Home alone

Liyaqat's arrest may be first known case of a former militant coming for surrender being held on terror charges.

Written by Mir Ehsan | Published: March 31, 2013 2:37 am

Liyaqat Ali Shah’s arrest may be the first known case of a former militant coming for surrender being held on terror charges,but others who have returned under J&K’s rehabilitation policy find themselves struggling to make ends meet,even to get their children an education. Disillusioned,at least one family has applied to be sent back to PoK,writes Mir Ehsan

Liyaqat Ali Shah’s arrest by the Delhi Police as he reportedly tried to make his way back from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to surrender has put the focus back on the Jammu and Kashmir government’s amnesty and rehabilitation policy for former militants wanting to return home. The policy was a result of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s 2006 visit to Pakistan,where he met delegations of Kashmiris who had crossed over. Omar announced the policy in 2010,with the state government reaching an unwritten understanding with the Centre that any youth who had joined militant ranks in the 1990s,had long given up arms and wished to return would be allowed to do so provided he surrendered before the Army or police in the Valley.

So far,241 people who had no police cases in the Valley have returned,many with their wives and children,and more than 1,089 have applied for permission to return. According to official records,3,947 Kashmiris who have crossed the Line of Control are still in Pakistan,including top militant leaders.

However,while Shah’s arrest is the first known case of a former militant who had applied for surrender being held on terror charges,those who have managed to return home are struggling to fit in. They claim they have been abandoned by the government,left to fend for themselves,and at least one has approached courts seeking permission to be allowed to go back.

SHAFKAT ALI KHAN

TURKPORA,BANDIPORE

RETURNED IN JUNE 2012

Soon,it will be a year since Shafkat Ali Khan,his Pakistani wife Farahat Bibi and their four children came back to this village in the mountains of north Kashmir. Shafkat was barely 14 when he sneaked into PoK in 1993. “I joined a militant camp,but as I was very young,those managing the camp put me in a school. Later,I went to a relative in Rawalpindi,who arranged a bride for me,and started a new life.”

Around nine years ago,Shafkat says,his life took another turn when he met the famous Hazara folk singer,Aksar Abasi. “Abasi hired me as manager. I would arrange shows for him and could earn more than Rs 60,000 every month. I purchased a piece of land in Pakistan and later set up an independent office.”

When Omar announced his return policy,it was the desire to see his parents that prompted 34-year-old Shafkat to return home. He sold all his assets to finance his return from Abottabad to Kashmir. “I convinced my family,promising them a comfortable life at my native place,” Shafkat says.

What they have met is disappointment. Shafkat remains without a job,and with no money to start a business,the family is running out of options. In Pakistan,the family claims,besides their earnings,they were entitled to a migrant fund. “I also got Rs 3,000 under the Benazir Income Support Programme. Here I am living on charity,” Shafkat says.

Sitting in their makeshift two-room house,fashioned out of a shop,Farahat Bibi worries for their children. They went to schools,took tuitions in Abottabad. In Turkpora,she says,the children have not managed to even get admission into a school.

Farahat now goes around meeting senior officials in Bandipore town pleading with them to arrange for her return to PoK with their children. She has also filed a petition in the local court seeking the same.

“When I was in Pakistan,my only wish was to return home. Now I want to go back to Pakistan as the government here has failed to keep its promises,” says Shafkat.

ASHAN UL HAQ

SRINAGAR

RETURNED IN JUNE 2012

With his wrinkled face,sunken eyes and grey beard,Ashan ul Haq looks older than his 50 years. He was 27 in 1990,when and his friends crossed the Line of Control through the Gurez sector.

Last June,this former militant packed up his business in Muzaffarabad and returned to Kashmir through the Nepal border along with his Pakistani wife Kounsar Begum and five children—driven,he says,by love for his native land. “I crossed the LoC in the initial days of militancy. I developed cold feet soon after and joined the political wing of the separatist party People’s League,” says Haq.

In 1995,Haq got married and set up a stationery shop in Muzaffarabad’s Center Market. “I left militancy,I was happy. Besides earning well,I was getting a monthly allowance of Rs 10,500 from the government. But I always craved for my homeland,” says Haq.

He had his doubts about returning,but these were banished when he talked to those coming to PoK from Kashmir on the cross-LoC bus service. He was told Kashmir had changed,that peace had returned.

“Statements of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that people who wish to come from PoK will be rehabilitated with dignity convinced me to pack my bags,” he says.

The nine months since his return have proved his decision wrong,Haq laments. He sold his wife’s jewellery to set up a stationery shop outside his house in Soura,but it is not doing well,apparently due to the limited stocks he can afford to buy.

Kounsar Begum wonders about their children’s future. “My husband has to report to the police station every fortnight and schools are reluctant to admit our children,” she says. “Whenever I receive a call from PoK from fellow Kashmiris seeking an opinion on returning home,I advise them not to come home,” Haq says.

Md LATEEF PEER

TUJJAR SHARIEF,SOPORE

RETURNED IN APRIL 2012

Peer returned to his village with his Pakistani wife Shareen in April last year. Now 37 years old,he crossed over into PoK when he was 18. Desperately missing his parents,he jumped at the opportunity to come back soon after the rehabilitation policy was announced.

Peer’s family members in Sopore applied for amnesty and rehabilitation through the police in 2011 for him,his Pakistani wife and four children,who are between the ages of 10 and three. “I spent more than Rs 2 lakh on my return journey,” says Peer,who came back via Nepal.

His problem is the same as Shafkat and Haq’s: how to make a decent living,and get his children admitted in schools. He earns Rs 3,000 a month as a salesman at Sopore.

Peer’s wife Shareen also wishes she could remain in touch with her parents in Pakistan. “When I came here,my husband told me my passport would be arranged within a month so that I can travel to PoK. One year has passed and nothing has happened. My four children who were born in PoK miss their grandparents,” says Shareen.

When wives of top leaders such as Yasin Malik (JKLF) and Sajjad Lone (People’s Conference),who are also Pakistani nationals,can frequently travel between Pakistan and India,Peer says,“Why is hindrance being created for us?”

The only consolation,Peer says,is that there is no harassment from security forces.

DAWOOD RATHER

NARBAL,BUDGAM

RETURNED in MAY 2012

It has been more than 10 months since Rather,38,returned with his Pakistani wife and four children to Narbal. He was 17 years old when he crossed the LoC in 1992. After two years,he married Ayesha Begum at Rawalpindi.

Rather made the decision to return at his brothers’ insistence. “They told me the government has announced general amnesty for those who had gone to PoK,” he says.

The biggest worry for Rather and Ayesha is how to rebuild their lives,especially for their children. Their elder son Amir is 17 and did his matriculation at Rawalpindi. He can’t help question his father’s decision to return to the Valley. “Since our return,I have not attended a single class as no school is ready to accept my Pakistani certificates and give me admission,” he says. “I think my career is at stake here.”

Unfamiliar with the language,he has also failed to make friends and spends most of his time alone.

“I used to earn Rs 20,000 in Pakistan and was living a comfortable life. With every passing day,things are becoming complicated,” Rather says. Admitting that he depends on his relatives for support,he says: “How long is this going to work?”

ABDUL R KHAN

KUPWARA

RETURNED in APRIL 2012

Abdul’s story is no different than the others. It was the spring of 1992 when,barely 20,he decided to cross the snow-clad mountains along with a small group into PoK. After staying in various camps,he got disgruntled with militancy,married a Pakistani woman and settled down in Islamabad.

“However,I always looked for an opportunity to return… The day the J&K government announced rehabilitation,I urged my family (to apply for me),” says Abdul,now 41.

It wasn’t an easy decision for his wife Zeb-un-Nisa,a government teacher in Pakistan. “I left the job after Abdul promised me that we can live a good life in Kashmir and frequently travel to PoK,” she says.

According to her,those promises quickly evaporated. “Here,we can’t meet the daily expenses of our three children.”

Nisa has now started teaching students at a private school in Kupwara to add to the family income. The fact that Abdul has to appear before security agencies every month,Nisa adds,doesn’t just feel humiliating but also leaves her worried each time.

On Tuesday,the family travelled from Kupwara to Srinagar to attend a protest held by PoK-returned families against the government.

SAYYAR A. LONE

SHOPIAN

RETURNED in September 2012

Sayyar Ahmad Lone of Shopian married Irm from Rawalpindi in 2004. Lone,27,had sneaked into PoK in 2001 to join the militant movement but left soon after.

Irm misses her family in Pakistan and her three-year-old daughter Falak wants to return too. Lone says he feels let down. “We never expected such problems. I don’t think other people will be willing to come back after our plight gets highlighted.”

Talking about Liyaqat’s arrest,purportedly in a fake case,Lone says it has complicated the matter. “Kashmiris who were planning to return will now think several times. This policy is dying a slow death,and the responsibility lies with the government.”

THE JOURNEY

The family of a Kashmiri living in PoK who wants to return fills up a form obtained from the local police station.

The application undergoes screening at many levels—by SHOs,superintendents of police and then the J&K CID,which consults central intelligence agencies and security forces. After determining that the person has no record of recent militant activity,the police give the green signal.

In Pakistan,a Pakistani passport is arranged and air tickets bought from Rawalpindi to Karachi and then to Kathmandu.

On reaching Nepal,the former militants contact pointmen to arrange the forward journey to India.

After crossing the Nepal border,these families spend some time at Gorakhpur before boarding a train to Jammu,and travelling onward to Srinagar. In the Valley,they surrender before the police.

Police book them under the Egress and Internal Movement Control Ordinance,and the families are bailed out in a week.

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