When India was brought to its knees

New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) It is a vile and obnoxious tale of ethno centrism practised with great glee by a bunch of radicals in the heart of Kashmir Valley famed for its brand of Kashmiriyat on this fateful day exactly 31 years ago.
The abomination architected by a section of the JKLF leadership narrowed its whole gaze towards retribution and in the process paved the way for a systemic plan of ethnic cleansing of a minority community. This in turn led to metastasising of a peculiar kind where Islamic radicals held the Valley to ransom triggering the politics of abduction.
Almost overnight Kashmir became a death pit and the brutal cage match continues to be played there.
Successive governments have felt no gravitational pull to rehabilitate Hindu migrants who have been dislocated from their home and hearth, thinking it is not their wound to suture. Instead of wanting to dial it up, governments have washed their hands off the invisible community even as resilient Kashmiri Pandits have rebuilt their lives by living through 30 years of trauma and mindless violence.
It all begins on December 8, 1989, with a V.P. Singh National Front government recently in place backed strangely by the Indian Left and Right, a tumultuous event takes place. Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya is abducted by JKLF militants and the world is turned upside down.
Top erstwhile Jan Morcha leaders arrive at the house of Sayeed, where he is inconsolable as Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammad Khan and Satya Pal Malik (till recently Governor of Jammu and Kashmir) are trying to convince him to appear on national television to say that she is the nation’s daughter and it’s imperative that she be set free.
But a tearful Sayeed has lost all reason to think, overcome by extreme emotion, for obvious reasons. He refuses to do anything — stunned and struck by lassitude and inertia.
Just six days earlier Mufti Saheb had taken oath as the first Kashmiri Muslim Home Minister in V.P. Singh’s government. Almost at the same time, a germ of an idea takes root in JKLF’s Asfaq Majid Wani’s mind who wanted to do something spectacular in Kashmir Valley. His charter was to kick-start the “revolution” and he didn’t know where to begin.
Watching the oath-taking of Mufti Saheb, he thought of an audacious PLO-type of plan to rattle the newly formed government. The original plot, conceived by Wani, was to kidnap Mufti’s son, reportedly a doctor in Lal Ded hospital. But once recces were carried out, the son turned out to be a daughter – Dr Rubaiya Sayeed. As she finished her shift and left for home around 3 p.m. on December 8 boarding a bus at Exhibition Crossing, JKLF militants took over the bus with Wani and others following in a car.
The ill conceived plan actually worked and an era of turbulence was unleashed.
Around 5.30 p.m., JKLF top brass Javed Mir called up ‘Kashmir Times’ and relayed the news of the abduction of the Union Home Minister’s daughter. All hell broke loose, with phones ringing non-stop in the Valley and Delhi. The triumph of V.P. Singh slaying Rajiv Gandhi was lost in translation as panic gripped the security mavens.
After 122 hours in captivity, against the wishes of then J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, five top separatists were released for Rubaiya. It became a watershed moment for Kashmiris as they brought India to its knees. Abdul Hamid Sheikh, Sher Khan (a Pakistani), Noor Mohammad Kalwal, Altaf Ahmed and Javed Ahmed Jargar were released the same day. A couple of hours later, Rubaiya was back home with her family.
Jargar later went on to carry out the hijacking of IC-184 plane in December 1999 which eventually saw the release of the dreaded Masood Azhar.
One would think that the next big play was the hijacking of IC-814, taking it to Kandahar and securing the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, but then we are missing the wood for the trees.
The swapping of three militants for 155 hostages of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane was not the first incident of its kind after Rubaiya Sayeed’s kidnapping in 1989, but one of several high-profile kidnappings which have gone unnoticed.
Following the Rubaiya playbook, innumerable abductions took place and the release of many militants took place in parallel. The period between December 1989 and January 1992 saw frenetic kidnappings.
Prominent among them was the abduction of Tassaduq Dev, brother-in-law of then Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad by Al Umar Mujahideen in January 1992. Three jailed activists of Al Umar were set free in exchange for Dev’s release on January 17. Before this came the abduction of Nahida Soz, daughter of then National Conference MP Saifuddin Soz, by Jammu and Kashmir Students Liberation Front (JKSLF) in August 1991. Nahida was released when the government set free a Pakistan-trained hard-core militant, Mushtaq Ahmed.
Indian Oil Corporation Executive Director K. Dorraiswamy was abducted by activists of Ikhwan-Ul Muslimeen in Srinagar on July 29, 1991. His release on August 21 was possible when the government set free six militants. The released militants, included Javed Shalla, main accused in the kidnap and murder cases of Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Mushir-Ul Haq and HMT General Manager H.L. Khera in 1990. Seven more militants were set free to seek the release of Mir Nassar Ullah, son of former J&K Minister G.M. Mir Lasjan, A.K. Dhar, scientist and T.K. Raina, retired Deputy Commissioner, abducted in March 1992.
There have been many other such instances — kidnappings of Dr Mustafa Aslam, son-in-law of then PCC President Ghulam Rasool Kar (February 24, 1992), Fayaz Ahmed Sheikh, son of then Additional Chief Secretary Sheikh Ghulam Rasool (March 21, 1992) and Ghulam Hassan Zia, assistant station director of AIR (April 1992). It is not known how the Government made their release possible.
Similarly, Allah Tigers militant outfit abducted former Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Habib-Ullah Bhat on March 2, 1992 and released him a month later on April 3. The number of militants, if any, set free in exchange for his release is not known. Likewise, J&K Bank chairman M.S. Qureshi was abducted on June 28, 1992 and later released unconditionally.
The Rubaiya Sayeed case had set a precedent for kidnappings for seeking release of jailed militants. According to government statistics, the state witnessed an upsurge in abductions after Rubaiya’s kidnapping. While only one kidnapping, that of Rubaiya, was reported in 1989 — 169 abductions were reported in 1990, 290 in 1991, 281 in 1992, 349 in 1993 and 368 in 1995. It virtually became a cottage industry.
Incidentally, in one of these kidnapping cases, no militant was released for seeking release of Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Mushir-Ul Haq and HMT GM H.L. Khera in 1990. They were killed by the captors.
In a first, six Western tourists were kidnapped by Al-Faran, an Islamist militant organisation from the Liddarwat area of Pahalgam in the Anantnag district on July 4, 1995. The government refused to succumb to their demands. The six victims included two British tourists, Keith Mangan (from Middlesbrough) and Paul Wells; two Americans, John Childs of Simsbury, Connecticut, and Donald Hutchings of Spokane, Washington; a German, Dirk Hasert; and a Norwegian, Hans Christian Ostro. Mangan’s and Hutchings’ wives were left behind by the kidnappers as their husbands were abducted.
A note released by the kidnappers a day after the kidnappings read, “Accept our demands or face dire consequences. We are fighting against anti-Islamic forces. Western countries are anti-Islam, and America is the biggest enemy of Islam.” Childs managed to escape and was rescued four days later. Ostro was beheaded by his abductors and his body was found near Pahalgam on August 13, 1995. His body was taken to AIIMS, New Delhi, where a post mortem was conducted by Professor T.D. Dogra, who established the beheading as ante mortem and reported that the words ‘Al Faran’ were carved onto his chest.
The kidnappers demanded the release of Pakistani militant Maulana Masood Azhar who had been imprisoned by India and 20 other prisoners.
Several national and international organisations issued appeals to Al-Faran to release the tourists. Representatives of the embassies of the victims’ countries also visited Kashmir frequently to seek their release, without success.
In December 1995, the kidnappers left a note that they were no longer holding the men hostage. Mangan, Wells, Hutchings, and Hasert have never been found and are presumed to have been killed. In May 1996, a captured militant told Indian investigators and FBI agents that he had heard that all four hostages had been shot dead on December 13, 1995, nine days after an Indian military ambush that killed four of the original hostage-takers, including the man said to have been leading them, Abdul Hamid Turki.
Journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark claim, however, in their book ‘The Meadow’, say that the remaining hostages were sold from Al-Faran to Ghulam Nabi Mir, also known as Azad Nabi, who held them for months before shooting them dead on December 24, 1995.
Rubaiya Saeed became a successful template leading to a classic double bind for the security establishment.

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