudin from the JKLF Central Committee. In 1984 Amanullah Khan was deported to Karachi by UK following the killing of Ravindra Mhatre, an Indian Diplomat on February 3, 1984 in UK and then HQ of JKLF was shifted to PoK. Meanwhile, in 1990, Amanullah Khan announced an interim government in exile which was not accepted by the majority of the organisation. Again, on this issue, JKLF was divided into two parts. Srinagar branch sided with Amanullah Khan. A new set-up was formed in which Amanullah Khan as Chairman, Raja Muzaffar, Senior Vice Chairman, SM Afzal Secretary-General, Dr. Haider Hijazi Publicity Secretary and Ghulam Mustafa Alvi Secretary was included.
In 1987, the Front contacted Ghulam Nabi Bhat, brother of Maqbool Bhat through Ghulam Muhammad Wani of Trehgam and Nazim-ud-din Babar of Bhagna Karen in Kashmir valley to distribute JKLF literature, booklets to make people aware of the movement. In 1988 Bilal Siddiqui and Maqbool Illahi was the first to receive arms training in PoK. Bilal Siddiqui was the first Chief Commander and Maqbool Illahi as Deputy Chief Commander appointed to operate in Kashmir Valley. JKLF was considered a political movement in UK, PoK, and Gilgit-Baltistan, but in Jammu and Kashmir it became known as a terrorist organisation when the responsibility of the first bomb blast on July 31, 1988 in Srinagar was owned by HAJY group (Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani, Javed Ahmad Mir, along with Yasin Malik), which was trainedby ISI in PoK.
In 1988, no one noticed that youth were going from Kashmir to PoK for arms training, except agencies from Pakistan. In 1990, youth in large numbers crossed over from Kashmir valley via Sharda route crossing snow-clad terrains. After reaching PoK the young recruits would stay at Shali Bhata transit camp and from there, were escorted to different camps by the Pakistan Army in civics.
Lately, after the elections were conducted in Gilgit-Baltistan in October 2020 by Pakistan, the JKLF convened a conference of all political parties and they unanimously opposed Pakistan’s proposal of declaring Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province. Soon after that, on November 19, 2020, JKLF spokesman Rafiq Dar and Saleem Haroon, a Pakistan-based vice-chairman in a meeting of 33 committee members dissolved the Supreme Council and all zones in UK, US, EU, and Gulf. But the US unit headed by Altaf Qadri as convenor and Raja Muzzafar, Farooq Papa, Qasim Khokar, Halim Khan among its prominent members, backed the group headed by Syed Tahseen Gilani and Liquat Lone as its Secretary-General. The groups headed by Tanveer Chaudhary and Malik refused to accept this decision of Rawalpindi. On the instruction of ISI, Yasin Malik, the JKLF leader who is presently in Tihar jail has been accepted as chairman of both Rawalpindi and US-UK groups of JKLF.
After the release of Yasin Malik from prison in 1994, some of India's intellectuals, politicians, diplomats, and media people approached and suggested him to give up the militancy and pursue political struggle. Pakistan’s ISI was against this move and Malik’schange of tactic was unacceptable to Amanullah Khan, who removed him as the president of JKLF. In return, Malik expelled Khan from the chairmanship. Thus, JKLF had split into two factions. The Pakistan government recognised Yasin Malik as the leader of JKLF, which further complicated the situation. But the two factions of the Front reunited in 2011. Amanullah Khan became the Supreme Head while Yasin Malik was appointed as the Chief of both the PoK and Jammu and Kashmir units.
ISI again played a dirty role in keeping JKLF divided. At present, there are eight factions of JKLF in PoK, and four in Jammu & Kashmir. However, JKLF was banned by India for unlawful activities and its offices were sealed and leaders were put in jail.
(The writer is a senior journalist covering Jammu and Kashmir for decades. The views expressed here are his own.)