There are various versions to the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, the medico daughter of the then Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in 1989. This is the first-hand account of Ved Marwah, the then Director-General of National Security Guards (NSG) who eventually became the advisor of Governor Jagmohan
On 8 December 1989, JKLF activists kidnapped Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya Sayeed, a medical student, while she was returning home in Srinagar. The Home Minister’s daughter had no security attached to her, and till the kidnappers rang up a local newspaper’s office about their demands for her release no one, not even her family members, knew anything about the kidnapping. Such an incident had not taken place earlier in the state and everyone was taken by surprised
This kidnapping, and the way it was handled, became a watershed in the history of terrorism and secessionist movement in the state. I was an eyewitness to the events, first in New Delhi and later in Srinagar. I was, at that time, posted as the Director-General of the National Security Guards. I received a call around dinner time asking me to immediately reach the Home Minister’s house at Akbar Road to discuss Rubaiya Sayeed’s kidnapping. I was ushered into the Home Minister’s drawing-room, where Arun Nehru, Commerce Minister, TN Seshan, the Cabinet Secretary, and the Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB), MK Narayanan were already present. We sat there for quite some time, but there was no serious discussion as the Home Minister could not see us.
Around midnight it was decided to go to the DIB’s office, in the North Block, to talk to Srinagar on telephone from his hotline to get the latest information. Some more officers had by then also joined the meeting. At that late hour, all of us were getting tired and a little bored, as we did not know what we were supposed to do. It was then that Arun Nehru decided to take charge of the situation. The J&K Chief Secretary, Moosa Raza, who was on tour in New Delhi was also asked to attend the meeting. We were now quite a crowd, but the Home Minister could not join the meeting.
A Flight To Kashmir
Then, without much discussion, I was suddenly told to go to Srinagar by a special Border Security Force (BSF) plane and take steps for Rubaiya’s rescue. Her whereabouts were still not known, but it was hoped that it would not be long before some information to that effect would be given to me. Because of bad weather our plane had to land in Jammu, and I had to wait in Jammu airport for a couple of hours.
At the airport VIP lounge, I learnt that the Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was in London and, in his absence, the council of ministers had decided to accept all the demands of the kidnappers. No one had told them that this was not the way to handle a terrorist kidnapping case. I met some of the ministers in the airport lounge and was told that the crisis would be over very soon. Some of them were apparently in touch with Mufti’s family. The well-intentioned ministers did not have a clue about what would happen if they did not release the hostages in spite of their decision to surrender. The sad fact was that no one was in command either in New Delhi or in the state. The militants could not have chosen a more opportune time to kidnap the girl.
After reaching Srinagar I was told that the Chief Secretary would also be returning in the course of the day and till his return I should go to the office of the Deputy Director, Intelligence Bureau. I was to spend most of my next five days and nights, till 13 December, in this office, except for a few hours’ sleep at the State Guest House.
Zafar Miraj, the Srinagar correspondent of the Kashmir Times, was the main conduit through whom the IB had started negotiations with the kidnappers. The militants were demanding the release of five militants, that of Hamid Sheikh, who was recovering from a bullet wound in the hospital, Mohammed Altaf Butt, Sher Khan, Javed Ahmed Zargar and Mohammed Kalwal, all activists of the JKLF. They did not have to be very clever to realize that they had succeeded in bringing the government to its knees.
To further embarrass the government they started raising their demands and opened a few more channels to create maximum confusion in New Delhi and Srinagar. Even a serving high court judge jumped into the fray to secure the release of Rubaiya. Another channel had started working through Dr AA Guru, a surgeon in the Medical Institute in Srinagar who was treating Hamid Sheikh. New Delhi had also opened some channels directly to negotiate with the kidnappers. Among the others who were negotiating with the militants were Shabnam Lone, daughter of Abdul Gani Lone and Maulvi Abbas Ansari of Muslim United Front (MUF).
The militants cleverly played one mediator against the other in a bid to secure the best possible deal. The J & K Police was totally sidelined. No one had any clue about where Rubaiya was being kept. The question of the NSG rescuing her, therefore, did not arise. The J&K Director General of Police, Gulam Jalani Pandit, had been told not to conduct any police operations to recover the girl, as it could jeopardize her safety. The opening of more than one channel for negotiating with the kidnappers only helped in hardening the militants’ attitude and delay in securing the release. Each mediator wanted the “deal” for the release of Rubaiya to go through him, and each went on promising more and more to the militants in an effort to outbid the others.
I kept New Delhi informed about what was happening. The NSG had no role since no one knew where Rubaiya was being kept. Even though everyone I talked to held the view that there was no danger to her life, the many negotiators were bending over backwards to secure her release at any cost, essentially because they wanted to project themselves on the political scene. To be fair to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, not once did he ask any one of us to take a soft line to secure her release. If the government had played its cards well, the incident could have been turned into a major set-back for the militants. Even though nothing could be ruled out, there was little danger to the life of the girl, not because the militants had any compassion for the victim, but because they were aware that public opinion at that time was not ready to accept the kidnapping and harming of an innocent girl.
I gave my assessment to the two Union Cabinet Ministers, Inder Kumar Gujral and Arif Mohammed Khan, when they came to Srinagar on the morning of 13 December to intervene with Farooq Abdullah to give in to the kidnappers’ demands. Farooq Abdullah had returned from his holiday abroad and had made it known that he was not in favour of surrendering to the militants. The visiting ministers, in a briefing session at the Chashma Shahi Guest House were clearly told that a meek surrender could have serious consequences in raising the level of militancy and violence in the Valley. They were told that they should be prepared for huge crowds on the streets in support of the militants if the militants were released, but it was obvious that they had already made up their minds.
They were banking on an assurance of the militants that there would be no procession or celebration after the release of the five militants. Farooq Abdullah, after making known his views, gave in to the ministers’ advice during a luncheon meeting with them.
I was at no stage involved in the negotiations, but was surprised when I was woken up on the night of the 12th by the Inspector General (IG) Intelligence, Amar Kapoor, and the State Home Secretary, ML Kaul, to be informed that I had been directed by the Cabinet Secretary, TN Seshan, to join the negotiations. I was quite puzzled as there was little that I could do at this late stage. I told them that I should like to talk directly to the Cabinet Secretary before joining the negotiations.
So, at that late hour, we drove together to the IB Deputy Director’s office to talk to the Cabinet Secretary on the hotline. I protested to Seshan about my joining the negotiations at this late stage since it would convey the impression that I was a party to this mess and all that had been agreed. The Cabinet Secretary agreed to rescind his instructions.
The New Demand
The new government’s performance in its first test was truly pathetic. Even after the deal was finalized, another hitch developed. The militants refused to honour their earlier commitment that the release would be simultaneous through mutually agreed persons at a pre-determined spot. They insisted that the five militants should be released first; and only after they have safely reached their destination would the girl be released.
The government agreed to this demand as well. The wise men were sitting in the Deputy Director’s room monitoring the release. Quite a few were sweating and white-faced when there was no news about the release of Rubaiya Sayeed even after a couple of hours of the release of the militants. The panic-stricken “security advisers” of the government heaved a sigh of relief when the news came at around 7 pm, that Rubaiya had been released. The officers were now jubilant and congratulating each other. For the next few minutes they were busy on the hotline conveying the news of their “great success” to New Delhi.
The jubilation was, however, short-lived. Soon the news started trickling in that large crowds had collected at various places in the city and had started celebrating the release not of Rubaiya Sayeed, but of the militants. The crowds were reported to be in a defiant mood. All our fears had come true! Only a person who had absolutely no touch with the situation on the ground and had no field experience could have believed in the so-called assurances given by the militants that there would be no public demonstration after the government’s surrender.
It was already night by the time I drove to the State Guest House. The staff at the Guest House were in a festive mood, shouting slogans for “azadi” (independence). The ministers left for New Delhi the same night by a special plane. By this time, it appeared as if the entire population of Srinagar had come out on the streets. Celebrations were in full swing, with the sound of crackers resounding throughout the city. Many groups of young men at various points on the roads stopped vehicles, which included government vehicles going to the airport to see off the two ministers. The crowds forced them to make contributions for the ‘celebration’. Some J&K police officers in uniform also contributed and joined in the celebrations.
The militants had taken over the city, there was little doubt about that. They had succeeded in bringing the mighty Indian government to its knees and no one could have stopped them from celebrating their victory.
The released militants did not have much difficulty in disappearing to their hideouts. Some of them later managed to cross over to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The security agencies were absolutely clueless about the whereabouts of the kidnapped girl, and later about the movements of the released militants. It was apparent that militancy in the Valley was well-organised and enjoyed wide popular support. It had spread its tentacles far and wide with active support from Pakistan, some disgruntled politicians in the state, and quite a few government servants.
The details of the Rubaiya Sayeed conspiracy became available in April 1990. The chief conspirators included Yasin Malik, Ashfaq Majid Wani, Gulam Hasan, Javed Ahmed Mir (Nalka), Shaukat Bakshi, Iqbal Gandroo, Salim Mir, Mushtaq Ahmed Lone, and Ali Mohammed Mir, a senior government official of the J&K government. It was Ali Mohammed Mir who had taken Rubaiya to Sopore, where she was kept in the house of another government officer, Javed Iqbal Mir, for the first three days. Later she was shifted to the house of Mohammed Yaqoob, also at Sopore. The conspiracy was hatched at the house of Mushtaq Ahmed Lone. The mini bus, in which she was travelling, was hijacked by Gulam Hasan, Mushtaq Lone, Iqbal Gandroo, Mirajuddin Mustafa, and Salim alias “Nanaji”. All of them belonged to JKLF. JKLF was the first to take to terrorism in J&K with the support of some political leaders. Though these leaders outwardly supported accession to the Indian Union, and kept emphasizing their nationalist leanings, they had little hesitation in keeping one foot in the militants’ camp.
A Deteriorating Situation
The situation in the Valley started deteriorating rapidly after this kidnapping. The video-recording of some of the anti-India demonstrations by Newstrack was telecast on Doordarshan. The militants succeeded in bringing the Kashmir issue back on the centre-stage of national and international agenda. The situation in Kashmir became the most important problem for the Home Minister. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah for once was assured of full support of the Central government.
JN Saxena, a Joint Director in the Intelligence Bureau, was selected as the Director General of J&K Police to replace Gulam Jalani Pandit. His selection came as a surprise. The post of Director General J&K Police was the most demanding job at that time, even more than that of the Director General of Punjab Police, and yet they selected an officer who was out of touch with police work in the field for the last twenty years. A rank outsider, he was distrusted by the J&K police officers as well as by the officers of the paramilitary forces. It is not surprising that he was completely at sea in the first few months of assuming his charge in December 1989. An effective police leadership at that time could have perhaps put the demoralized J&K police back on its feet.
Dr Farooq Abdullah
No one knew better than Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah that the situation was getting out of control. He told me so when I called on him as Special Secretary, in the Ministry of Home Affairs under the direction of the Home Minister. I met him at the J&K House in New Delhi. He clearly told me that unless the situation in the Valley was controlled by April, it would not be possible to reverse it for a long time. He wanted substantial Central help and very soon. The subsequent events proved him right.
The law and order situation was assuming alarming proportions. On 20 December 1989, the Union Bank of India Branch in the well-guarded area of Residency Road was looted. On 21 December, a security guard of Allahabad Bank was shot dead. A number of persons were injured in the bomb blasts in Srinagar in the third week of December. On 24 December the militants killed two policemen and seriously injured another seven. On 25 December a constable of J&K police was shot dead at Khaniyar.
The militants’ activities which were so far concentrated in Srinagar, now started spreading to Anantnag and other places in the Valley. On 20 December they shot dead a Sub-Inspector and critically wounded a Deputy Superintendent of Police of J&K police. An ex-serviceman was also shot dead at Kupwara on 20 December.
(These passages were excerpted from Marwah’s book Uncivil Wars: Pathology of Terrorism In India that HarperCollins Published in 1995)