The Kashmir Upsurge: Who Was The First Among Equals?


Srinagar—Widely believed to have been triggered off by the massive rigging of the 1987 elections, militancy in Kashmir drew its earliest recruits and leaders from the cadres of the Muslim United Front (MUF), a conglomeration of several religio-political parties, which had been drawing unprecedented crowds during electioneering in the Valley and looked set to dislodge the NC as well the Congress from their pedestals.

With a record turnout of 79.10 per cent, the elections, however, threw up results that astounded Kashmir-watchers and Kashmiris alike, as the clean sweep expected of the MUF fell to the lot of the NC which won all but a handful of seats in the Valley.

The Front won just five, and was the runner-up in 31 segments.

MUF cadres, candidates, and leaders began to be rounded up and jailed indiscriminately, and many had to undergo third degree treatment in custody.

Dr. Farooq Abdullah, who won the election, would go on to utter memorable words:  “I am not saying that the elections were not rigged. But I didn’t rig them”.

Such had been New Delhi’s fears of losing control of politics in Jammu and Kashmir that it chose a course the consequences of which would reverberate for decades.

MUF candidate Muhammad Yousuf Shah was implicated on flimsy pretexts and imprisoned, signaling the countdown to his emergence as Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the chief of the United Jihad Council. 

The disappointment and dismay at the rigging cut a wide swath, as MUF leaders and activists began to weigh the pros and cons of waging an armed struggle. Shah’s allies, the HAJY group – Abdul Hameed Shaikh, Ashfaq Majeed Wani, Javed Ahmad Mir and Muhammad Yasin Malik – came together under the banner of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.

Subsequent years saw thousands of young Kashmiris join the ranks of militants, and go across the Line of Control for arms and arms training. And people were taking to the streets in millions, voicing their disenchantment at New Delhi’s rule, and demanding freedom.

Which Was The First Group To Go Across The LoC?

The question has no clear answers as different people were active on different fronts, and according to a former militant, it will remain a mystery, because there was little or no contact between them. 

But there is a general perception that a group comprising of Muhammad Ayub Bangroo, Ali Muhammad Peer, Ghulam Muhammad Gojri and Abdul Waheed Dar was among the first to decide to go across the LoC for arms training.   

 “Many among the first batches to go across the LoC had been polling agents for MUF candidates,” recalls Peer, who runs a business of his own. “I too had been a polling agent of the Front candidate for Barzulla, Faiz Naqshbandi.”

 “Disappointed with the results, we wanted to do something that would ‘shake India.’ Because, after the election, most MUF Leaders were arrested, and we had no option left,” he said.

 “One day, Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, came to Barzulla to address a group of workers,” Peer continues.

 “After his speech he said sandook seet andave na kenh, waen tulav bandook (the ballot box failed to do anything, now it is time to do something with the gun),”he says.

 “He said it casually,” Peer recalls. “I didn’t take the comment seriously, little knowing that I would be among the first persons to go for arms.”

 “A few days later, a friend of mine, Jamsheed from the Solina area of Srinagar, told me that the elections had been rigid, and that we had been cheated,” he says.

 “‘Now we are thinking of arms training for some youth who will fight against Indian rule in Kashmir,’ he said while sitting in his shop,” he says.

 “I shared this idea with another friend, Abdul Waheed Dar, an MUF activist. I told him that we should pick up arms against India. “He refused, asking where we would get the arms from, and what we would do them.

 “But somehow, I managed to convince him. Then we met Ghulam Mohammad Gogri, and several other members of the MUF whose names I can’t recall after 28 years,” Peer says

A few days later, they met another person; Bilal Ahmad Siddiqui, and had an hour long meeting with him.

They decided that a group of four youth would cross the LoC for arms training.

 “At the time, we did not know what kind of training we needed and what we have to do,” Peer says.

 “It was February 1988. It was decided that we should meet at Batmaloo early in the morning the next day. We boarded a bus and reached Rashan Pora in Kupwara district and stayed there for the night.

 “Early the next morning, we left and headed for the LoC. Bilal Siddiqu and Jamsheed went back to Srinagar,” he says.

It was winter, and snowing heavily. Peer cannot recall what they had with themselves to eat but remembers opening biscuit packets with frozen fingers.

 “We were guided by a man named Nazim Din. We reached the Keran Sector of North Kashmir at 11 p.m. and suddenly one of our comrades, Ghulam Mohammad Gogri, fell down. Actually, he was very exhausted and I remember him saying that he couldn’t walk an inch further.

 “‘Leave me and move ahead’, he told us,” Peer says.

 “It was very difficult to walk in the snow, that too in a hilly area, but we had a firm resolve that we would make it.

 “We sat under a tree, and Nazim Din managed to collect some dry twigs to light a fire. The warmth was a great comfort after walking for hours in the bitter cold.

 “We were off again soon, and reached Nazim Din’s home at around midnight. The next day his maternal uncle came and guided us across the LoC.

 “We reached Athmuqaam, stayed the night there. Then we went to Rawalpindi and met Dr. Farooq Haider of the JKLF.

 “A few days later, we were sent to an unknown location for arms training. For 25 days, we learnt to use the Kalashnikov, the AK 47, and the technique of blasting.

 “We returned to the Valley after 40 days. Along with weapons. But we kept them at Kupwara because we had not planned any attacks in Kashmir.

 “Some JKLF cadets wanted to carry out some activities in Srinagar, but I was against it because we were not yet strong enough. I told them that we would be exposed, so let us make ourselves strong (in numbers) on the ground first.

 “In the meanwhile, Aijaz Ahmad Dar, one of the members of the pro-independence JKLF and a few other companions attacked the house of the then DIG Kashmir range, Ali Muhammad Watali, in Rajbagh.

“He was killed in retaliatory action,” he says.

Dar’s killing and the recovery of an automatic weapon from the site exposed the group, and its members were arrested from various parts of Kashmir.

His killing is widely believed to be the first casualty of militancy.

Peer was arrested from his home, and had to spend the next three years in different jails of India.

 “After my release, I saw a number of different militant groups, just as there are today, and I decided to hold myself back,” he says.

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