Srinagar: Born in 1970, Mohammad Farooq Khan was among thousands of Kashmiri youth who crossed the Line of Control to get arms training at a militant camp in Pakistan. After completing his training in 1990, Khan joined the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a militant group seeking independence from both India and Pakistan.
Twenty-eight years later, in a great turn of fate, Khan is fighting the municipal body election in Srinagar from ward number 33 of Tankipora, as a candidate from the Bhartiya Janata Party. Other mainstream political parties in the Valley have boycotted these elections.
Originally from Barbar Shah locality near Srinagar’s Lal Chowk area, Khan met with The Wire at BJP’s head office in Jawahar Nagar, just a few feet away from the house of a PDP MLA where a special police officer who decamped with a horde of weapons and joined Hizbul Mujahideen, while teams of TV journalists waited outside for an interview.
At the BJP office, which has been witness to a grenade attack in the past, Khan talks about his journey from a militant seeking independence to a candidate of a party that is against the very fabric of militancy in Kashmir.
“I studied at Hindu High school in Srinagar and then joined Sri Pratab Singh College for my graduation. There I made a lot of new friends – it was during the peak of militancy. Everyone those days wanted to become a militant. For parents, it was a matter of pride that their son was a militant. I was swayed by the idea and decided to cross the border,” Khan told The Wire on Wednesday.
He claimed he was trained in Mianwali area of Pakistan as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (Pok) which he refers to as “Azad Kashmir”. “I was trained to operate several weapons, including the AK-47. When I came back, I operated under JKLF commanders. But on September 7, 1991, a cordon was laid in Munawarabad area where I was taken into custody,” Khan said.
After his arrest, he said, is when the real story of his misfortune unfolded. “Initially, we were sent to multiple interrogation centres that were infamous due to tortures perpetrated on militants or anyone held there. I spent some time in Papa I, Papa 2 and Hotel 4 in Shivpora. Those days, I had forgotten whether I was a male or a female,” said Khan, alleging that the security forces gave him electric shocks on his genitals.
“Finally, I was sent to jail. I spent some part of my total seven-and-a-half years in Jammu’s Kot Balwal jail and some part in Tihar,” said Khan,
In Tihar, the 48-year-old BJP candidate claimed that he met Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant outfit responsible for numerous attack in Kashmir and across northern India and in Mumbai. He also claimed to meet Sajad Afghani and Nasrullah Langriwal of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.
“I was also selected as the amir (leader) of my barrack. This was after I started my journey into Islam. I read a lot of Islamic literature in jail and Masood Azhar was my teacher. He even beat me when I would make mistakes while reading the Quran. It was only Islam that brought me back into the world,” Khan said.
While speaking to The Wire, Khan broke down while remembering the period after he was released from prison in 1997-98. “I have driven an auto, sold ice creams and even worked as a construction worker. I knocked the doors of every Hurriyat leader, but no one was there to help. The police kept harassing my family and I was left completely helpless,” said Khan, the youngest of five siblings. Khan’s father was a cloth merchant who travelled between Barbar Shah and Ganderbal in central Kashmir to feed and clothe his family.
“One of my brothers to attained martyrdom on January 14, 1996. His name was Muhammad Usman Khan and he was a member of Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen,” Khan said. Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen was a splinter group of of Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir.
Khan said his fortunes finally started to turn when he got married. “My wife and I met for the first time in 2002. I knew her through a common friend. She once asked me why I wasn’t marrying her, to which I asked her who would marry a person like me. She told me to wait till Eid and that she would come up with something. We have been married ever and have a boy and girl,” Khan said.
At that time, Khan was employed at a shop as an welder. He earned Rs 1,500 every month and the owner would give him Rs 200 rupees on a daily basis for his work. But soon he managed to open a welding shop of his own where he still works. “A former Hizbul Mujahideen commander whom I will not name provided me with the instruments I needed for the shop. This included a grinder and a welding machine,” he said.
That same year, the former militant said he met S.M. Sahai, the former inspector general of Jammu and Kashmir police, who suggested that Khan form a group of ex-militants.
“I then formed the Jammu and Kashmir Human Welfare Association and we have taken to the streets many times to list our demands. We just wanted our dignity back, our passports our verification papers and so on. We didn’t seen compensation from the government but opportunity to earn a living,” said Khan.
Khan said his association with the BJP was made possible through “friends in Delhi”. “I even met home minister Rajnath Singh and gifted him a Quran. This was way back in 2013 but I had no plans of joining politics. This year, my friends contacted me and said that ‘we will give you the respect you deserve’. That is why I am fighting the elections,” Khan said.
When asked about how he reconciles his politics with that of the BJP, Khan responded,” In the Quran, it is written that if you do not do my work in this world, I will replace you with other people who would. I think Allah has granted this opportunity to me to serve him and the people of Kashmir”.
Khan offered no comments on contentious issues like Article 370 and 35A. BJP has stood against Article 370, which gives a special status to J&K asking for its abrogation.
“When the BJP-PDP government fell apart, Mehbooba Mufti gave a statement that the Centre’s move will give birth to new Yasin Malik (JKLF) and Salahudeen (Hizb chief). I was a polling agent for Salahudeen when the Muslim United Front won the elections in 1987 and the same thing was told to us then. It was true then as Yusuf Shah, to whom I was a polling agent, despite winning went on to become Syed Salahudeen,” he said.
“Isn’t it better that we come to the mainstream to avoid repetition of history,” Khan asked.
“People are telling me that I am doing kuffur (blasphemy) by joining the BJP, but the first person to bring BJP in Kashmir was Mirwaiz Farooq. The Hurriyat leaders are sitting on a graveyard of martyrs. We fought, but they became the heroes,” Khan said.