On 30 March 1990, he took over as the second ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) when Ashfaq Majid Wani was killed in an encounter with the security forces at Hawwal, in Srinagar. On 6 August 1990, he was arrested with a cache of arms and ammunition from the Barzalla residence of the leading businessman Zahoor Ahmad Watali, ex-DIG Ali Mohammad Watali’s brother. In May 1994, he was silently released from jail. For the next 25 years, Yasin Malik, the son of a bus driver who introduced guns and grenades in the valley and promised ‘azaadi’ to the Kashmiri, survived as a parallel State.
Even after his JKLF claimed scores of civilian killings and carried out deadly attacks on the Police and security forces, Malik gained substantial clout in the Indian establishment. He met Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers with fanfare, emerged as a ‘hero’ for the country’s left-liberal support structure of separatism, introduced himself as a ‘Gandhian’, kept shuttling between New Delhi, Islamabad, London and New York and married and imported an LSE graduate from Pakistan.
The CBI kept murder cases against him in ‘go-slow’ mode for 29 years. Chief Ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad and Farooq Abdullah were seen standing up to shake hands with him. India’s, including J&K’s, top legal luminaries took pride in rubbing shoulders with him. Veteran journalist and former High Commissioner in London, Kuldeep Nayyar, flew to Srinagar frequently to break his hunger strike with a glass of fruit juice. Chief Election Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah was seen serving wazwaan at his post-wedding feast. The European and the American diplomats and journalists jostled for an appointment with Yasin Malik.
Malik appeared in programmes on the national and the international television channels. His level of self-confidence was incredibly stupendous to the point that once in BBC’s Hard Talk he admitted JKLF’s assassination of Neelkant Ganjoo, the judge who had convicted Maqbool Bhat for a murder.
But when a designated court for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) cases at Patiala House in New Delhi awarded him a lifer with an additional rigorous imprisonment of 55 years and fine of Rs 10 lakh on Wednesday evening, Yasin Malik had nobody around. As he didn’t have a counsel to defend him, the court provided him with amicus curiae who contested the NIA’s plea of the capital punishment.
It seemed as if history was repeating itself. In the 1980s, the JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat’s Kashmiri lawyers had similarly disappeared towards the end of his trial and appeals. Afzal Guru was similarly left in the lurch by the civil society that hailed him as a ‘crusader’.
Bhat and Guru were executed and interred in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, respectively for a murder and an alleged terror attack on the Indian Parliament in 1984 and 2013. Malik has been sentenced to a lifer, fine and multiple terms of rigorous imprisonment after pleading guilty to the NIA’s charges against him in a case of terror-funding and unlawful activities filed in 2017.
However, booked in around 70 cases of murder and terrorist activities, Malik is separately facing trial in two high-profile cases of the CBI in Jammu’s TADA court—kidnapping of the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter, Dr Rubaiya Sayeed, and killing of the four Indian Air Force personnel. The CBI had investigated and filed challan in both these cases in 1990. Malik got the trial stayed in April 2009. Due to egregious political and bureaucratic intervention, the CBI slept over the two cases for 10 years. It was only after the killing of 40 CRPF men in a terror attack that the CBI got these cases revived and transferred to Jammu where the trial started in April 2019.
Nobody knows about Malik’s academic record beyond his 12th standard but acclaimed professors from Delhi’s universities projected him as a scholar and his friends in the United States of America introduced him as the Harvard University’s ‘visiting professor’. He engaged top intellectuals to write books on his life and ‘philosophy’. The Government of India not only left him free to demonise India and its institutions all over the world but also issued him passports, permitted him to share stage with the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba ideologue, Hafiz Saeed, and frequently travel to Pakistan—once with a cash of Rs 1 crore for distribution as ‘relief’ in the country that introduced and sustained militancy in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir since 1980.
Malik himself raised these questions in Wednesday’s arguments, asking why the State was virtually at his feet for 30 years if he was a terrorist. But his averments were declared irrelevant as he had voluntarily pleaded guilty to all charges unlike 14 other co-accused.
Three of the co-accused, including the Dukhtaran-e-Millat supremo Asiya Andrabi, have been discharged by the trial court. However, top separatists including Shabir Shah, Nayeem Khan, Farooq Ahmad Dar aka Bitta Karate, Zahoor Ahmad Watali, ex-MLA Engineer Rashid, separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Fantoosh and the Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin’s two sons are facing charges in the same terrorist activity and terror-funding case.
Born in 1966, Malik started his separatist activity around 1980. He was among the youths who staged a pro-Pakistan demonstration at an international cricket match in Srinagar between India and West Indies in 1983. In the 1987 Assembly elections, he and his associate Aijaz Dar escorted the Muslim United Front candidate Mohammad Yousuf Shah with a .12 bore gun throughout the campaign. Malik, who aspired to become a model, ended up as a terrorist when the JKLF’s HAJY group started attacks in 1988-89.
One car bomb attack on the CRPF, killing 40 personnel in February 2019, changed everything. Malik and almost all other separatist leaders were arrested and booked in fresh cases. JKLF and Jamaat-e-Islami were banned. Police protection and VVIP status was withdrawn from all the separatists. J&K’s special status was revoked in August 2019. The erstwhile State was split into two separate Union Territories.
This all, in the backdrop of the termination of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP-BJP government in June 2018, removed the securities many of the separatists and militants enjoyed for over 20 years. Finally, after 20 years, anti-India demonstrations, stone pelting on security forces, funeral processions and gun salutes for the militants killed in encounters disappeared. The pellets, bullets, tear gas and stones are now rarely visible.
In sharp contrast to the militants’ million-marches in 1990, not more than 50 residents gathered at Maisuma when Malik’s sentence was pronounced. There were few slogans and a minor stone pelting which was quelled with a few tear smoke canisters. High speed internet was suspended for some time in Maisuma but it continued uninterrupted across the rest of Srinagar and the entire Kashmir valley. Shops were shut in certain localities but the transport operated smoothly.
Malik’s sentence triggered a political typhoon in Pakistan but there were immediately no significant reactions from the Indian intellectuals who for years saw the JKLF chairman as a future ‘head of the State’.