From the safety of his home in Pakistan controlled Kashmir, Mushtaq Zargar, also called as Mushtaq Latram, the head of Al-Umar Mujahideen, recalls in a phone conversation exclusively with The Kashmir Monitor how he teased the then Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, with whom he was traveling on a flight to Kandahar, to be a free man again.
Q. Can you tell us about your early life and why you decided to join armed struggle against India?
Mushtaq Zargar: I took arms in the year 1988, because I come from that part of Kashmir where we use to fight with stones. In 1947, India promised to conduct Plebiscite in Kashmir but that was never fulfilled. Many of our seniors fought for it, but they were never given anything. The only way to solve Kashmir issue is through armed struggle, there are no other alternatives. Dialogue is nothing but a time consuming process and it will bear no fruits. If there is any language that India understands, it is the language of gun.
Q. Where were you trained?
Zargar: I trained myself in Kashmir. What is the big deal in learning how to operate a gun? You need to have good muscle power; control on your breath and fingers on trigger. That’s the easiest way. Though, Azad Kashmir was our base camp. I taught myself how to operate gun in Kashmir.
Q. Was Al-Umar part of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front earlier?
Zargar: We were not part of any group. But we were not taking responsibility of attacks till 1990. Whatever strikes we were doing, we were not taking responsibility. We declared Al-Umar militant group in 90s. They were my brothers, but I was separately running my organization.
Q. But according to reports you were also part of the Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping?
Zargar: I was not involved in Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping case.
Q. Do you remember the first attack you carried out in Kashmir?
Zargar: My first strike was in Zaldagar, Srinagar but I don’t remember the day. Then eventually, I carried out many other attacks.
Q. When were you arrested and where?
Zargar: I was arrested on May 15, 1992 at Saraf Kadal in Srinagar. They took me to PAPA 2 and after two months, I was shifted to Tulu Talab interrogation center Jammu and there I was kept for 50 days. Later they shifted me to Central Jail Jammu for one-and-half-months. From there, I was shifted to Jodhpur Rajasthan and I stayed there for a period of one year.
From Jodhpur, I was shifted to Tihar Jail and I spent some 7 years there. I was convicted in one case for five years. When case got over, I was again shifted to Tulu Talab interrogation center Jammu and kept there for one year. Then I was shifted to KotBalwal and from there to Srinagar central jail. Then the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999 took place, and I was released.
Q. Were you informed about the hijacking plan?
Zargar: I won’t tell you that. But when the plane was hijacked, I couldn’t sleep for a full night. After the hijacking I was thinking if something happened, they won’t keep me in any Jail in Kashmir. My heart was telling me that I will be released. The Indian government used to tell me that leave gun and joint politics. But I said, I left home and I will fight for it with a stone or a gun.
Q.Who were the people who came to you to prison and told you to join politics?
Zargar: Many used to come to talk to me. I said my friends sacrificed their lives for Kashmir cause and you want me to join politics.
Q. When you heard about the hijacking, what was your first reaction? How did you get to know?
Zargar: When the whole world got to know, I too heard it. I was in Srinagar jail that time and it was the month of Ramadan. The news came at night and names of three militants, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar and me, were announced. I couldn’t sleep that night, I don’t know why.
Q. How did you come to know that you were among the three men that the hijackers demanded to be released in order for them to free the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight?
Zargar: I was taken out from the Srinagar prison at midnight and taken to Udhampur by road. There my hands were tied behind my back and my eyes were covered under a piece of cloth. I was then put on a helicopter and when the cloth was removed I found myself in Kandahar. I couldn’t see anything. I took Rs 840, which I had accumulated in jail, from India’s then external Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.
Q. Did you know that you were traveling with Jaswant Singh?
Zargar: I didn’t know with whom I was sitting and talking to because my eyes were covered. If I would have known, I would have teased him.
Q. Tease Jawant Singh! India’s Foreign Minister?
Zargar: I teased him (Jaswant Singh) in the helicopter but I didn’t know who he was because I couldn’t see him. In interrogation centers they used to say that you will never be released, I used to tell my interrogators that your External Affairs minister will release me by his own hand and Allah heard my pleas, and that happened.
Q. Although you didn’t know that your fellow traveler was Jaswant Singh, yet what did you tell him?
Zargar: I told him that free Kashmir will be good for you. A handful of militants were giving sleepless nights to whole India including AtalBihariVajapyee and L K Advani. Why are you forcing your army to get killed? The money you are spending on forces in Kashmir should be distributed among needy and poor Indians. And that we will continue our struggle for freedom till each and every Indian soldier doesn’t leave Kashmir.
Q. After getting down in Kandahar what happened?
Zargar: After getting down, the Taliban took us till border and I crossed the border and reached to ‘Azad Kashmir’.
Q. Who else was with you when you were released in Kandahar? Did you cross over to Pakistan?
Zargar: Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and me. No we didn’t cross over to Pakistan. Maulana Azhar told me that we are going to land on the soil of Taliban. He asked me to wear a turban but I didn’t have one and then I covered my head with some cloth. From there we boarded a vehicle, and MaulanaSahab went to some other places and I reached Muzzafarabad and from there I crossed back to Indian side of Kashmir.
Q.Were you aware of the hijacking of the Indian Airline flight in 1999?
Zargar: No, I didn’t know in advance about the hijacking but came to know from the media about it just like everybody did. But we did lot of kidnapping cases like Pankaj Kumar Senawho spent a year in our captivity. We wanted to kidnap cricketer KapilDev but that couldn’t happen. After that lot of kidnapping cases happened. That way I knew one day I will be released.
Q. Tell us about your plan to kidnap KapilDev?
Zargar:One of our colleagues was sent to Punjab to kidnap KapilDev in 1996, but he got arrested and was imprisoned for 3 years. If he (KapilDev) had been kidnapped I would have been released long before.
Q. What do you make of the current situation in Kashmir?
Zargar: Will Insha Allah, “throw Indian forces out of Kashmir”. Indian army has broken all limits in Kashmir by blinding and killing innocent Kashmiris. They have called lakhs of army men into Kashmir, but they are frightened by handful of militants. Sometimes they are shutting internet and other time closing whole Kashmir. Kashmir will be solved only through armed struggle and all talks are futile. I want to appeal to Nawaz Sharif to snap all ties with India. They are killing Muslims in India and Afghanistan, why to talk to them.
Q. In a recently circulated video, youth are seen beating CRPF personnel? What’s your reaction on it?
Zargar: They should have killed those men and cut them into pieces. But we Kashmiris are not like them, we left them unhurt. I never see such a coward army anywhere.
Q. What is your take on Hurriyat?
Zargar: They want a political solution of Kashmir and I am in favor of armed struggle. It is not necessary everyone should take gun.
Q. So you feel it is better to fire a gun than throw a stone?
Zargar: Stone pelters are real militants and courageous than those who have gun in hand. I salute them. In 1992, I was also part of stone pelting despite having a gun in hand.
Q. Zakir Musa recently said they are fighting to impose Sharia in Kashmir? What is your reaction?
Zargar: Everybody has a view and Zakir too has his own stand. I favour accession with Pakistan.
Q. You favor accession with Pakistan: Did they support you in your cause?
Zargar: Pakistan supports us politically and morally, rest we do everything by our own .We use to collect money and buy weapons from Indian and Indian forces.
Q. You used to buy weapons in India?
Zargar: Yes everywhere weapons are available. If you have money you will get each and everything. We bought weapons in Gurdaspura, Gujarat and Mumbai in India.We use to purchase one round of bullets for just Rs 10 and AK47at times at Rs 50,000 or Rs 1 lakh.
Q. Are Jaish Muhammad and Al-Umar working together?
Zargar: We all are one and fighting for the Kashmir cause. We have same color and we are all Muslims.
The Cuckoo’s nest
SRINAGAR: We all must have seen the Bollywood flick ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. For those who haven’t, the story is about a small Pakistan girl who suffers from speech impediment. To find a miraculous cure, her mother takes her to a Dargah in India. Unfortunately, the girl is left behind on her way back to Pakistan. Enter our hero who makes a point to reunite her with the family and travels across boundaries in his bid, fighting soldiers and doing comedy… All in all, the movie seems too good to happen in real world.
But while you are pondering on it, here in Kashmir something similar has been happening from many years now with hardly any talk about it.
At Srinagar’s Psychiatric Hospital, a few local and non-local patients who are long cured have been waiting for years now to reunite with their families, whose whereabouts are unknown. Nobody at the hospital knows their real names or the exact place they belong to. As such, the hospital authorities have given the patients new names to identify them and keep their records.
One among them has been mentioned as Jozy in the hospital records and appears like the natives of West Bengal. She would be around 18 years. She according to hospital staff was brought there in January, 2014 by the police. “Police had found her somewhere on the street. After noticing her unusual behavior, she was brought to the hospital. She has shown a huge improvement over the years. We don’t know her real name but everyone calls her Jozy and she too understands that,” a hospital staff member while looking after her in ward No 5 of the hospital said. “She gave some clues about her native village but we are yet to trace her family. We hope one day she will be reunited with her family.”
Similarly, another one has been named Fareeda and is almost the age of Jozy. She too was brought to the hospital by the police in 2013. She speaks a mixed Kashmiri and Pahari dialect. “In her broken words, she is telling something like Drugmul. We guessed that it could be Drugmul Kupwara and contacted some people there but have not been successful in tracing her family so far,” the official said. As per him, both were brought to the hospital in a bad condition. “There has been a huge improvement in their health over the years.”
They may be communicating through words or facial expression, eat on their own and play to each other and assist the other patients but prefer to remain silent to strangers. “For outsiders it may sometimes become difficult to understand them but those who treat, nurse them, understand what they want to say,” the official said.
Dr Arshid Hussain, a psychiaritist, who treats these patients, said these girls are fit to live with the family and can live a normal life. “They responded to the medication very fast but still they need love and affection of their families. We are making all efforts to reunite them with their families,” he said.
In the same ward is a Kashmiri Pandit woman. In her early 40, she hardly speaks to anyone. She was brought to the hospital by Kashmiri Muslims in 1990 after Pandits left the Valley. She too has no connection with her family although they know their daughter is being nursed at the hospital. “Family members occasionally call us to enquire about her but had never come to see her in these 25-years. Her parents told us on the phone that they have full faith on Kashmiris that they will be looking very well after their daughter,” Dr Arshid said.
There is also one male patient whose family is also yet to be traced. He has been named as Rahim Bakerwal, who was brought five years ago to the hospital. He was arrested from Humhama after forces noticed some suspicion about him. After found him mentally ill, he was brought to the hospital. The hospital officials believe that he may be from Rajouri or Poonch area.
The hospital administration has a full faith that they will be able to trace their families one day. Infact, the doctors see it a mission to find their families. Their hopes lie on the fact that earlier too in a similar bid, they have successfully traced out the families of three other patients since 2013, who too had lost connection with their families. “We are making continuous efforts to trace their families so that they get reunited like hospital administration did in the past,” Dr Arshid said.
It was in 2013 when Krader Tripathi, 55, regained his memory and told the name of his native village.
The miracle of reuniting him with his family after 23-years happened following the doctors surfed his village on Google Earth. They finally got in contact with the police station, who then checked the police records and finally conveyed his family. Then Tripathi’s brother and nephew came to Srinagar and took him along to their home. His brother told the hospital staff that the family had thought that Tripathi was dead. “After found him alive, he is second face of Baghwan for us,” he told the doctors. “Had Tripathi been in other state, we would not have traced him. You people have really set up an example that religions have no bonds,” he told a group of hospital staff who had gathered to bid adieu to him.
Even there has been some incidents when some patients by the families after regaining their mental stability. This is what happened with Mathur Bhai Padhiyar of Gujarat when his family was not ready to own him for three years despite knowing he was being nursed at the hospital. He had come along with a group of Gujarati pilgrims to Amarnath cave shrine. After noticing his unusual behaviour, police had brought him to the hospital in 2006.
It was in 2013, Mathur regained his memory and told the name of his village which was then traced through Google Earth. After informing the family, there was no response from their side.
“My papa (Nayim) wife (Madhu) three sisters and a brother will be waiting for my return. Please send me back,” Mathur had said when this reporter met him in 2014. After media highlighted that a Gujarati man regained his memory after seven years, Ghulam Nabi Azad who was then union health minister visited Mathur at the hospital. Azad promised to bear all the expenses needed to shift him to Gujarat. Despite that his family was reluctant to take him home. It was then two years of judicial intervention of District Legal Services Authority that Mathur reunited with his family in April 2016.
Similarly, this year another man from West Bengal was also sent back home who had lost connection with him family and was nursed at the hospital for many years. The doctors too traced his village on the internet and finally he reunited with the family.
The curious case of Mehran
SRINAGAR: It is over eight years since Mehran, a three-and-a-half-year-old boy, disappeared from outside his home in the old city Srinagar. It is still a mystery how a child like Mehran could just vanish without trace from a place, which is a densely populated area of the city.
His disappearance has not just caused suffering and anguish to his parents and his extended family alone, but it has forced other parents of young children like Mehran to exercise caution to let other children out of their sight.
Mehran’s, went missing on May 13, 2008, the year he was admit to Canny Mission School Court Road Srinagar, where he was studying in pre-nursery.
“His disappearance has shattered our dreams. He was witty among all children in our family,” Mohammad Yusuf Mir, Mehran’s uncle told The Kashmir Monitor.
It was Yusuf, who had brought him to home from school along with his two children, on that fateful day. “I dropped them at home at 2:30 pm then left for my work. At 3:30, we came to know that Mehran was missing,” he said.
According to his uncle, Mehran had insisted to go maternal uncle’s home. His mother accompanied him. “His mother left him there. Later, when Mehran didn’t reach home, they started looking for him but got no clue.”
He was then the sole child of his parents, who are yet to come out of the shock and have been moving from pillar to the post to search for their beloved son. “Prior his missing, we all used to live together. But after Mehran’s missing, his father and mother refused to live here and have shifted to Gojwara. They are yet to come out of the shock. His missing continuously haunting us and has scattered our family,” Yusuf said.
It remains an unsolved mystery even though many investigating agencies including India’s premier investigating agency, the CBI have been probing the case.
In December last year, the family got a call from a CBI officer that Mehran was located in Rajasthan. “My brother, (Mehran’s father) and his maternal uncle went to New Delhi for the identification. After identification, they said that the boy was not Mehran. Mehran was circumcised while the child who the CBI showed was not circumcised,” he said.
The family had filed a missing report on May 13, 2008 with Kral Khud police station police, which investigated the cast for two years. But Yusuf said the police didn’t not take immediate measures to locate him on that fateful day. “We were even denied to search him in Auto rickshaws by making announcement on loudspeakers on the pretext that we may resort to stone pelting. But we continuously searched for him and did not work for 45-days.”
The investigating agencies have failed come up with anything substantial, but some of his family members were “interrogated” by the Crime Branch. “My husband and his brother was interrogated for a month. The police failed to trace our child but the Crime Branch interrogated Mehran’s uncles. We lost everything and our financial condition has also deteriorated,” Mehran’s aunt Masrat said. “Whenever we get to know that any child has been found, we rush there. We once went to Kangan at 10:30 pm when police told that a child was found there.”
The family says that they don’t suspect any one behind his abduction and won’t stop pleading the case. They had protested several times seeking attention of the government to locate him. “We also went to New Delhi, Mumbia to search him,” Yusuf said.
In Kashmir, according to police records, two cases of kidnapping get reported on an average daily in the Valley. According to the official details of police department, 638 kidnapping incidents were reported in 2013 while as police had registered 694 cases of kidnapping in 2012 and almost same number of cases were registered in 2014. Police had registered 471 and 579 cases of abduction in the Valley in year 2008 and 2009 respectively. However, scores of such cases go unreported either due to remoteness of the location or their families failing to follow such cases due to the poverty and also not having photographs to show the police for investigating the matter.
“Many kidnapping cases are still unsolved,” a senior official of Crime Branch said, “Mehran’s case is one of such cases which is still a mystery.” However, he said the CBI was investigating the case after the Crime Branch handed over case to it on directions of the High Court.
‘VecMania’: Baramulla’s automobile enthusiasts
Located on the Baramulla-Handwara highway is a glittering Auto Engineering startup which catches eyes of every passerby. “Vecmania Auto Engineering” first of its kind in Kashmir.
Tell us about Vecmania
Vecmania (Vec- vehicles, and Mania-obsession) Auto Engineering is a building brand in Kashmir for petrol heads offering custom modification of bikes and cars. Vecmania was started by three automobile enthusiasts ErfaanKirmani, Aamir Kirmani, and Omar Ayub. We offer individual solutions to individual cases as per customer’s request. Our promise is to deliver top-notch products in valley. Our valley is quite hard to do business in, we all know what is conditions we live in and during those conditions startups suffer alot, we kept that in mind, which led us to a strategy to overcome it. They say people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do it and Vecmania is one among those.
Tell us about the working of Vecmania. How do you assemble the parts?
Gone are the days when automobile were just a mode of transport. Today automobile is a lifestyle statement. It is an extension of oneself. Same as what you wear, how you look, how you talk, and an automobile you ride also tells a lot about your personality. We have dedicated national and international partners who supply most of parts, some of them are assembled from factory itself and we have to work on fitting it into module but major parts are assembled at our garage.
How did you raise your capital?
This kind of business needed a heavy Capital: Investment for showroom, investment for garage, investment for products, marketing and payment for employees. Total of 20 lakh capital had to be invested in Vecmania, so we had to approach EDI. Out of overall capital, EDI provided the half, we arranged rest of it from our savings and with help of our families.
How did your family react to your idea?
Ours is not a conservative family. From the beginning we were allowed to take our own decisions and peruse fields of our choice. Throughout the journey they have been our spine. They believed in our idea and even invested in Vecmania. AllhumdulilahVecmania is a new concept in Kashmir and Kashmiries usually take time to absorb something new.
What kind of response you usually get from people?
We had expected maximum Rs 1 lakh sales in the first month but we crossed Rs 2.5 lakh, which was more than double. We literally don’t get time to sit during the working hours as customers keep pouring in. As the customer sets foot into the showroom his face illuminates with a bright smile and that is our satisfaction. Beyond that we are getting number of orders for the kind of safety gear we have been providing. The helmet for example are designed in such a way, the biker loves to wear it all day long. That is the kind of response and it’s satisfying.(Courtesy: Gyawun.com)
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