Life Of An Renegade Commander

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My nickname was “Shouf” but my name is not Mohammad Shafi Khan as many think. When I was in Ikhwan my code was Hilal Haider. I do not remember my earlier code names.

In 1989 when militancy began I like others got involved in militancy as well. I went to Pakistan in 1990 for a year with HM. I spent a year there. I saw many things over there. There were maybe 150 militant organizations in Kashmir. In Muzafarabad there were so many political and militant organizations. This disturbed me i.e. so many groups when the aim was one. I also went to Afghanistan for 6-7 months. I returned to Muzafarrabad then. I was in an ISI camp. I was 17-18 then in those days. I started to get a bit distracted from the movement during my stay in Pakistan. I asked the ISI in charge at the camp – I had become a bit friendly with him – there are a few thoughts in Kashmir – independence, Pakistan, India – three options. He said Pakistan doesn’t trust Kashmir. Pakistan has created confusion so that one leadership doesn’t rise. This is so that Kashmir would not dictate terms. We want to dictate terms, he said. This made me more unhappy with the movement. Also, the day I crossed over – 3 days and 3 nights we had 17 in the group. Some people could not do it. It was very difficult climbing through the mountains. I got food poisoning. As we reached the border – when I reached the no mans land I was to collapse but a boy behind me pushed me on. So when we reached Pakistan first picket they had some puris for us. But the only ones who could eat were the one’s with strength.

I was happy we reached. But, they said we have to go down more because otherwise Indian forces can see us. Then 1.5 hours later we reached a place where there was a small masjid. 17 of us and some Pakistani officers were there. The Pakistanis got disturbed with us also cramping their space. They woke up. I was next to them. They said why do you come like goats – why don’t you stay where you. This point added to my next experiences. I returned in 1991 – September/October. By this time the kidnappings of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen had already happened. HM had been created through ISI to counter JKLF. It was to establish pro-Pakistan thought for which Jamaat-e-Islami helped. Jamaat had been hurt before in the anti-Jamaat riots of 1979 after Z.A. Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan and so when they got power they started taking revenge. Plus there were directions from Pakistan. That was a big mistake from ISI.

Then HM started killing JKLF & MM boys. I had come back and joined Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen – those days it was called SLF – in 1991 it became Ikhwan-ul- Muslimeen. Hilal Baig had converted it. Those days the group clashes were on between HM and JKLF. Then they attacked the other groups after JKLF. Finally, the fight reached Ikhwan-ul- Muslimeen and HM.

I was tortured by them. Once they tried to burn me. One was Abu-Bakr, the other was Sidiq. These two are the ones who also killed Mirwaiz Qazi Nisar. They caught me once but I escaped. My friend was with me. The second time they caught me they wanted to burn me. They took the grass from the fields and were going to put inside but luckily family and relatives came where we were. They came just in time and I escaped. All this was disappointing me. Sajad Kanue was the Deputy Chief Commander of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen but he was in Pakistan when all this was happening to me. Our district commander was a Jan Mohammad Khan. He died naturally sometime back. Pin Khan was with us. I ran away from Islamabad.

In this time, Kuka Parray’s [another infamous Ikhwan commander from North Kashmir] name came forward. A new thought emerged. This was to keep one safe, and to keep the family safe. There was clearly only one option. There were 20-25 of us. We got organized and we contacted the army. This was probably during the end 1994. By then I was back from Srinagar. For the connection with army there was no option in Srinagar, and I had to come back to Islamabad [I used to stay near Barbar Shah in Srinagar. I am basically from Srinagar]. In those days in Khanabal army camp there was 1 Sector RR and Brigadier M.P. Singh. We contacted him. Abdul Hamid Rather alias Nasir contacted the army on our behalf. There was a person called Shabir Badoori – he was our leader. Sajad Kanue was in jail. Jan Khan was in Pakistan. So it was left to us people who were present i.e. Abdul Rashid Wani, alias Nannaji, Abdul Hamid Rather alias Nasir, resident of Mir Bazaar, Tahir, and myself. The army had already sent us feelers to meet. Feelers came when news of Kuka Parray was coming in. By the time the feelers came the Ikhwan as a militant group was breaking.

Some of the boys who did not agree with the direction of the new Ikhwan ran away from Ikhwan. We had no terms and conditions with the army. The only thing was that we would work together. M.P. Singh was the initial contact. Initial six or eight months we had contact with him. But then the Ikhwan spread like fire. Tral, Pahalgam various places. Boys joined in. They joined from Al-Jehad, JKLF etc. We reached a strength of 500 within 6 months. They all were working under our command. In the beginning no one was sure we would survive. Shabir Badoori also resigned and he asked us to decide who would be the commander. Shabir was our commander for about 8 months of 1995 maybe. He then joined HM. He must have felt the Ikhwan movement was wrong. But, Shabir attended dozens of meetings as commander with the army. He died in an encounter with army near Bijbehara.

Anyway, after he resigned we had chits of the seniors put in. My name came out and I became the commander. So we started meeting three brigadiers within 5-6 months. Kokernag came under Qazigund. 3 Sector had Brigadier Ahlawat. Kulgam had some Rakesh Das. The force was RR. What the Indian State could not do, we managed to do in a short time. Then in 1996 the first elections happened. MM and Ikhwan helped in this. We created the atmosphere. We worked from December 1994 till early 1996 – about 14 months. What the force got most from us- because we were local and knew militants – was that we could connect the army to the local people. People became informers. Every day we would get 5-6 bits of information. Our manpower was too few to handle the information. The biggest benefit from us was therefore intelligence gathering.

We also used to assist the army in operations – again where to go and which house to go to was our work. The army itself did the actions. We used to route information through wireless systems. We also had access to various places. As things spread – we also had local commanders in different places. There were our boys everywhere. We facilitated all this. Boys were communicating with individual camps in the area. So we had for example area A – we had 5-6 boys. They were given weapons. By then we were dealing with the Core commanders and I did not have to be on the ground anymore. By 1996 – I was almost in politics. The main things I did for militancy were: fought and contained militancy, ensured a sense of safety and security amongst general masses, and political workers who had migrated from Kashmir came back and started a political process. It took us only a few months to spread outside the town.

HM people also surrendered before us quietly. Even today people do not know that they had surrendered. The encounters used to be fake as well. Or they used to give us guns and run. One HM battalion commander came to us and said that they had left weapons somewhere and sent off the boys. They would ask to be saved. Then we would collect the weapons in a fake operation to save their faces as well. We did not kill people as much as people surrendered before us. Hurriyat has a tape where in an interrogation of a person in which it is said that Abu Bakar, and Siddique killed Mirwaiz Qazi Nisar. He was killed because he was Hanfi and not Jamaati. To settle old scores the Jamaat directed HM to kill Kashmiris regardless of caste and creed. Ikhwan is the creation of high handedness of HM. Ikhwan would not have been there if HM had not done harm.

Even the army was focused on restoration of political process. The army was also involved in various other things – medical camp etc. The police was then defunct. The army was the only functional thing – and their functional link was Ikhwan. The two main things responsible for elections were army and Ikhwan. Sri Nath Tickoo was with our political party and he fought elections. Before that he was a teacher. He fought from Mattan and lost. Bushanlal was with our political party also. Dar was also with the political party. There were also Ghulam Nabi CID, Ghulam Rasool Moori and Captain Tickoo. Captain Tickoo was advisor to Kuka Parray. I did not need advisors.

Masarat Bilal was Ikhwani and now he is in PDP. First he was with us and then went to work with army elsewhere. There were only two camps of Ikhwan – Kadipora and Janglat Mandi. DFO, Khanabal was of MM. Outside Islamabad there were many camps. These two Ikhwan camps were under Khanabal army camp. They were under the Brigadier there.

There was a person called Chunni Lal a Deputy Commissioner and we encouraged him to begin his work. Even the army wanted to have a limited role. Army and our joint decision and Government of India as well were to let the local administration get back. So the IB people used to meet us, as well as the Victor Force commander. By 1996 we were established with IB and the first IB person I met was Doval Sahib. Doval’s instruction also was to get civil administration up and running. In this context I remember that Farooq Abdullah boycotted parliamentary elections because he was scared. It sent a wrong message. So Government of India had to convince him as it sent the wrong message for National Conference to boycott elections.Once Home Minister S.B. Chauhan, or maybe the person after him, told us to go and meet Farooq Abdullah. We had to make him strong. Farooq made lunch himself. We told him to come and fight elections. I was not part of this meeting but I heard of it from my other colleagues. So going back to the three people coming to my house. We were also encouraging Farooq sahib as we thought we would get a few seats and rest he would take. We were actually working against ourselves and Farooq Abdullah won.

After elections I was still in charge overall and I was in politics. Ikhwan funding was from General Kishan Pal – 15 Corps and from army. In the beginning the Ikhwan boys got Rs. 3000 and upwards. Commanders got 5000/6000. But once Farooq Abdullah came in he wanted it equalized with the SPOs who got Rs. 1500 only. Even after civilian government came in the money of Rs. 1500 came through the army. The civil administration did not pay. Later the police – 2000/2001 made Ikhwan into SPO. When Shabir Badoori was in Ikhwan we did not receive money from army. Even when I first was commander there was no salary. We used to sustain by collections, sometimes army gave lump sum amounts. For example, on eid they would give Eidi, salwar kameez.

Soon Militancy changed tactics and there were also new militants that we didn’t know about. HM started attacking us from 1997/1998. Our boys were also a bit casual – go sit in a shop, go meet people without weapons. So we changed our strategy – people in political parties got protection. Ikhwan in South Kashmir was disciplined. The Ikhwan of Kuka and ours were different but because we were from the same Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen we were the same. We had meetings with them and joined. I met Kuka Parray in 1994. This time I was in Srinagar. I met him in Hajin. This was after we had decided to join and I went to meet him but he didn’t help us. By then we knew what to do ourselves. We met him around the time we were talking to the army. Ikhwan was in two places – Kuka Parray’s of Hajin Sonawari area in North Kashmir and South Kashmir. In places like Pulwama, Budgam the Ikhwan there were actually run by CRPF/BSF and they were their creations. Even local army camps started small renegade groups in other areas. These were local initiatives. So we were defamed by them. Someone like Muma Kanna is an example.

We had a ceasefire agreement with Harkat-ul-Ansar. We were against only HM. Harkat was a big organization after HM. They used to come and sleep in our places. We used to tell the army about this and that we were fighting only against HM. So we did give them shelter. But then Sikander did do some blasts against us – at the Mattan adda bunker and the bus stand area. Then we opposed them. Interestingly, they never allowed the lower level boys to stay with us. Maybe that’s because they always had a plan against us and they did not want their boys to get used to us. Subsequently, I tried to join BJP. Farooq Abdullah was asking me to join him. This is 1997/1998. He wanted to make an MLC and Minister. I didn’t want to leave others in my group. I wanted to proceed as a group. They said they would appoint me DSP directly – I would have been a DIG by now. But I chose to stay with the boys. I thought as a group we would be established. But it didn’t happen unfortunately. We wanted our identity. I joined BJP in 1998. We thought we cannot proceed with BJP. We thought they would have no future in Kashmir. I was with BJP for 5-6 months. But, there was example, Chaman Lal Gupta from Jammu was negative to us.

In 2002 elections I fought even though I knew I would lose but I wanted people to know I was serious. By then army was against me. Bikram Singh [who later became the Indian army chief] was commander here in 2000/2001 and he had a problem with me and he did not like me. This is when he came as Brigadier to Khanabal. Initially he was kind to me and we were friends. I would even meet him regularly. But then relations got spoilt. Then even I broke with Ikhwan because my relation was bad with Bikram Singh. So I left Ikhwan in 2000/2001. Then I got completely into politics. I again fought in 2002 to show seriousness.

After 2002, militancy was big. So I went to Noida. Then I stayed for a year or year and a half but my family stayed for 6 years. I sold my original house here and stayed there. I lost 2008 elections as well as Government of India was not helping. When General V.K. Singh was Chief of army I met him. I knew him from 2005 when he was in Victor Force. I raised the issue of Ikhwan. By then Tahir had joined Territorial Army [TA]. I met many people to persuade them to form a TA battalion for the Ikhwan in the past in 2003 as well. There were a total of 400-500 boys who could have gone from Ikhwan. But the SSP in 2003 from Srinagar or Anantnag interfered and did not allow it as he wanted some of these boys in the police.

There have been attacks against me. Grenades were thrown at me when I was outside. When I was staying elsewhere, the HM came and tried to kidnap my brother but my neighbors foiled it. Once they kept a boy waiting for me with a pistol. Tahir went that way and he was shot.

Ikhwanis, including ex-commanders are living a miserable life today. This is the projection of media that Ikhwanis have money. Compared to separatists and anti-Indians, Ikhwanis are miserable. For example, in 2014 their was a news of this tehreeki person getting 3 crores for the movement. You can imagine what their leaders would have. I am not saying only India has cheated its people. It is not like Pakistan has not cheated its men. You cannot talk of only money. Talk to the HAJY group. They were told to start the movement and Pakistan will follow. Now, see the separatist camp, it is divided.

Liyaqat Ali Khan is an ex-commander of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, resident of Islamabad.

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