Militant among militants: life and times of Qayoom Najar

A picture of a Jammu and Kashmir police poster offering a bounty on Qayoom Najar. The poster caused a major embarrassment to the police as the picture used wasn’t that of Najar but a civilian. (Courtesy: Internet)

When the body of the Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) chief, Abdul Qayoom Najar, was identified, a senior police official tweeted: “very, very smart, extremely smart militant”. These words coming from an adversary makes one think: what was in Najar that separated him from the rest.

In any freedom movement, the natives fight on three fronts—one, against their own people in order to convince them about the futility of slavery; two, against those who want to hijack the movement for their own interests; and, three, against the occupiers. While the last one is an easy fight, fighting against the first two is often a protracting conflict.

The killing of militant commander Najar has to be viewed in all the three aspects. Like most militants, he was ahead of his adversaries, regularly changed his appearance, hardly left any trace, but what separated him from the most was that he never longed for fame. A guerrilla fighter, who had stealth of a leopard and eye of a falcon, he would appear and then disappear for months. For the security and intelligence grid, he was here, there, everywhere, but nowhere to be found.   But for the Hurriyat Corporation and the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council, he was an “Indian agent”, “Ikhwani”.

Why is the Hurriyat a corporation?

In 2015, Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leading their own factions of the Hurriyat, along with JKLF chief Yaseen Malik joined hands to form what they call “joint resistance leadership”.

For Geelani, the tehreek in Kashmir is a religious movement. For the Mirwaiz, the tehreek has nothing to do with religion. Both of them, however, are in favour of Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. Malik’s party, on the other hand, stands for independent Kashmir on both sides of the LoC. How do these three unite when their objectives are opposite of each other? If religion is taken out of the equation, how do Geelani and the Mirwaiz reconcile with a person who demands independence of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan? On paper, all three have different ideologies and constitutions. Remember, both the Hurriyats are amalgam of many parties, and with the incorporation of the JKLF, which for years remained aloof from both the factions, it becomes a complete package. It’s akin to the marketing strategy of a multi-product beverage brand—whether you buy their fizzy drink, juices or just water, it’s the brand that gains. Same is the case with the Hurriyat. It wants to take control of every organisation (militant or non-militant) that is working in Kashmir to benefit itself. Remember in May 2017, a sting operation by an Indian news channel showed some members of the Hurriyat demanding money to keep Kashmir on boil. Rs 100 crore for three months, is what a senior Hurriyat leader demanded! The Hurriyat was again diddling with the sacrifices of the people. That is why I prefer to call it the Hurriyat Corporation.

Why did the UJC and Hurriyat Corporation felt threatened by Najar?

When in May 2015, militants started blasting mobile towers in Sopore area, it baffled many. As is usual in Kashmir, the Hurriyat along with its lackeys termed it a conspiracy of the Indian government to “malign the freedom movement”. A new militant organisation, LeI, claimed responsibility, stating that mobile communication was responsible for the killing of many militants.  The same month, Geelani along with Malik asked the UJC to reveal the truth about the LeI. The UJC responded to the call and repeated the rhetoric of  blaming the Indian agencies.

The character assassination of Najar and his colleagues did not deter him from killing a few Hurriyat activists, claiming that they were providing intelligence to the Indian troops. The Hurriyat along with the UJC upped their ante. On June 6, LeI published a press note, in which it detailed its actions and requested the UJC and Hurriyat to probe some of their own members for the killing of four militants: Pulwama’s Adil Mir, Islamabad’s Javaid Salafi, Palhallan’s Hilal Molvi and Zainageer’s Rashid.

In reply, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, member party of the UJC, said Showkat Hakim of the Muslim League, a close aide of Masarat Alam, was not involved in any killings. It was a startling revelation because the LeI didn’t name anyone in the press release. Despite the LeI issuing a clarification and ready to provide the proof, Geelani continued to call them “Ikhwanis”. On June 9, LeI killed a Hurriyat activist, Sheikh Altaf ur Rehman. Four days later, former militant Khurshid Ahmad Bhat was also shot dead.

The killings of Hurriyat activists prompted Geelani to call for the resignation of then J&K chief minister Mufti Sayeed. Since the Jamaat-e-Islami, a pro-Pakistan socio-religious organisation, is in cahoots with the People’s Democratic Party, Geelani thought it fit to reprimanded the Mufti, asking him to step down, as he had failed to protect the Hurriyat members (Sopore killings: Geelani asks Mufti to step down, GK June 14, 2015). Imagine in which part of the world do anti-state leaders call for the resignation of pro state collaborators?

An Indian website described the killing of former militants a setback to the intelligence agencies in Kashmir. Writing for  about the importance of keeping surrendered militants safe, author Vicky Nanjappa said, “As part of the service, some (surrendered militants) hand out information about the terrorist bases while many others are involved in a programme to prevent youth from taking up arms. IB officials say there is an utmost need to guard such persons as they are helping India with a great deal of information that has helped bust several terrorists networks in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Geelani though continued his diatribe until Najar barged into his house at Hyderpora, and confronted the former on his tirades against him. A few days later, the UJC accepted that Najar is no paid agent of India, but a member of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. After this, the Hurriyat didn’t issue any press note against the LeI.  Najar could have used this moment to score points against the Hurriyat and UJC, but he decided against it..

The Hizb was not going to take it down lightly. As is its history, the organisation has been ruthless with any person who has broken ranks with it, first character assassinating and then killing the person. Majeed Dar is an example.

Two months later, the Hizb men killed three militants, who had switched over to the LeI. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found in an orchard. Taking advantage of chaos, the Hurriyat, in order to digress people’s attention that the Hizb was behind these killings, called for a one-day hartal. It worked to hoodwink people. It was the first and last time that Geelani called for a strike when the LeI militants were killed.

Najar disappears from Kashmir

Najar being a militant’s militant refused to publicise himself in the model of Burhan Wani. It seems, initially, his was not an ideological drift from the Hizb like Zakir Musa, but a reality check. He had realised that it was easy for informers to be a part of the Hurriyat and use it as a shield to operate against pro-freedom people. Reports of that time indicate that when Najar prepared a list of informants, HM chief Syed Salahuddin rejected it, saying so many killings will create doubt about the authenticity of the freedom organisations. But, being an operational militant on the ground, he dismissed orders of an armchair commander.

A few journalists who went to Sopore to enquire about the happenings said the people there had fulsome faith in Najar. Never did they doubt his intentions, in spite of the Hurriyat activists trying to provoke people against him. But the earth around him was tightened. In no way would the state allow killing its assets, and the Pakistani state in league with the Hurriyat were also determined to get rid of him because operating independently in Kashmir is not in its interest.

Then all of a sudden he disappeared, or was tricked to come to Pakistan.

Was his death masterminded in Pakistan?

The picture of his body showed an uncharacteristic feature of him having a long, unkempt beard. It suggested that he was not allowed to shave it, or, was likely under arrest in Pakistan. He might have finally managed to escape before the Pakistani state informed their counterparts in India about the passes he would have taken to cross the LoC. In fact, many reports said a WhatsApp message from Pakistan-administered Kashmir led to Najar’s killing.

Intelligence agencies exchanging information about expendables like Najar is no big deal. After all both Indian and Pakistani agencies are involved not only in talks to resolve the Kashmir issue, but also how to contain global outfits like al Qaeda and ISIS operating in both the countries. In October 2014, senior intelligence officers from both sides chalked out the danger that is threatening both nations. “(E)merging groups of religious extremists (such as al Qaeda and ISIS) have publicly declared their intention to target South Asia in future,” notes the paper which was signed by both the sides in Istanbul conference, “and make no distinction between India and Pakistan – they pose a threat to both countries and both countries should be willing to share information about them. As the environment and confidence improves on both sides, the intelligence services can share more and more”. In the same joint paper, “India-Pakistan Intelligence Cooperation to Counter Terrorism” signed by Sikander Afzal, AS Dulat, Asad Durrani, Rajiv Kumar, Wajahat Latif, Tariq Parvez, Vedantachari Rajagopal, CD Sahay, Sallahuddin Satti and Ehsan ul-Haq, they concur, “To overcome the trust deficit, they can start slowly with matters in the public domain, like a dialogue on role of intelligence and security services in countering terrorism and gradually move on to the sharing of actionable intelligence on persons and groups involved in terrorism on either side of the border.” For the Islamic republic of Pakistan, Najar came into “actionable intelligence involved in terrorism”. This was in continuation of a similar joint paper written in 2011 by AS Dulat and Asad Durrani, part of which was published in both Indian and Pakistani newspapers.

Being a militant among the militants, Najar had a thorough understanding of how the intelligence grid in Kashmir operates, and that is why he survived for long. But he was not trained to take on his people (Hurriyat) and those who hijack freedom movements (Pakistan) for their petty gains. This is the arduous thing for any freedom fighter in any freedom movement.

The graph of the Hurriyat, in spite of its failure to engage with India in any meaningful dialogue, continued to remain high. When Najar rebelled against it and its Pakistani sponsors, he was a lone fighter. He was able to get a support of few followers, but with the Hurriyat tirade backed by Indian and Pakistan resolved to eliminate anyone who is inimical to their interests, and unlike Zakir Musa no al-Qaeda to back him, he was cornered.

It took the Hurriyat Corporation one day to pay a one-liner tribute to him, forgetting that it had labelled him ‘Ikhwani’. It is kind of volte-face that the Hurriyat is adept at. But why did the Hurriyat, and in particular Geelani, pay tribute to Najar when he was accused of working for the Indian agencies? The probable answers are because of the pressure from the youth; second, he wanted to be remembered as the one who supported all militants irrespective of his differences with them. Worse, the Hurriyat tried to claim that its members led the funeral prayers—a lie that Najar’s uncle debunked. In a rare, detailed piece on Najar, journalist Bilal Handoo traced travails through which the Najar family had to go through.

Although the Hizb along with the UJC didn’t pay any tribute to him, Najar didn’t die a Majeed Dar’s death, a former Hizb commander sent for peace talks and then gunned down. Najar’s body was draped with the banner of Kalima Tawheed. At his funeral, the youth showed that Najar would not be forgotten. What were worse for Pakistan and its bhakts in Kashmir were the slogans inimical to the Pakistani state: “qaeda, qaeda al qaeda”. Today Sopore does not allow members of the Hurriyat Corporation to lead funeral prayers of the militants.