July 31, 1988: The Day Kashmir Rattled With First Bomb

July 31, 1988: The Day Kashmir Rattled With First Bomb

30 July 2012
Rising Kashmir
Nasrun Mir

Srinagar: The July heat had kept most of Kashmir awake in the summer of 1988, but the twin blasts that ripped uneasiness of 31st night marked the beginning of the armed rebellion in the Valley. Twenty-five years down the line, history appears blurred, as there were quite a few takers of the event, then criticized widely. Rising Kashmir travelled through different versions of this historic event to knot the missing links. In 1985 a bunch of young boys, painted a map of separate Jammu and Kashmir on streets. They were arrested and lodged into the notorious torture centre, Red 16 at Gupkar Road for more than two weeks. The building now holds a school. After their release, the names like Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Majid, Yasin Malik and Javaid Mir join Students League party, which becomes a popular force during the 1987 elections. Seeds of discontent and disillusionment among the youth had been sown much earlier as the “disputed” angle of Kashmir problem continued to haunt the generation after generation, despite a relatively calmer relation between Srinagar and Delhi. In 1983 four angry young boys-Mushtaqul Islam, Showkat Bakshi, Irshad Ahmad and Rouf Ahmad, did something un-usual when they dug the pitch on S K Cricket Stadium where India and West Indies were set to clash. All were arrested later. But all of them including Yasin and others were then part of “Tala” party, a localized group of youth who would do something odd. In official records, they are referred to as “mischief mongers”. After actively involved with the 1987 assembly elections, they lost faith in the democratic process. Even today’s Salahuddin, supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahideen was declared “defeated” during his contest as Mohammad Yousuf Shah with National Conference stalwart Late Mohiuddin Shah. The rigging, as all agree now, proved to be a turning point in the history of Kashmir, pushing the angry youth towards armed struggle. The first recourse for these youth was to protest the results but they again found themselves locked up in Red-16. The torture and humiliation in Red-16 was taken as a challenge by them to put the Indian state on edge for next 20 years. This sets the stage for a different kind of a resistance in Kashmir. “After our release, we understood that non-violent resistance has no space in Gandhian nation,” says present Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front who during his detention in 1987 suffered food poisoning and later developed a heart condition while in prison. “After our release we decided to cross the border and start a new revolution in Kashmir.” From March to June, different groups under the banner of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front crossed the Line of Control to enter Pakistan administered Kashmir for arms training. According to a local who was guide in those days to help recruits cross LoC, Hilal Beigh and Hameed Sheikh were the first who crossed the border in March 1988. Ashfaq Majeed, Yasin Malik, Javaid Mir also crossed the Line of Control in separate group, he said as he did not want to be named for the story. There were other people who also travel across the border in 1988. They included Bilal Sidique and Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo. Most of the militants returned to Kashmir by the first week of June 1988. After their return, all being a part of JKLF, Pakistan trained militants split into two factions and did not had much of contact until mid June. In the same month on the directions from across the border, two groups sit together in what was later termed as the Parimahal Meeting. In the meeting, which the eyewitnesses expressed a heated debate than a discussion, future course of action remained undecided, but a broader consensus that something has to be done was agreed upon. A tentative date of July 13, which holds importance in Kashmir’s torrid history (as Martyr’s Day), was picked up as a day of action. HAJY group, which became the most famous acronym of four names- Hameed Sheikh, Ashfaq Majid, Javaid Mir and Yasin Malik in Kashmir’s armed resistance was a part of JKLF and had their serious differences with the group led by Bangroo on plan of action. HAJY were more keen on involving intellectuals of the society into the JKLF led movement while as the other group wanted to show “serious” presence on the ground. In the following weeks, two men from PaK entered Kashmir to look after the plan of July 13. The man who entertained them was former JKLF militant, Abdul Qadir Rather. The material for the bombs was initially to be brought from a hideout in Kupwara. Rather who is a farmer now had a tractor in 1987 and after joining the militant outfit, he sold it and used the money to purchase Ambassador cars from a military auction in the same year. “I used the cars to help people to reach Kupwara to cross the border,” says Qadir who after his differences with JKLF joined Tehreekul Mujahedeen, but after his second arrest in 1993, he left the militant movement. Rather and his faction convinced PaK militants that brining RDX from Kupwara is dangerous and they decide to use the salt, which was already dumped at Srinagar city outskirts for the bombings. The bombs for the July 13 are made in a field near Lasjan. Around July 9, PaK militants return for Muzaffarbad. “Everything was set for July 13. It was raining cats and dogs that morning. A man on a scooter came to me and ordered me not to go ahead with the mission,” remembers Qadir, who lives in a tiny house in Lasjan, where among his cluttered belongings a big picture of Maqbool Bhat, the founder of JKLF is standing tall on a crumbling wall. “Mission was halted because late Ashfaq Majeed didn’t want to see any civilian casualties,” says Javaid Mir, who now runs his own version of JKLF and has been an integral part of the first militant movement in Kashmir. But many contradict Mir’s claim. According to an insider the aim to stop the bombings were the targets that were chosen. He goes on to say, one of the bomb was aimed to execute a popular political leader, which the HAJY group strictly opposed and also made sure nothing such happens. As the mission failed, pressure from Pakistan mounted on the group that was supposed to carry the blasts. The Bangroo group assured Pakistan that they will carry the bombings on July 31 now. According to the new plan, three locations for the watershed event were decided. Central Telegraph Office, locally known as Targarh, Srinagar Club and Akhara building were the new targets. The timing for the three bombs was decided between 10 PM to 1 AM. The weight of the bombs was chosen not to be more than a kilogram, as they were not aimed to kill anyone, but to create a scoop that gun has arrived in Kashmir. According to the person who carried the blasts, the following two weeks were the longest 14-days of his life. On the intervening night of the July and August, two bombs explode one in middle of the night at Telegraph Office and the other around dawn at Srinagar club. “Those timers never used to work properly. Two bombs at Exchange and the Golf Club didn’t blast on their fixed time and one at the Akhara Building didn’t blast at all,” says a former militant who was in charge of the operation and who later retrieved the unexploded bomb at the Akhara Building. As the blasts ripped Kashmir of its peace and caught the government unawares, massive manhunt was launched to arrest the suspects. Government initially thought it was the HAJY faction of JKLF that carried the attacks, and on morning of the August 01 of 1988, various hideouts are raided. Hameed Sheikh, Yasin Malik, Ashfaq Majid and Javaid Mir had to leave Kashmir and they crossed over to PaK. Most of the members of the other group also left for Pakistan and stayed there for more than a year, barring few. The shock in the state administration made it active, and in October 1988 it caught hold of Rather, one of the prime suspects in the case. The political groups largely condemned the bombings across the divide. Even many of those who are in the separatist camp today were wary of the developments. After the dust started settling, the HAJY decided to return to Kashmir. They gave a push to “organized” militancy and rocked with a bang. The trio attacked the Khanyar Police station. As they left the spot of action in their commando uniforms thousands of Kashmiris hurled them on their shoulders in downtown and their “new journey” shaped in a huge protest on the street. They were the new heroes of Kashmir. After persuasion from various actors’ international communities and Indian civil society, JKLF in 1994 decided to go for a unilateral ceasefire. Many have criticized the move as they maintain it weakened JKLF’s power to negotiate with the government of India. “Hamas still remains a successful military force even when its political wing is ruling Gaza,” says a former militant who wished anonymity. Notwithstanding most of Kashmiris saying adieu to armed struggle, it remains alive on ground with a different set of actors.