Guerrilla for a different cause

A youth from Khanpora, Baramulla followed the popular footsteps to Pakistan administrated Kashmir (PaK) a quarter century ago, rubbed shoulders with Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and served the media cell of Hizbul Mujahideen for 13 years in PaK. When he returned to valley in late fall of 2003, he became Hizb’s supposedly ‘one man army’ till he was arrested in the spring of 2008. Bilal Handoo profiles the man who shifted his base from a ‘sensational’ guerrilla spokesperson to a social crusader

Junaid-ul-islam-former-spokesperson-Hizbul-Mujahideen
Junaid ul Islam

It was getting dark when a Tata 407 passenger bus left North Kashmir’s Pattan for Baramulla town on April 29, 2014. It was a routine travel for the five onboard passengers. The bus kept moving smoothly and soon passed from Palhalan town. As the clock struck 7 that evening, one passenger got off from the vehicle near Sangrama and did something, unthinkable! He flaunted pistol and opened fire at the very vehicle he had de-boarded. The assailant fled, not before, leaving four passengers critically injured on the spot. One among the injured was the erstwhile, but ‘sensational’ spokesperson of the guerrilla outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, Abdul Khaliq Dar famously known as Junaid ul Islam.

The Jammu and Kashmir police soon dubbed the attack as the handiwork of some “unknown militant”—though, no militant outfit claimed the responsibility of the attack so far. Son of Ghulam Qadir of Khanpora Baramulla, Junaid was soon shifted to Srinagar’s SMHS, where his condition was termed stable.

Three days after, Hizb strongly condemned the attack by saying that such incidents won’t impede Kashmir movement. “And instead, the same would boost it further,” said Salim Hashmi, Hizb spokesperson. “The Kashmir movement would continue till its logical conclusion.”

Just a few days before the attack, Junaid—now a regular Friday sermoniser, anti-drug crusader, pharmacy dealer and seasonal orchardist, told Kashmir Life, “I am active since my birth.” But he had “completely dedicated” himself to fight against social evils than stick to guerrilla activities after his release from prison in 2010.

Many believe his stint as Hizb spokesperson saw the guerrilla outfit ruling over public imaginations in Kashmir. It was the time when Junaid was the only link to Hizb Chief, Syed Salahudin. “During his tenure as the Hizb spokesperson,” said a senior journalist, “he kept all media persons in Kashmir on their toes. It won’t be an exaggeration to claim that Junaid was the one man army for Hizb in Kashmir then. And it was him, who constantly invited the public attention towards the guerrilla outfit.”

But before being a pro-active spokesperson of the guerrilla outfit, Junaid was a boy next door in Khanpora—where he was teaching young boys and girls in a local seminary. He subsequently became the member of  Islami Jamiat-e- Talba—the student wing of Jama’at-e-Islami. Apart from reading and teaching the holy Quran, he was equally inquisitive for political happenings of the world.

It was early eighties and the young Junaid was avidly reading about political upheavals around the world. The Iranian Revolution (1979) was still afresh in public memories. And Soviet Union had sent its troops to fight a war which later proved the last nail in its coffin in Afghanistan. All these happenings were fuelling his imaginations. But it was Afghan Jehad which was making this fast bowler of Khanpora restless.

And then came 1989. The former USSR was standing on its last leg. And in the valley, an upheaval began. The young Junaid saw scores of youth getting desperate for armed struggle. Many had already disappeared in the same quest. He stayed back for a while, but couldn’t linger for long. Finally on March 13, 1990, Junaid left home for Pakistan administrated Kashmir (PaK) for arms training. He said his mother gave him her consent. And soon a group of six youth including Junaid left for arms training. It took them 10 days to cross in to PaK via Chakooti.

Upon reaching PaK on March 23, 1990, he was sent to Afghanistan for guerrilla training. In that war-torn country, Soviet forces were packing their bags. Junaid along with others went to the bastion of Hizb-e-Islami, an insurgent group led by Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. “Hekmatyar was very close to Hizbul Mujahideen through Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the then Ameer Jama’at-e-Islami Pakistan,” Junaid said. “The late Qazi Hussain was ideologically supportive of Hizb-e-Islami. The relation favoured Hizbul Mujahideen,  an ideologue of Jama’at-e-Islami to send Kashmiri youth to Afghanistan for arms training.”

In the rugged terrains of Afghanistan, Junaid was rubbing shoulders with Afghan war veterans like Hekmatyar to pick up the guerrilla skills. He was the part of Afghan guerrillas who were pushing the remaining Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. “While Afghanis were fighting from the frontline, Kashmiri youth receiving training in Afghanistan were part of second command,” he said.

Five months later in August 1990, Junaid returned to PaK. While scores of trained Kashmiri youth were sent back to Kashmir for armed struggle, Junaid was asked to stay back. It was the time when Hizb had opened its media cell in PaK. And the outfit was looking for the qualified persons to run the same. Finally one Hizb commander, Masood, a double MA degree holder was chosen as the spokesperson of the Hizb’s media cell. Junaid along with other young men were also recruited in the media cell. They were tasked to prepare press notes and literature for the outfit, and issue the same to the Pakistani media.

During the same time, a radio station Sadaye Hurriyat-e-Kashmir had started in PaK. Junaid was among the regular participants of the programs broadcasted from it. The program would assemble a curious audience back in Kashmir.

But working for the media cell wasn’t at the back of his mind when he left home for PaK. So, did he ever express his desire to fight on the ground?

“Look in Hizb, individual decisions doesn’t matter,” he replied. “There is an established body called command council or Shoura which takes the final call—like, who has to do what.” The same command council decided to send Junaid back to the valley in 2003 as its spokesperson. The killing of commander Masood had left the spot vacant.

In Oct 2003, Junaid sneaked back to the valley after 13 years through the same route, Chakooti, he had earlier trekked to visit Muzaffarabad. He was received by the then Hizb district commander Kupwara, Majid Gani in North Kashmir’s Rafiabad.

It was Majid Gani who helped him to understand the ground situation in the valley. And for the time being, they kept roaming in the woods of Rafiabad. In November that year, Junaid was fighting his first gun-battle in Kashmir, when Indian Army laid a cordon around them in Rafiabad. He said, Hizb lost one of its guerrillas in the gunfight, but he escaped unhurt.

But apart from frequent confrontations with forces, he said, he faced many challenges in Kashmir. “Kashmir changed a lot in my absence,” he said. “There used to be handful of informers in 1990’s. By the time I returned, they had surged.” This curtailed his outside movement. But that never stopped him to create an impact.

And, with that began what many term, “a golden period for Hizb” in Kashmir. For the moment it appeared: Junaid was the lock, stock and barrel for the guerrilla outfit in Kashmir. Hizb’s media coverage peaked with Junaid its spokesperson. He was seen reacting ferociously to almost every issue pertinent to Kashmir struggle. And this continued for half a decade.

And then on April 1, 2008, the news—”Junaid ul Islam has been arrested”, broke out. Soon scores of newsmen rushed to the press conference where he was to be unveiled, for the first time, in public. “We all were eagerly waiting for him,” a senior scribe said. “It was literally a historic day as we were about to glimpse the man whose single call would send chills down our spine.” The scribe recalled that the moment Junaid was presented before the media, he shook everyone’s hand and exchanged pleasantries with them.

After his arrest, he was incarcerated for two years and spent his sentence in three jails: Cargo, Kot Bhalwal and Central Jail Srinagar. But behind the bars, the insurgent had his resurgence moment.

A post-graduate in Arabic, Junaid kept teaching Arabic Grammar and basics of life to inmates in all the three jails. It was during his confinement in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal Jail—that some timber smugglers from Budgam were imprisoned there. They were addicted to smoking and would puff cigarette butts disposed by cops inside the jail. “They kept doing it till they started vomiting blood,” he said. Moved by their worsening plight, Junaid counselled those inmates against cigarette smoking. And soon his counselling had its fruition. “They quit smoking after that, forever” he claimed. This encouraged him to continue with his campaign inside the jail.

And then in 2010, a ‘different’ Junaid walked out of the prison. He was now gearing himself to become a crusader against the social evils—like drug menace, besides working for the welfare of orphans. With the support of some like-minded persons, he founded a Trust with the help of “public donations”. And, he soon started campaigning against drug menace in North Kashmir’s Handwara, Sopore, Baramulla and Pattan areas. He said, his Trust takes care of those children who lost their fathers in the conflict in Kashmir.

But did Hizb react to his changed self after his release?

Hizb did approach me,” clarified Junaid, who played an important role in publishing the guerrilla outfit’s constitution. “But I told Hizb Chief, Syed Salahudin: ‘I can’t work against the mounting social evils, being an underground worker.’ He did understand.”

Junaid is married to none, but he is already a guardian of countless orphans left behind by the conflict in Kashmir. He lives all alone. His parents have long passed away, while his siblings are living separately. His morning starts by seeing off the orphans at their school. He buys them, candies and cookies. And then, he leaves for his pharmacy job. At evening, he regularly patrols around his area to check the menace of drug addiction. On Fridays, he keeps on spreading awareness about the social evils. But he believes, he is still a guerrilla for a different cause.

“And yes,” he said, “the best guerrilla is one who is ready to fight any battle of life with firm resolve.”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here