Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front
|Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front|
Flag of Kashmir Independence
The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) is a Kashmiri nationalist organization founded by Amanullah Khan and Maqbool Bhat. Originally a militant wing of the Plebiscite Front, it changed its name to JKLF in Birmingham, England on May 29, 1977. From then until 1994 it was an active terrorist organization. It first established branches in several cities and towns of the UK, and other countries of Europe, United States and Middle East. In 1982, it established a branch in Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir; in 1987, a branch in Indian-administered Kashmir Valley.
After 1994, the JKLF in Kashmir Valley, under the leadership of Yasin Malik, declared an 'indefinite ceasefire' and reportedly disbanded its military wing. It committed itself to a political struggle for achieving its objective of independence for the entire region of the former princely state. The JKLF branch in Azad Kashmir did not agree with this change of direction and split off from the JKLF (Valley).
Even though the JKLF has only Muslim members, it is notionally secular. It continues to assert that a secular, independent Kashmir free of both India and Pakistan, is its eventual goal. Despite having received weapons and training from Pakistani military, it regards Pakistan as an 'occupation power' and carries out political struggle against it in Azad Kashmir.
JKLF was founded by Amanullah Khan in Birmingham in June 1976. Maqbool Bhat is often credited for being its co-founder. Khan was born in Gilgit, studied in Srinagar and emigrated to Pakistan in 1952. Bhat was born in Kupwara and also emigrated to Pakistan after studying in Srinagar. The duo had earlier formed Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (NLF) in the late 1960s, along with Hashim Qureshi. The group carried out the hijacking of Ganga, an Indian Airlines plane flying from Srinagar to Jammu, in January 1971, and diverted it to Lahore. The Pakistan government returned all the passengers and crew to India, and subsequently tried the hijackers and several members of NLF on charges of being Indian agents. Khan was imprisoned in a Gilgit prison during 1970–72, released after protests broke out. Bhat was released in 1974, and he crossed over into the Indian-administered Kashmir where he was arrested in a bank robbery.
Amanullah Khan moved to England, where he received the enthusiastic support of the British Mirpuri community. The UK chapter of the Plebiscite Front was converted into the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in May 1977 and formed an armed wing called the 'National Liberation Army'. Amanullah Khan took charge as the General Secretary of JKLF the following February. With the active support of the British Mirpuris, the group expanded rapidly, setting up branches in Pakistan, Denmark, Holland, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the United States. It organised well-attended conventions in Birmingham (1981) and Luton (1982).
In 1979, the JKLF planned to disrupt the international cricket match being played in Srinagar. The visiting Australian team was guarded with high security and no untoward incidents occurred. Praveen Swami states that the JKLF made plans to bomb the March 1983 conference of non-aligned meeting in New Delhi and to hijack an airliner from New Delhi, both of which were aborted. After the arrival of Hashim Qureshi in the UK in January 1984, another hijacking was planned.
However, on 3 February 1984, members of the National Liberation Army kidnapped the Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in Birmingham and demanded the release of Maqbool Bhat as ransom. Amanullah Khan was named as the interlocuter. Unfortunately, the kidnappers panicked at the possibility of a police raid and, allegedly upon Amanullah Khan's instructions, shot the diplomat. India executed Maqbool Bhat six days later, turning him into a martyr and giving JKLF the visibility it lacked earlier. A British court convicted two members of the JKLF for the killing of Mhatre. Hashim Quresi and Amanullah Khan were expelled from the UK.
Amanullah Khan and Hashim Qureshi returned to Pakistan in 1984, establishing the JKLF headquarters at Muzaffarabad. Pakistan under Zia ul-Haq, which was already supporting Khalistani militants in Punjab, was ready to support insurgency in Kashmir, and Khan was ready to work with the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Hashim Qureshi, on the other hand, refused and went into exile in Holland. JKLF started political planning and continued till the end of 1987.
Following the rigged State election in Jammu and Kashmir in 1987, the disaffected youth of the Kashmir Valley started crossing the Line of Control to Azad Kashmir to obtain arms and training. Khan's JKLF was their natural destination. Staniland states that the JKLF was "reborn" in the Indian-controlled Kashmir in this period. It was led by young activists from Srinagar and its environs, who crossed into Azad Kashmir for arms and training and returned to Srinagar. Yasin Malik, along with Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Wani and Javed Ahmad Mir, formed the core group — dubbed the "HAJY" group — of the JKLF militants in the Kashmir Valley. The enormity of popular support received for their call for independence surprised them. Within two years, the JKLF in the Valley emerged as the "vanguard and spearhead of a popular uprising" against the Indian state.
JKLF waged a guerilla war with the Indian security forces, kidnapping of Rubiya Sayeed, the daughter of Indian Home Minister, and targeting attacks on the government and security officials. In March 1990, Ashfaq Wani was killed in a battle with Indian security forces. In August 1990, Yasin Malik was captured in a wounded condition. He was imprisoned until May 1994. Hamid Sheikh was also captured in 1992 but released by the Border Security Force to counteract the pro-Pakistan guerillas. By 1992, the majority of the JKLF militants were killed or captured.
A pro-independence JKLF was not in Pakistan's interest. Pakistan accepted the collaboration with JKLF only as a "necessary compromise," because of the recognition that Islamist groups had very little currency in the Kashmir Valley. However, cadres of Islamist groups were also trained in JKLF training camps in Azad Kashmir. This quickly led to a dilution of the JKLF's nationalist ideology. Independence and Islam became interchangeable slogans. The Islamist attacks on Kashmiri Pandits, liberal women, liquor shops and beauty parlours were never condemned by the JKLF. According to Hasim Qureshi such outrages were "official Pakistan policy" and the policy was endorsed by the Islamic Right as well as Amanullah Khan's JKLF. "The ISI ran this movement on communal lines right from the beginning," says Qureshi, "and for that Amanullah and his underlings became its agents."
Transition to peaceful struggle
By 1992, the majority of the JKLF militants were killed or captured and they were yielding ground to pro-Pakistan guerilla groups such as the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, strongly promoted by the Pakistani military authorities. Further encroachment by pan-Islamist fighters infiltrating into the Valley from Pakistan changed the colour of the insurgency. Pakistan ceased its financial support to the JKLF because of its pro-independence ideology.
After release from prison on bail in May 1994, Yasin Malik declared an indefinite ceasefire of the JKLF. However, according to him, JKLF still lost a hundred activists to Indian operations. Independent journalists mentioned three hundred activists were killed. They were said to have been compromised by Hizb-ul-Mujahideen members, who informed their whereabouts to the security forces.
Malik's call for peaceful struggle was unacceptable to Amanullah Khan, who removed him as the president of JKLF. In return, Malik expelled Khan from the chairmanship. Thus JKLF had split into two factions. The Pakistan government recognised Yasin Malik as the leader of JKLF, which further complicated the situation.
Ellis and Khan state that, during the Azad Kashmir elections in 1996, JKLF commanded more support than all the traditional parties, even though it was not allowed to contest elections due to its pro-Independence stance.
Splits and reunification
The JKLF split into two factions after the group based in Indian-administered Kashmir led by Yasin Malik publicly renounced violence in 1995. Their counterparts in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, led by Amanullah Khan refused to do so, thereby precipitating a split in the party.
Since 1995, Yasin Malik has renounced violence and calls for strictly peaceful methods to come to a settlement on the Kashmir issue.  Yasin Malik also considers the Hindu Kashmiris, about 400,000 Hindus who were driven out of Kashmir after violent attacks by the separatists presently staying in refugee camps in Jammu and other Indian cities, to be an integral part of Kashmiri society and has insisted on their right of return.
Yasin Malik said,
"We want our Kashmiri Pandit mothers, sisters and brothers to come back. It is their land. They have every right to live in it as we do. This is the time that Kashmiri Muslims must play a constructive role so that we can restore the culture for which we are famous all over the world."
In 2002, in an interview to Reuters, Amanullah Khan blamed Pakistani backed non-Kashmiri Muslim militants for having harmed his cause.
"I've been saying for the last two to three years that (non-Kashmiri militants) are changing the Kashmir freedom struggle into terrorism."
After the December 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, Amanullah's name figured in the list of 20 wanted terrorists India provided to Pakistan to be extradited for various terrorist offences. In January 2002, Amanullah Khan offered to surrender to Indian authorities provided an "international court issued a verdict against him".
In 2005, India allowed Yasin Malik to visit Pakistan for the first time. The two leaders, Malik and Khan seized the opportunity to meet each other in Pakistan. In June 2005, a decade after the split, Malik and Khan agreed to reunite the JKLF. The unification of JKLF was started by Farooq Siddiqi (Farooq Papa) while Yasin Malik visited the US but did not mature as conditions by both sides were not accepted.
However, in December 2005, most of the senior members of the JKLF separated from Yasin Malik and formed a new JKLF with Farooq Siddiqi (Farooq Papa) as its Chairman along with Javed Mir, Salim Nannaji and Iqbal Gundroo later joined by the longest (16 years) imprisoned Kashmiri former militant Bitta Karate. Lately Tahir Mir former chief of Students Liberation Front too parted ways with Malik and joined JKLF headed by Farooq Siddiqi (Farooq Papa). Kashmir watchers think that Yasin Malik's shifting policy of seeking an internal solution with India after its alleged secret meeting with the Prime Minister of India led to the secession of its senior leaders. Farooq Papa is considered to be a hard liner ideologically. Farooq Siddiqi (Farooq Papa) supports the involvement of the European Union in resolving the dispute, and has called on EU officials to follow up the visit of an ad hoc European parliament delegation to Kashmir in 2004.
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