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An abduction, a clueless govt, and long wait for trial

K B Jandial writes: The abduction exposed the hollowness of the security, administrative and political apparatus.


Updated: September 13, 2021 8:20:27 am
Rubaiya with her father and then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed after being released in December 1989. (Express Archives)

Written by K B Jandial

The stunning kidnapping of then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya Sayeed in 1989 was a watershed event in the history of Kashmir terrorism. Yet, thanks to our tardy criminal justice system and lack of political will, the terrorists involved have not yet been brought to book. After three decades, the Special TADA Court chargesheeted 10 of the 24 accused — two were subsequently killed, 12 never caught — in January this year; their cross-examination began on September 4.

Rubaiya, a medical intern, was returning home on December 8, 1989, when her minibus was stopped by four armed co-passengers at Nowgam, near Mufti’s private residence. The men belonged to the fast-expanding Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Rubaiya was not only using public transport, unusual for the daughter of the country’s Home Minister, but also had no security.

The Valley was rife at the time with stories of youths making their way to Pakistan to take up arms, though State Information Department did its best to project that the situation was “well under control”.

The abduction exposed the hollowness of the security, administrative and political apparatus. Rubaiya was whisked away in a car to Sopore, about 50 km from Srinagar, and at Natipora, shifted to another car which had JKLF co-founder Yasin Malik and two others.

Hours later, the abductors called a newspaper office to convey to the world that the JKLF had the Indian Home Minister’s daughter in their custody. In exchange, they sought release of five top JKLF men — Gulam Nabi Bhat, Mohd Altaf, Noor Mohd Kalwal, Javid Zargar and Abdul Hamid Sheikh. The next day, Zargar was replaced with Abdul Ahad Waza who, along with Bhat, had reportedly held a meeting with JKLF chief Amanullah Khan and Pakistan army officers in PoK in 1987, to step up armed insurgency in Kashmir. Hamid Sheikh was part of the first group from Kashmir to have received armed training in early 1988 in PoK, and was instrumental in creating a committed JKLF nucleus in Kashmir. At the time, he was receiving treatment for a bullet injury.

With Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in London and Chief Secretary Moosa Raza in Delhi, the state Cabinet, sitting in the winter capital of Jammu, in complete lack of political acumen, adopted a resolution accepting the demands of the kidnappers. It is a different matter that there was no official record of this resolution.

Later, it was found that Rubaiya was kept first in a junior engineer’s house and then in the house of an industrialist, as police and intelligence agencies groped in the dark.

The Centre constituted a Crisis Management Committee (CMG) to mount a possible rescue, while rushing the Chief Secretary; Ved Marwah, then director general, National Security Guards; and J&K IB chief A S Dulat to Srinagar.

The accounts published later by top officials revealed an interesting scenario in Delhi and Srinagar. The CMG wasn’t cohesive, while Sayeed banked more on his contacts for the release of his daughter. In his book Uncivil Wars: Pathology of Terrorism in India, Marwah wrote that he along with Arun Nehru, T N Seshan and M K Nararyanan (then Director, IB) waited one whole day for Sayeed at his Delhi residence, finally leaving at midnight without meeting him. “No one was in command either in New Delhi or in J&K,” he wrote.

From the Sayeed family, a well-known journalist and friend, Zaffar Miraj, was the main channel for negotiation. Other intermediaries included Dr A A Guru, a known JKLF sympathiser, who was treating Hamid Sheikh; Maulvi Abbas Ansari (later Hurriyat Conference chairman); MLA Mir Mustafa; and Justice M L Bhat, who had just been transferred from the J&K High Court to Allahabad.

Chief Secretary Raza, the official negotiator, wrote in his memoirs Kashmir: Land of Regrets about his daring visit to the militant den in downtown Srinagar along with Dulat for direct talks with the JKLF leadership. The militant outfit accused the government of having picked up polling agents and beaten them to rig the 1987 Assembly polls — seen as the immediate trigger for the surge in Kashmir militancy.

An agreement was reached, and accordingly, Raza announced a review of cases of political harassment in exchange for the release of Rubaiya.

But this was torpedoed by the parallel negotiations being conducted by Justice Bhat, who clinched a deal with the JKLF mediators, pursuant to nod from the state government. With Farooq Abdullah opposed to such an exchange, Prime Minister V P Singh rushed his ministers I K Gujral and Arif Mohd Khan to persuade the CM. Raza headed to Justice Bhat’s official residence. The five militants were finally released there, even as the others spent agonising moments with the abductors delaying Rubaiya’s release by 75 minutes beyond the agreed gap of three hours.

No debriefing session was allowed and Rubaiya flew straightaway to Delhi. The released militants vanished into thin air, the officers still clueless.

Arrested JKLF militants later confessed that, along with their Pakistani collaborators, they saw the kidnapping of the daughter of India’s first Kashmiri Home Minister as the best strategy to give militancy a fillip. Between 1990 and 1996, Kashmir witnessed a spurt in incidents of kidnapping, from 169 to 666. As per police records, there have been nearly 5,700 abductions since Sayeed’s incident. Most of the abductees ended up dead, including Kashmir University V-C Prof Mushir-ul-Haq.

The government stopped releasing arrested militants in kidnapping cases, till the Kandahar hijack exactly 10 years later. The three militants released then included the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Azhar Masood, who would mastermind the Parliament attack in December 2001.

The author is a retired IAS officer of J&K cadre. He was Joint Director, State Information Department, at the time of the kidnapping

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