Last year, Peer Habib Shah, a highly respected spiritual leader from the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, returned home with lakhs of rupees as 'nazrana' (gift) given by his followers in Poonch. But this year, he was not so lucky; he was forced to leave behind his young son, who landed in jail for alleged nexus with militants.

The caretaker of the Panag Sharief shrine in Kotli on the other side of the Line of Control, the Peer has a tremendous following in Poonch district. He routinely visits Poonch, coming normally through Wagah on a proper visa. This year too, he came along with his wife and son Peer Munawar Shah alias Babu (35). But the visit this time proved distasteful for the whole family. His father's shrine is located at Chagla in Mendhar tehsil here.

Munawar Shah married a woman, whose Pakistani militant husband is in jail. He was taken into custody on December 1, during a routine police search of the belongings of passengers crossing the Line of Control. Security men at Chakan da Bagh detected a satellite phone in a suitcase carried by one Tufail Hussain from Islamgarh Mirpur. He was arrested and interrogated, but he feigned ignorance about the phone.

According to Poonch SSP Manmohan Singh, the suitcase was given to him by Akram Shah, an ISI operative, for being handed over to Munawar Shah. "He told us that he was not aware of the phone as it was tucked inside the flap," Mr. Singh told The Hindu.

Akram Shah, according to the interrogation report, told him that Munawar Shah would meet him at the Poonch bus Sstand. "And this was corroborated, as Munawar Shah was travelling to the destination when the passengers were disembarking," Mr. Singh said. However, he got an inkling of what was happening and changed his route. But, Mr. Singh said, Tufail Hussain was just a courier, and prima facie it was established that he did not know that the phone was in the suitcase.

Akram Shah is a clerk in the SDM office at Kotli, but is in close association with Amjad Hussain, a Subedar Major of the Inter-Services Intelligence. Interestingly, Akram Shah visited Poonch last year through this LoC point and stayed here for a month. The police and Intelligence agencies are now trying find out who sponsored his trip and whom he met in Poonch. Most probably, officials say, he set up a network and wanted to further it through the influential Munawar Shah.

Munawar Shah came along with his father from Wagah on August 6, and their visa was extended thrice. It was to expire on December 17, but given the turmoil his son's involvement created, Peer Habib Shah was forced to leave with his wife.

Last year, he took Rs.55 lakh with him, but this year he left sobbing. He was seen off by hundreds of his followers.

Soon after Munawar Shah's arrest, protests erupted in Poonch. All mainstream political parties joined the agitation, as the arrest was seen as a setback to peace initiatives. But Mr. Singh believes he had some strong connection here, so the satellite phone with two SIM cards was meant for him.


What makes the story more suspicious is that he "quietly" married Sobia of Surankot. She was earlier married to Mukhtar, a Pakistani militant who is in the Kot Bhalwal jail. Mukhtar was arrested, along with Sobia's mother Shamima, who was later released. The Nikah was facilitated by a local contractor. A 'Mehr' of Rs.1,000 was fixed.

Munawar Shah was kept in the joint interrogation centre for two weeks and questioned by the police, the Intelligence Bureau and other agencies.


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