“We left on their [SSB] assurance that he would follow us [to Kashmir]”

Contrary to the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s claim that he is a former Al-Barq militant, and the Delhi Police’s assertion that he belonged to the Hizbul Mujahideen, Liaquat Shah’s third wife Akhtar Nissa revealed on Sunday that her husband worked for the Tehreek-e-Jihad-e-Islami (TJI) before giving up militancy and setting up a poultry outlet in Muzaffarabad.

“He remained associated with TJI for several years, but gave up militancy before I married him in Pakistan, two months before the earthquake [of October 2005,” Nissa told The Hindu in an exclusive interview.

“He had set up a poultry shop at Chella Bandi near Muzaffarabad and used to sell chicken to earn his livelihood when I tied my nuptial knot to Liaquat sahab.”

Nissa, along with her 20-year-old speech and hearing-impaired daughter Jabeena, came here from Jammu on Saturday morning and surrendered before the Station House Officer at the Kralpora police station.. She was let off, and was told to stay at her brother’s home in Kralpora, after the police recorded her statement.Accompanied by two women, Fatima Bibi and Qasim Jan, she travelled to Pakistan for the first time in 2001 on an Indian passport and settled in Muzaffarabad. Some militant organisations and NGOs helped get her daughteradmitted in a school there. Her grandmother was from that area of the PoK, though an uncle, Ghulam Nabi, still lives in the Jhelum township of the Pakistani Punjab.

Since then she has gone to Pakistan three times, each time on an Indian passport and via Wagah. “In 2007, I got my daughter, kept her with my mother at Kralpora and went back alone. But after nine months, I returned to Kupwara and took my daughter back to Muzaffarabad. I lost my Indian passport but the visas are still preserved.”

Liaquat’s first wife Amina Begum still lives in his Dadrpora home in Kupwara with their two sons, Shabir and Saddam, who are now 22 and 16 years old respectively. According to the residents, as well as the police, Liaquat became a militant in 1995, came back from PoK a year later and was engaged in militant activities for about a year before going back in 1997. After that he never came back.

Liaquat’s second wife was a Pakistani woman named Naseema, who was a divorcee and had a daughter from her first husband.

“We have very good relations. Amina applied for Liaquat sahab’s return under the government policy in 2011. She was in touch with us over telephone. We also insisted Naseema to accompany us and settle with our husband in Kupwara. She insisted to stay back and said that her brother and others would not agree. She bore Liaquat sahab a son. He too stayed with his mother”, Nissa said.

Over Amina Begum’s insistence, Liaquat left Muzaffarabad along with Nissa and Jabeena on March 16. They travelled to Islamabad by road. On March 17, they reached Karachi in a PIA flight.

Claiming to be travelling on “fake Pakistani passports,” the family boarded a Karachi-Kathmandu flight and reached Pak Bazar, near Kathmandu, early on March 18. The next day they reached a border town late in the night and presented themselves before the SSB and other authorities the next day.

“Since we had already destroyed our fake Pakistani passports, we claimed to be Kashmiri visitors to Nepal. After rounds of questioning, they opened our suitcases and seized three of our mobile phone sets along with four Pakistani SIM cards. Thereafter, they separated Liaquat from us and arranged our boarding and lodging at a hotel near Gorakhpur. They arranged our tickets and asked us to travel to Jammu by a train. We shouted a lot and demanded Liaquat’s release. We left on their assurance that Liaquat would follow us [to Kashmir] .”

Nissa and Jabeena reached Jammu by a train on March 22 and soon caught a Kupwara-bound Tata Sumo that dropped them at Kralpora.

She claimed that her husband’s friend and former militant associate, Mohammad Ashraf Mir of Chitti Bandi, Bandipore, and his wife and five children also came along with them. They were questioned at the Indo-Nepal border post, but were not detained. They too reached Srinagar on March 23 and surrendered before CIK authorities.

According to police records, Amina Begum submitted an application on behalf her husband Liaquat on February 5, 2011. “Forms of the Liaquat family, along with 322 others, were submitted to CID headquarters vide letter No; P&V/12/2011/924-25 dated 24-05-2011”, SSP Kupwara Mohammad Irshad said. He admitted that though arrangements for their return through Kathmandu and Gorakhpur were not provided in the surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy of 23-11-2010, the police was waiting for Liaquat’s arrival when the news of his arrest by Delhi Police broke in New Delhi.