Behind the Tiger

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He donned a fake pistol and gave a blow to liquor trade and cinemas in Kashmir, a jolt from which these never recovered. He is also the lone eye witness in Soura triple murder case. Meet Peer Noorul Haq aka Air Marshal Noor Khan.

Haroon Mirani

In 1991 when Air Marshal Noor Khan heard about a consignment of liquor being brought to Hotel Broadway, he raided the bar, smashing every bottle that he could lay his hands on. The terrified guards and employees looked on helplessly. In a desperate attempt the management called the police. But they took a lot of time to cross the few hundred meters from their station.

The legendary aura around so called Air Marshall, it was believed, made the police avoid confronting him. Khan single-handedly destroyed two major industries of Kashmir – alcohol and cinema. He considered both these un-Islamic and took to himself to wipe out this “blot”.

Twenty years later, both these industries are stigmatised and unable to recover fully, despite government push.

Among the young generation hardly anybody knows, as to what pre-1989 Kashmir looked like. Tourism was booming and the society was westernising at a fast pace. Many legal and illegal liquor shops in Kashmir did brisk business. Cinemas would mostly be housefull. Beauty parlours and bars made good money.

Young Peer Noorul Haq of Islamabad had come to Srinagar to study at Hanfia Arabic College Noorbagh a couple of years before start of armed militancy. Having been brought up in a religious rural family, Noorul Haq experienced a cultural shock in the midst of cinemas, alcohol and “waywardness”. He could either have gone with the tide or took up the challenge to oppose – he chose the latter.

Before the armed militancy overwhelmed Kashmir, he would preach against these “evils” wherever he got an opportunity – in mosques, at social gatherings etc. The preaching did not produce any results leaving Noorul Haq heartbroken. The government backed and promoted these businesses, which for it were revenue earners and employment generators.

However, with the onset of armed militancy in Kashmir, their official backing began to crumble.

Militancy transformed almost every aspect of the society and Haq too was not immune to it. Peer Noorul Haq soon became Air Marshal Noor Khan, commander in chief of Allah Tigers. Utilising the opportunity provided by the popular insurgency to its maximum the rechristened Khan’s ire fell on cinemas, liquor shops and beauty parlours.

Khan gave the owners of these businesses a month to shut shops. A few days into the ultimatum a restless Khan, defying the deadline he himself had set, asked them to stop these businesses at once. It was during this time that he attained fame by raiding liquor shops and getting away with truckloads of liquor. In one such raid he looted seven truckloads of liquor from a wine shop at exchange road. All of that was destroyed at Nawakadal Chowk in the presence of a large, delighted crowd. No wine shop escaped his wrath leading to the demise of this flourishing trade.

Cinemas were the next target. Unwilling to forego their lucrative business, Khan says, the cinema owners called him and asked him to be their “regulating authority” by previewing the movies before screening.

 “I told them, do you want me to first have a look at all those immoral and anti-Islamic footages,” recalls Khan. All the cinemas in the valley were shut down.

Beauty parlours made a quiet retreat. Sensing the situation with much powerful cinemas and wine lobby, beauty parlours closed their shops without much resistance.
Khan got widespread support for his activities as most people in Kashmir saw liquor and cinemas as vices. “It was one of the reasons that I didn’t face any ugly situation while raiding the wine shops,” said Khan. “In some shops the employees themselves helped me.”
Interestingly, Khan carried out these activities with just a single pistol, which later turned out to be fake. “I had just one toy pistol and my commitment to finish off the sins, which Alhamdulillah worked fine,” said Khan.

He used propaganda to the maximum effect. In an interview with news magazine, India Today, Khan claimed that ‘they’ get training in Afghanistan and that Afghan Mujahideen commander Gulbadin Hikmatiyar sent them the weapons. “It was part of the psychological warfare to give more weight to whatever we were doing,” says Khan. “And mostly it worked.”

Khan was also instrumental in getting the illegal flesh trade centres closed. “The immorality at that time was very high and I couldn’t bear with it,” said Khan.

In 1990 Khan was a big name and, he says, he along with Yasin Malik and Hamid Sheikh were called by New Delhi for talks. “We had talks with them wherein IB director, Ashok Patel (ADG BSF), and Saxena (DGP), and other officials were present,” said Khan. “It was a real lesson for us as to what India wants and how disinterested it is in solving Kashmir issue.”

Khan said that in the ensuing crisis in Kashmir, India was ready to restore pre-1953 position to Kashmir, “but we didn’t relent.” “Our first proposition was that we should have our own currency and foreign policy and Indian army would be deployed on borders to be ultimately removed at later stage,” said Khan. “To this they said, ‘will we guard you and you will rule Kashmir, no way’.”

Khan adds that then they toned down their demands. “We said, fine, let us have it fifty fifty in foreign policy and currency, but New Delhi again refused to budge. Ultimately we agreed to forego the conditions but the response was shocking,” said Khan. “New Delhi told us that it needs policy change and they need to ask the politicians. We were enraged and told them, ‘why the hell have you then called us. Go and talk to whoever you wish to we are leaving’.”

During the Delhi trip the authorities also tried to lure Khan into honey trap. “They even tried to get me to GB road (the biggest prostitution centre in north India),” said Khan.

As everything comes at a cost, Khan too had his share of sufferings. He was arrested, tortured, threatened and abused.

He was arrested in September 1990, for the first time. Khan says he was held in a dark cell for weeks, where he could not tell the day from night. He was taken from one interrogation centre to another. Khan claims, that from Jupiter 2 to Papa 2 he has been hosted by all the infamous interrogation centres. “During the freezing winter of 1990 when the Dal froze, I was put in a room with cold, cemented floor in airport camp,” said Khan.

Khan contracted TB during detention. “I couldn’t move freely in the dark cell littered with human waste,” he says. After an eight-day hunger strike the authorities shifted him to SKIMS, Soura. He was released after two years only to be arrested again in 1993. The torture and sufferings continued.

His father passed away during his second detention. Khan got the news eight days after the death. “I could just weep,” said Khan whose mother had died in eighties.

Khan has also been subjected to number of attacks. “In 1996 an infamous renegade Ramba Kaachur was deputed by CO Army Ahmednagar camp to kill me. They came in the night when I was with my children,” said Khan. “They flinched after seeing my family particularly the children and then they fled by communicating to the CO that Khan is not here.”

After this incident Khan went into hiding for six months.

Another bid on Khan’s life, he says, was made on May 7, 2006, while going to Gulmarg on a motorcycle along with his son. A Sumo vehicle, in which armymen were travelling , hit them near Gulmarg. “The vehicle hit me from the front and I fell unconscious,” said Khan. “I opened my eyes in a hospital after 11 days.”

Khan survived after a prolonged treatment. His son was also injured in the incident. “I couldn’t have suspected the army for doing it deliberately but just after the incident the CRPF troopers of Ellahibagh camp adjacent to my home visited my house to tell them that I was alright,” said Khan. “How did they know about it. They had never visited my home before.”

His family too had to suffer. His house has also been raided number of times. His son was allegedly sodomised, the case of which is still going on in High Court.

It was during one of the hearings of this case that life of Khan had another turn.

On June 19, 1999 he was arrested while coming out of the High Court after a hearing of his son’s sodomy case. This time it was Rashid Billa SDPO Special Operations Group of police who arrested him and took him to police station Soura.

There he was subjected to torture. “Petrol, chili, hanging upside down, roller, blow torch and anything they could lay their hands on, was used on me,” said Khan while showing the torture marks still visible on his legs.

Khan recalls he was semi conscious and thrown into a room. Meanwhile Rashid Billa arrested three persons. Two were detained in the same room as that of Khan and one more was tortured in another room. “He was brutally tortured as I heard his shrieks and cries,” said Khan. “During this torture his head was banged into the wall and he died as there were no shrieks.”

Seeing Khan’s condition, the other two tried to help him and gave him water. As the night passed and Khan woke up he saw nobody was there. The two were also missing.
Khan was released after some days and he filed a case against the police. In the meantime he came to know about a murder case that had rattled Kashmir. The infamous triple murder case by Rashid Billa was being protested.

As Khan recollected the events he came to know that the three were the same persons who were detained with him at the Soura Police Station.

He informed an officer of crime department at the court. Later when the case got highlighted and government was forced to act, Khan became the valuable eye witness.  It was due to his written statement that 14 culprits of SOG were arrested. But the main accused Rashid Billa never appeared before the court.

Being a witness to the high profile murder case had also its share of sufferings for Khan. He was arrested in 2005 by SOG at Lal Chowk Islamabad. “They again tortured me. It was when SSP Ashiq Bukhari asked me, ‘why I had given statement against SOG?’I came to know the arrest was an act of vengeance for my statement in the triple murder case.”

Khan feels that being on the watch list of Amnesty International for being valuable lone witness in a gross human rights violations case saved his skin. “They had surely planned to kill me but Amnesty (International) had already put pressure on Indian government by sending letters to all the ministers, other leaders and ambassadors urging them to protect me,” said Khan. “Finally, I was shifted to Soura police station where from they took me to SKIMS and then handed me over to my family.”

Khan has done Molvi Fazil degree. A well-read person, Khan frequently quotes from Quran, Hadith and other books throwing Persian and Urdu couplets in between. He vends stamps for a living.

Khan has turned a pessimist over the years. “Even if I got down those cinemas, wine shops and beauty parlours, today such things are in every house,” says Khan. “It is people who need to change from inside.”

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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