Chasing A Mirage

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A group of Baramulla youth crossed over to Pakistan in 1990 to receive arms training. One of them was Tariq. After 22 years, Tariq returned home for which he had to pay a cost! To finance his return, he had to ‘sell’ his daughter. SAMEER YASIR narrates a tragic story of betrayal and disillusionment.

A squad of Former Militants from Baramulla-Photo:Sameer Yasir

A squad of Former Militants from Baramulla-Photo:Sameer Yasir

On Sept 12, a large convoy of Army vehicles was passing on the national highway in north Kashmir’s Baramulla town. The light emerging from the bright, fluorescent headlights of the vehicles illuminated the dispersed structures and the tall mountains lying in the town’s background, creating a spectacle of momentary trance.

I was crossing the newly built concrete bridge over Jehlum river in Banglow Bagh area when I spotted Tariq Ahmad, a tall, lean man waiting under a streetlamp at the far end of the bridge. He had promised to meet me but on a condition that his name be not disclosed. As I went up to him and we shook hands, the seething rage of the gushing waters in the river hung eerily in the darkness of the town.

Tariq led me to his modest, double storied house through the narrow, twisted lanes of the old town in Baramulla. As we reached his house and we sat down in a room, his wife, a Pakistani national, brought us bread and traditional Kashmiri salt tea which we took without exchanging a word. It was getting dark and I was feeling restless. Tariq felt it too and began narrating his ordeal.

On the evening of July 14, 1990, Tariq, then an 18-year-old boy was impatiently waiting at his house for the darkness to set in. His eyes were motionlessly fixed on the wooden gate of his house for his friend to arrive. Tariq was one of the hundreds of motivated Kashmiri youth who crossed over in groups to Pakistan in early 90’s to receive arms training to fight Indian rule in Kashmir.

As it became darker and the town fell silent, there was a knock on the door. Tariq got up and let the visitor inside his house; a tall man carrying a plastic bag. As he got up and prepared to leave, he sought blessings of his mother. “There were tears in her eyes but she didn’t say much. She stood up and kissed me on my forehead and said ‘Gaes Khudaies Hawale (God be with you),” Tariq recalls. “I wrapped myself in a blanket and packed the bags. A Maruti car with four masked people was waiting outside the house. We left for Uri where we were joined by another five in Limber village of Uri’s Boniyar area. We stayed for a night at the house of a Gujjar tribesman,” he says.

Tariq’s group was financed by a militant outfit, Muslim Janbaz Force, one of the many violent separatist outfits which came into existence during the armed uprising that broke out in early 90’s in Kashmir. The popularity of MJF was rising in north Kashmir and it was, in fact, the only militant outfit operating in north Kashmir. A Gujjar tribesman, Abdul Raheem of Limbar village, who had led many Kashmiri youth into Pakistan undetected, was hired as a guide.

“As the clock struck 6 pm, we started our journey through dense forests, climbing sloppy tracks and daring tough terrains. First we reached Lachipora and then Manya village where we stayed for some time. The weather was harsh. Our fingers were numb with cold, even though it was July,” he says.

The narrow tracks leading to the line of control are dangerous. “I had never walked on such tracks before. I tripped many times but the others helped me. I felt sick and frightened. As it got pitch dark, we walked in the dead of night. The next morning, we found ourselves inside Chiney village in Pakistan,” he says

When they finally reached Muzaffarabad in Pakistan, Tariq bowed down and kissed the earth. “The atmosphere was euphoric. I couldn’t control myself. My eyes were filled with tears. I thought this was the holy place which would get us independence from the tyrannical Indian rule,” he says.

The group was escorted by two Pakistanis to a checkpost where they were led inside a camp. “Our eyes were blindfolded and we were bundled inside a vehicle. When we removed the masks, we found ourselves in a truck covered with polyester sheets. After travelling some distance, we were suffocating since the sheets had covered the truck on all sides. The driver gave us a razor and we made small holes in the sheets to let in fresh air. After some days of travel, we reached the Jungle Mangle Training camp,” he says.

“It was stunning. There was something familiar about it. There were around 300 youth and all of them were from Kashmir. The sloganeering, the arms training, the speeches; the atmosphere was electrifying. The food in the camp was good. We were given chickens on every alternative day,” Tariq recalls

It was 1990 and the funds sent for the Afghan war by Saudi millionaires and American CIA were diverted to sustain the training camps to prepare Kashmiri youth for waging Jihad against the Indian forces in Kashmir. “I thought Azadi would come once we all go back.” Tariq says, lowering his head. “But we were na?ve. Merely going through training for six months doesn’t mean you can fight a monster.”

Arms Training in Waziristan(Former Militants)

Arms Training in Waziristan(Former Militants)

As the days passed, Tariq learnt how to operate a pistol, a gun, an LMG and even a rocket-propelled launcher. After six months and 13 days, the group was told by a lawyer from Baramulla, a commander of MJF at that time, to prepare for their return. They were given weapons and some cash and it took 12 days for Tariq to return to Kashmir through Kupwara. Tariq was ecstatic. He had been waiting for this moment. “I started thinking about how and when I would go to see my mother. I had waited impatiently for that day,” he recalls.

As violence had engulfed valley and it was difficult to tell who was who in Kashmir, Tariq started selling vegetables in the main market of Baramulla in the day and worked for his group in the night. “I couldn’t mix with the organization. Apart from Jagtai rahoo (stay awake) cries, we did nothing else.” In August 1991, Tariq’s group struck an army convoy in Baramulla, “No one was injured or killed but it was the first time the army was attacked in the main town,” he says.

But Tariq’s disillusionment with the separatist guerillas kept growing with time. Other than roaming the streets with their fashionable machine guns slung across their shoulders, Tariq and his other comrades didn’t do much. “We were restless but insane. We didn’t know what to do. We were directionless. A fatigue took over me. After hiding in different places and coming home once in 15 days for a year, I started believing that the movement was going nowhere and decided to go back to Pakistan in 1992,” he says.

Once there, Tariq was sent to Afghanistan to undergo ‘advance’ training. He spent many months in a training camp and later told his commander that he didn’t want to stay for long and that he had decided to go to Lahore. “They became suspicious and thought that I might have been co-opted by the Indian intelligence agencies while I was in Kashmir. I interrogated for 10 days and when they realized that I was not hiding anything, they let me go,” he says.

Tariq left to Lahore where he stayed with some Kashmiri militants who had crossed to Pakistan but never returned back. “They were working as laborers in different areas of Lahore and lived a miserable life in abject poverty. I was fed up with the whole atmosphere. A Pakistani retired military officer, who used to train Kashmir militants, had a firm control over the discourse dominating the minds of the militants and the hardening ideological divides among the militant groups,” he says.

In early 1994, he met a young fighter, who had fought in Afghanistan against Russians and the two became good friends. Kamal Din Khan was a tall, well built in his early forties sporting a black beard. He had left war and started his life in Lahore. Originally from Swat valley, Kamal was living with his five sisters in Lahore where he worked with a construction company.

One day, Khan asked Tariq whether he would marry one of his sisters. A shy Tariq nodded, without saying a word. “The marriage was performed according to Islamic rituals in a mosque at Lahore and I got married to his elder sister, Huma,” he says. Years passed and Tariq gradually got accustomed to the life in Lahore but he was worried about his mother. “The last time I talked to her was when I called on a neighbor’s landline phone. We both cried but she was fine. I had found a way for her to stay well by asking my nephew to live with her.”

Back in Lahore, Khan was now trying to live a normal life with his wife. The couple had three daughters but their financial state was stagnant. He was working at different places but he barely managed to make the ends meet. One day, when he leaving for his small workshop, his brother-in-law met an accident and died. The tragedy shifted the responsibility of raising his two sister-in-laws on his shoulders which further drained his finances but he somehow managed. “When I got them married, I felt like I had married my own daughters,” he says.

In 2008, when he was purchasing vegetables in a market, Tariq heard a young man shouting at him. He was frightened. The man looked familiar but Tariq couldn’t recognize him. Suddenly, a realization struck him. It was Asif, a childhood friend and his neighbor. They hugged each other and talked for hours on a tea stall. Asif had a bad news for Tariq. His mother had died some days ago.

The news shattered Tariq and he started crying like a woman. “For days without end, I didn’t go to work. My teenaged daughters asked me many times to go back to Kashmir but there was no way out. I knew the forces in Kashmir would arrest me. So I didn’t want to come back,” he says.

Recently, Tariq heard about the policy of Jammu and Kashmir government to rehabilitate the Kashmiri youth who

Former Kashmiri Militants

Former Kashmiri Militants

crossed over to Pakistan in early 90’s to receive arms training, and had not returned He was ecstatic. The policy approved by the central home ministry was announced by J&K’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in February this year. However, the much-trumpeted policy found no takers with the government revealing on Wednesday that no youth has returned through the routes announced in the policy.

The disclosure was made in the legislative assembly by the state home minister Nasir Aslam Wani, “Out of 1082 prospective returnees, on whose behalf applications forms have been received, 66 persons (some of them along with their families) have returned illegally via Nepal and other routes,” Wani said. The move was welcomed by many in Kashmir as hundreds of former militants who had stayed in Pakistan wanted desperately to return home.

Tariq was one of them but he needed money to finance the travel of his family which he didn’t have. He told his wife about the policy, “She said how it was possible, given our financial state. My elder daughter, Sumaya, had recently started working at a house of a famous landlord in Lahore. She had left her studies to help us meet the daily expenses,” he says.

The marriage of two sister-in-laws had left him with little money and a failing health started affecting his work. “Sumaya was the smartest among my daughters. She felt I needed support to feed the family. So she had left her studies and started working. After realizing that we wanted to go back to Kashmir, she sought help from her employer,” he recalls.

One evening, Sumaya returned home with news that she had made all the arrangements for her family to return to Kashmir. “Under the agreement she had to work for her employer till the loan was paid off. This is what she told me,” he says. Tariq, his wife and two daughters took a flight to Kathmandu from where they crossed the border into India.

“But I know she lied. She has married that old man. I thought I would go to Lahore and get her back. But I came to know about it when I arrived in Kashmir. I have sold my daughter to return here.”

It was 4 am. The dawn was about to break. I prepared my bed and slept within no time. As I got up in the morning and prepared to leave, Tariq’s family gathered in the room. His eyes were swollen and tears were quietly rolling down his cheeks. The family was silently mourning their losses.

I couldn’t bear the sight and opened the door. Behind me, I could see the pale face of Tariq. His past devoured him. He was away when his mother needed him the most. He ‘sold’ his daughter to be back to his homeland. He lost the prime years of his life chasing a mirage of freeing his homeland from ‘tyranny.’ He will be a haunted man for the rest of his life.

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3 Comments

  1. Wish there was a dislike button. But what is the author ultimately trying to say? It is not clear. Should others now start where Tariq left and avenge his loss of years from India or should Kashmiri’s stop thinking India Pakistan and settle down to life as it was before Afghanistan?

    The end was abrupt and inconclusive. That’s the problem with Kashmir today, people have made peace with status quo.

  2. musavir jaleel on

    Mr Sameer Yasir if u have thre address or phone no. wd like to do a docu on the case n other such cases….. in case they allow…
    Thanks

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