The absence of a comprehensive rehabilitation policy for surrendered militants has made life hellish for those who decided to give themselves up and join the mainstream
Jammu & Kashmir’s first “Surrender Policy” was floated by Governor Gen. (retd.) K.V. Krishna Rao’s administration in 1995. It was almost identical to the policies introduced for militants involved in the North East and Naxalite insurgencies: Rs.1.5 lakh worth of fixed deposit receipts payable after three years, a monthly stipend of Rs.2,000 for three years, Rs.15,000 for surrendering an AK-47 rifle and Rs.3,000 for a pistol or revolver. It held little promise about rehabilitation.
On January 31, 2004, the Mufti Sayeed government introduced a fresh policy. Accepting India’s “integrity” and “Constitution” were flagged as a precondition for surrender. It was offered “to those terrorists who undergo a change of heart and eschew the path of violence and who also accept the integrity of India and [the] Indian Constitution to encourage them join the mainstream and lead a normal life and contribute towards prosperity and progress of the State as well as the Nation.”
It did not work either. Much like its prototypes, it did not carry an assured promise of rehabilitation. Not many militants were enticed by it.
Those who did surrender were used by the police, armed forces and intelligence agencies to set up counterinsurgency groups to wipe out not only separatist militants but also civilians perceived to be the sympathisers or supporters of separatism. Some of them, like the Ikhwanul Muslimoon, founder Kukka Parray and his lieutenant Javed Shah were installed as legislators. Many, including Parray and Shah, were subsequently killed by unidentified gunmen.
Those who survived found themselves in the infamous Red Index of the CID, a confidential register that contains names of over 400,000 Kashmiris “suspected” of links with militancy and terrorism. Very few on the list have ever got a passport or a government job.
Even so, from about 2005 to 2009, over 4,000 “retired militants” and their families in Pakistan were enthusiastic about efforts by pro-New Delhi political leaders to get them back into the mainstream in the State. Politicians, including Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, played a key role in promoting New Delhi’s package for returning militants. On November 23, 2010, Omar Abdullah’s government launched the “surrender and rehabilitation policy” specifically for this lot.
But the recent arrest of Syed Liaquat Shah for an alleged terror plot as he came into India through the Nepal border has shown that this latest scheme has more problems than its predecessors.
By Mr. Abdullah’s own admission, not one of the 241 militants came back through the designated routes of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, Attari [train], Wagah [bus] besides Chakan-Da-Bagh and Kaman Post in J&K.
In Srinagar and New Delhi, officials knew well that the Pakistani establishment would never permit these people to return through the Delhi airport or Wagah. That would have been used by India to establish that the Kashmir insurgency was a Pakistan-sponsored “proxy war” rather than an indigenous separatist struggle.
As Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stated in the Assembly, 241 militants along with over a thousand of their family members crossed into India from Nepal to take up the government’s offer.
What is strange is that no one in J&K or India thought it fit to recognise the Kathmandu route and set up coordination between Srinagar, Delhi, Gorakhpur and Kathmandu to facilitate the surrenders.
What is clear is that under the noses of intelligence agencies in both India and Pakistan, the surrender policy was a flourishing business for a whole network of middlemen, from Karachi, Islamabad, Muzaffarabad, Kathmandu to cities in India, including Srinagar.
Nazia, an undergraduate from Government College Islamabad Pakistan, who married former Aljihad militant Mohammad Sahafi Itoo and reached Drusu, Pulwama along with her husband and two children in February 2012, recounted her brush with the agents.
“They take responsibility for getting us through the Pakistan side. They arranged our passports and visa, managed our travel to Karachi, booked our seats on the Karachi-Kathmandu flight and facilitated further our passage from Gorakhpur to Jammu and Pulwama. We spent a total of Rs.8 lakh,” says Nazia.
But in less than a year, both Itoo and Nazia have realised their return as “the biggest blunder of our life.” After suffering a great deal of tribulation, Nazia managed to get her 11-year-old daughter, Kinza Noor and 5-year-old son, Hanzla admitted in a local school.
Itoo, who does not know how to read or write, and claims to have been at a militant training camp for just 13 days, used to earn Rs.5,000 while working with companies and shopkeepers at Bara Koh, a suburb of Islamabad.
“Had suicide not been forbidden in Islam, I would have done so last year,” he says. “I have no work to do, nothing to earn and eat.”
Itoo’s parents have given him a single room at their house. Nazia runs a boutique and earns Rs.2,000 to Rs.3,000 a month. While the men are treated warily by family members, especially by siblings, and looked upon as another mouth to feed, or as a potential rival in property claims, their wives are seen as “outsiders,” as the language, culture and way of life are quite different from the Kashmiris in the Valley. Mohammad Yousuf alias Jamsheed, who returned to his home at Turkawangam in Shopian along with his wife Shahnaz and four children in December 2011, has been earning Rs.4,000 a month for working at the local taxi stand. Like the Pulwama family, Yousuf and Shahnaz have not found ready acceptance by the family. They have been given a room to live with their children. Guests too stay and sleep in the same room. The washroom doubles up as a kitchen.
“We have been duped into this blunder [of returning to home] by Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. They came to Pakistan and announced that [the] J&K Government had a rehabilitation scheme for us. When we reached here, we learned that there is none,” says the couple. Most schools deny admission to the children of the surrendered militants.
“We have lost our identity. We don’t know the land and the people we belong to,” Shahnaz adds. “It’s a completely different language and culture here. We can’t adjust ourselves. Nobody invites us or mixes with the women and their children from Azad Kashmir or Pakistan.” She sounds more disillusioned with the people in Kashmir than the government.
Both the families maintain that they had been denied everything — driving licence, elector’s photo identity card, ration card, passport, government and private job.
Other surrendered militants have the same sorry tale to tell.
Nisar Ahmad Kawa of Nund Rishi Colony Bemina crossed the Line of Control to join the training camp of Ikhwanul Muslimeen in 1991. In 2002, he married Ishrat Fatima of Khwajamal. The couple, with their two sons and a daughter, returned in September 2012. Kawa, who earned Rs.15,000 running a shop at Madeena Market in Muzaffarabad, now earns a paltry Rs.3.000 for his labour at a restaurant in Srinagar.
“We have ruined our life. Whenever someone calls us from Pakistan, we tell them not to fall into the trap. There’s no surrender or rehabilitation policy here. Whenever we’ll get a chance, we will go back,” says Kawa.
Ishrat sounded shattered. “Ham ne suna thaa yeh jannat hai, lekin yeh to bilkul dauzakh hail (We had been told Kashmir is Paradise. But we have found it worse than hell.”)
The impoverished couple had no hesitation in saying that they spend most of their time quarrelling in the room they have been temporarily given by Kawa’s brother.
“We just pray for our death. Everybody here has ditched us. Kashmir has changed fully from what it was in 1990. There is total individualism now. Nobody thinks about others.”