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Amanullah Khan: The real story

Published : May 11, 2016, 1:31 am IST
Updated : May 11, 2016, 1:31 am IST

I could not but help read with some cynicism accounts of thousands of Pakistanis dutifully turning up at Rawalpindi’s Liaqat Bagh to pay their last respects to Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF

I could not but help read with some cynicism accounts of thousands of Pakistanis dutifully turning up at Rawalpindi’s Liaqat Bagh to pay their last respects to Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Amanullah Khan, who breathed his last in a local hospital on April 26.

The coffin with his body was put on display where thousands gathered to offer funeral prayers. A large number of prominent Pakistani politicians turned up, along with hundreds of jihadis. Khan’s coffin was thereafter taken to his birthplace Gilgit for burial.

In Pakistan, it was proclaimed that the Kashmir movement had lost a great leader who had waged a heroic struggle for the liberation of Kashmir from India. People offered wreaths, some wept while others shouted pro-Kashmir slogans and promised to carry on the struggle.

I found the hagiography odd as Amanullah Khan had long been sidelined in Kashmiri politics and was for all practical purposes living the life of a recluse in Rawalpindi.

His organisation, the JKLF, was now at best a token force on both sides of the Line of Control that divides the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The military and political backbone of the organisation had been broken many years ago by the Pakistani military and its proxies.

The sad part is that Amanullah’s grand funeral had less to do with his contribution to the Kashmir cause than with the Pakistani establishment’s constant need to remind its people of the righteousness and nobility of the Kashmir cause.

Amanullah Khan had achieved considerable notoriety in India and fame in Pakistan during the late 1980s and the early days of the insurgency in Kashmir. He was then the lion of Kashmir, inspiring Kashmiri youth to take up guns against the Indian establishment.

He had rattled the Indian government by once visiting Washington DC where he had threatened to bump off a host of Indian politicians, including Rajiv Gandhi.

I had met him during the height of his popularity in the spring of 1990 when the Kashmir insurgency had just flared up. Farooq Abdullah had resigned as chief minister and fled the Valley which was in full revolt.

Amanullah Khan was holed up in Muzaffarabad, the capital of the so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir, which is a part of the region known here as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

I was in Islamabad at that time and had got permission from the Pakistan foreign office to visit Muzaffarabad and parts of PoK right up to the Line of Control.

Amanullah invited me to an office in a shed-like building and exhorted me on the right of Kashmiris to form an independent republic. While he was at it, we were interrupted by a belligerent group of bearded individuals carrying placards and shouting anti-India slogans.

I was apparently the target of their ire and Amanullah Khan told me to leave for the sake of my own safety. The whole fracas seemed staged and I had no choice but to depart.

Amanullah met me again a few days later at Rawalpindi. He had chosen a large derelict looking restaurant for the meeting and had told me not to bring anyone. He was late and in a very theatrical manner looked around as if to see if he was being followed.

He had brought along a pile of Kashmiri independence literature, photographs, a map of what independent Kashmir might look like and a few letterheads. He signed off a very important looking letter on the JKLF letterhead, authorising me to publish whatever he had shared.

Looking back, I am reminded of a smallish, dapper man whose bespectacled appearance reminded me more of a professor than a violent agitator. He also had an odd charm, but it did not add up to charisma. He was not material for a mass leader, but clearly ideal for heading a clandestine movement. He played the part too, of a shadowy figure hounded by spies and potential assassins.

My memories of Amanullah would have been positive had it not been for the revelations by some of his former colleagues about his role in the assassination of an Indian diplomat in Birmingham in 1984.

The diplomat, Ravindra Mhatre, was abducted by Pakistani activists allegedly allied to Amanullah Khan’s JKLF, but who were actually in the payroll of Pakistan’s secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

There were indications that the then Pakistani dictator Gen. Zia ul Haq was trying to rake up an uprising in Kashmir following his successes in the Indian Punjab. An issue was needed to rouse anti-India sentiments in the Kashmir Valley.

The most charismatic JKLF leader of that time, Maqbool Butt, was in an Indian prison charged with the murder of a police inspector in 1966.

The JKLF, after kidnapping diplomat Mhatre, said they wished to negotiate Maqbool Butt’s release from prison, but before negotiations could even start, Mhatre’s bullet-ridden body was found dumped in a country lane.

Whether it was the ISI or Amanullah Khan who took the decision to murder Mhatre will never be known, but what is certain is it had the predictable reaction. The Indian public was outraged by the assassination of their diplomat and the government reacted in a knee-jerk manner by hanging Maqbool Butt five days later.

This is just what the ISI wanted; the Kashmir Valley rose in protest after a long period of calm and the JKLF became the focus of the anti-India movement. Some of Ama-nullah Khan’s former colleagues claimed that at the time of Mhatre’s murder, Amanullah Khan was working for the ISI, which was funding his European jaunts and anti-India campaign.

Amanullah Khan’s career peaked from then on till the first couple of years of the nineties decade. It was the JKLF that fired the first shots in the Kashmir Valley and led the armed uprising against the Indian state.

Once the insurgency was in full swing, Pakistan decided to pull the rug under the JKLF’s feet. For, the initial slogan of the armed struggle led by the JKLF was for an independent Kashmir, whereas Pakistan’s military wanted Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.

Pakistan with the help of the Jamaat-e-Islam built up the pro-accession Hizbul Mujahideen and trained Pakistani jihadis to do more of the fighting in Kashmir. The JKLF was gradually liquidated by Pakistan’s proxies and through information about JKLF fighters leaked to Indian security forces.

Once the JKLF was finished in the Kashmir Valley, Amanullah was expendable. He kept on shouting about independence, but nobody heard him anymore; the money too stopped flowing and he was forgotten, only to briefly resurrect after his death.

Looking back, it has been one long story of betrayal and deceit. Trouble is this will never be publicly acknowledged in the Kashmir Valley. Its leaders will still be beating their chests and pretending their struggle is about independence.