Yasin Malik: Kashmir’s most ‘artful’ opportunist

From an ordinary public event disruptor to waging Pakistan sponsored armed insurrection in J&K [in the course of which he was actively involved in killing security forces personnel and innocent civilians alike], Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front [JKLF] chief Yasin Malik has not only come a long way. What’s really intriguing is that despite being personally involved in serious crimes, which included masterminding the forced exodus of Kashmir’s pandit community and kidnapping the then Home Minister’s daughter to secure release of his imprisoned comrades, Malik still managed to create for himself an aura of respectability and emerged as an apostle of peace.

Malik’s fame and apparent ‘invincibility’ is the result of his self-serving opportunism coupled with an extraordinary ability to see which way the wind blows. He created the ‘Tala party’ in 1980, and after renaming it the ‘Islamic Students League [ISL], became its general secretary. As ISL contended that it didn’t recognise the Constitution of India, it didn’t directly participate in the 1987 Legislative assembly elections. However, the wily Malik wasn’t the one to forego this golden opportunity to expand his area of political influence just for the sake of principles, and so he ensured that ISL not only joined Muslim United Front [MUF], but also took responsibility for its election campaigning.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Line of Control [LoC] that divides J&K, Pakistani President Gen Zia ul Haq was immensely impressed by the success of the proxy war waged by US backed mujahideen against the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Accordingly, he ordered Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] to replicate this irregular warfare model in J&K and start a proxy war there. ISI went about executing this sinister mission with missionary zeal and in 1986, it roped in JKLF founding member Amanullah Khan, a resident of Pakistan occupied Kashmir [PoK] who had just returned from the UK to execute this devious plan.

Using its extensive network of well-paid local ‘over ground’ workers to lure Kashmiri youth of impressionable age into crossing the LoC for undergoing arms training in special camps set up in PoK for this purpose, the ISI was able to attract hundreds of young Kashmiris, impelled by romantic visions of a “war o liberation”. After the controversial 1987 J&K elections, several Kashmiri youths made their way to PoK and in 1988, Yasin Malik too crossed the LoC and underwent arms training being organised by ISI and imparted by Pakistan army instructors.

On returning to Kashmir Valley after having received arms training there, Yasin Malik alongwith three others [Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani and Javed Ahmad Mir] took charge of waging Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K. They called themselves the HAJY group [this name being derived from the first alphabet of their respective names] and assured locals that “azadi [independence] was just around the corner.” The gullible public blindly believed them and with fundamentalists whipping up communal frenzy, even overlooked or condoned JKLF’s orgy of senseless violence that resulted in the forced exodus of Kashmiri pandits.

However, the ISI was unhappy with JKLF’s stated aim of an ’independent’ Kashmir, and  cut off arms supply and stopped funding to this group. Not only this, to suit its own vested interests, ISI created a new pro-Pakistan armed group called Hizbul Mujahideen [HM]. On the directions of ISI, HM initiated a bloody turf war for control of armed insurrection in J&K and brutally decimated JKLF. In his widely acclaimed and authoritative book ‘Shadow Wars: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir’, Arif Jamal mentions that during an interview a high-ranking Rawalpindi based Hizb commander named Jamal admitted that during this period, HM had eliminated about 7,000 “political rivals” [a euphemism for JKLF cadres].On cross-checking this information with Masood Sarfraz, who was once very close to Salahuddin but had since parted ways, Jamal was told that that the actual number of “political rivals” killed by HM were “many times higher”. 

After his release on bail in May 1994, Malik declared an “indefinite” JKLF ceasefire and announced that he was renouncing violence and would instead carry out a non-violent struggle for ‘independence’.  This unilateral move was not appreciated by the JKLF [PoK chapter] and Amanullah Khan removed Malik as president of JKLF, causing this group to split in two factions.

However, despite the reality that violence in J&K was actually a proxy war being orchestrated by ISI and had nothing to do with ‘azadi’, staring them in the face, the over-optimistic media peddled Malik’s renunciation of violence as ‘the beginning of the end’ of the so-called ‘armed struggle’. He was thus perceived by many as the proverbial prodigal’s son and his decision to follow the Gandhian approach made him a hero of sorts. New Delhi too seems to have been taken-in by his proclamations and treated him with kid’s gloves and the criminal cases against him for inciting and participating in insurrection, premediated murder, kidnapping and forceful confinement appeared to have been consigned to the backburner. So, Malik became a hero of sorts!

While the grapevine was abuzz with news that Malik had been ‘cultivated’ by intelligence agencies while in prison and had made some ‘secret deal’ with the government, or that he genuinely had a change of heart during his internment, but all these speculations were far removed from the truth. The reality is that after he was released on bail in 1994, Malik realised that due to HM’s efficient predation, JKLF was just a pale shadow of its former self and being denied arms and funds by ISI it had no capability whatsoever to carry on the so-called ‘armed struggle’ for ‘azadi’. Faced with such overwhelming odds, any lesser mortal would have accepted defeat, but like a wily fox, Malik was made up of much sterner stuff!

By assuming a ‘peacenik avatar’, Malik cunningly turned an existential threat into a splendid opportunity and thus retained his political relevance and ‘immunity’ against persecution for very serious crimes that could well have invited capital punishment! And for over three decades this clever strategy has worked well. No wonder that during this period, the man who as a member of HAJY group had introduced the Kalashnikov into J&K, waged Pakistan’s proxy war by inciting an insurrection that left several thousand dead and many more wounded, was still able to enjoy an undeclared [but very visible] special status and rub shoulders with political bigwigs [including an Indian prime minister] and rights activists known for pursuing motivated agendas.

However, with National Investigation Agency [NIA] now successfully unearthing clinching evidence of his involvement in massive illegal terrorism related financial deals and Ms Rubaiya Sayeed positively identifying him as one of her abductors, Malik’s criminal past has finally caught-up with him. While he may deny any role in killings during the 90s, but the truth isn’t hidden from anyone. So much so that even a WikiLeaks cable of June 8, 2005, mentions that While a leader of the armed struggle, he [Yasin Malik] has killed in the name of Kashmir, but has become an advocate of non-violence since coming in from the cold.” [Emphasis added].

Similarly, while he may refute money laundering charges, but once again, another Wikileaks cable mentions that in April 2006, a US political councillor had been told by Hurriyat constituent Peoples Conference chief Bilal Lone that Yasin [Malik] should give up a month of his Pakistani salary to compensate the families of boys killed in Bilal’s [Lone] home area by the army, instead of urging the parents not to take Indian compensation and jobs.” [Emphasis added].

So, in 2006, when Yasin Malik told the then US ambassador to India David Mulford that “Kashmiri politics is no longer about ideology, it’s all a money game,” [Emphasis added], he wasn’t quite off the mark as this admission was straight from the horse’s mouth!

Nilesh Kunwar
Nilesh Kunwar
Writer is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in terrorism-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a 'Kashmir-Watcher' who keeps a close tab on the state's developments.

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