He has pointed a gun at both sides of the Kashmir divide, and is a hunted man today.
But for the past two weeks, Syed Ali Muhammad Shah — a militant commander-turned-counter-insurgency activist who now dabbles with politics as a Congress member — is only armed with a pen as he takes a crack at some tricky questions of the class 10 exams in Jammu and Kashmir.
Special police guards keep vigil as the 35-year-old Shah, whose tumultuous life mirrors the two turbulent decades the Valley has been through, takes an examination at Lar tehsil in Ganderbal district, near Srinagar.
Shah was a class 8 student in 1991 when he left school and — like many Kashmiri teenagers then — crossed the border to receive arms training in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
A resident of Choothwaliwar village in Ganderbal district, Shah returned to the Valley in 1993 as district commander of the Al-Barq militant outfit. He organised and led attacks on security forces in the Bandipora-Ganderbal belt. "I survived many fierce encounters with the army in Ajas and Hajan areas (in Kashmir’s Bandipore area) as a militant commander," he said.
In 1995, he switched sides and joined the counter-insurgency group of the
security forces, Ikhwan, headed by the dreaded Kukka Parray, and launched pre-emptive attacks on militants and their hideouts in the area.
"I was always interested in studies. In 1990, there was a (pro-militant) wave and I joined it," said Shah, who is married with four children.
"Later, when the Kashmir movement declined, I decided to continue my studies and become a politician."
"I want to be literate enough to read written grievances of the common man and write to ministers about their problems. So I will continue with my studies," he said.