The Nowhere Men
Caught between an uncaring government and vengeful militants, Ikhwanis or militants turned counter-insurgents, struggle to carve out a ‘normal’ life, reports Dilnaz Boga.
Javed Shaikh (name changed), 35, drives an auto rickshaw in Srinagar and lives with his wife and children. But there has been no respite for this ex-militant despite choosing a “normal life”. “People like me are often picked up by the security forces and money is extorted from our families to free us,” he told HT. “We made the mistake of choosing the wrong path and we will continue to pay for it —along with our families.”
Shaikh, a former militant with the Jihad Force, was arrested in 1993 by the Indian Army. While he refused to become an Ikhwani, many others did. Literally meaning ‘informer’ or ‘renegade’, these were militants who ‘surrendered’ and took up the Indian Army’s offer to root out Pakistan-backed militant outfits. The counter-insurgents were eventually herded as the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, named after the first militant group that sided with the Army. It’s because of hundreds of these men —whose incorporation happened mostly between 1994 and 1996 — that militancy in the Valley declined from its convulsive stages of the early 1990s.
Switched and bewildered
Why did these militants switch sides? Says a police officer: “They were not ideologically motivated and were more interested in the quest for power that flowed through the barrel of the gun. The main hubs of the Ikhwanis were Sonawari, Anantnag (also called ‘Islamabad’) and Bandipora — areas that even the Army preferred not to enter.”
Liyakat Ali, a militant from South Kashmir, is said to have masterminded the Ikhwani movement there. He also convinced North Kashmir’s Kuka Parrey (aka Mohammad Yosuf, who went on to chair the Jammu Kashmir Awami League) to help the Army. Ali was disillusioned with the ‘freedom struggle’ when an ISI officer in Muzaffarabad (in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) told him: “Kashmir had over 175 militant groups that were created by Pakistan. In case a group changed loyalties, there should be another to counter it.” Ali said he was “shocked” at this explanation.
Back in Kashmir, he tried to sell the idea of joining hands with the Indian Army to some people from his earlier outfit. “It took me three months to convince them. Brigadier MP Singh invited us and I headed the group of Ikhwanis. By 1995, we contained militancy. Soon, ministers asked us to contest in the elections.” Ali contested the elections in 2002, but lost. There’s also Rasheed Dar (code names Khursheed, Alam). This 35-year-old was among the first batch of militants to surrender. “The first year, the government paid each worker Rs 3,000 a month, a company commander Rs 4,000, and a battalion commander Rs 6,000,” he said. But after militancy declined, a worker was paid only Rs 1,500, a company commander Rs 2,000 and a battalion commander Rs 2,500.
For Dar’s tribe, the last hope was the local police. “We rushed to the police for protection. They immediately issued licences for weapons and offered us jobs,” said Dar. “But this time, workers, company and battalion commanders were all appointed as Special Police Officers (SPOs). There was no distinction in the pay structure.” These days, an SPO earns Rs 3,000 a month. “Ordinary SPOs get promoted, we don’t. How can I run a household with this meagre salary?” Dar asked.
Dar also mentioned that the government offered his cohort the choice of joining politics. When they agreed, the Army confiscated their weapons and allegedly rigged the elections. “We felt let down and vulnerable, as we were open to militant strikes.” Dar’s three-year-old son was shot dead by militants who had attacked his house, and he still bears a scar on his neck where they shot him.
Paying the dues
The authorities in the area spin the same yarn in a different manner. A local sub-inspector said, “When these guys roamed with the Army, they committed many atrocities that they weren’t held responsible for — so the locals and the militants hate them. Back then, they used to spend lakhs of rupees a day. Now we have curbed their extortion and the government does not pay them that much, since militancy has gone down. Hence frustration among them is high.”
The frustration manifests itself in many ways. “He’s an alcoholic who brutally beats up his wife regularly,” warned a police constable, pointing to Mohammad Jala Sofi (code name Jameel), who still works with the local police. Sofi recounted how he made a lot of money during those days, when “we killed hundreds of militants”. Sofi continued: “For 13 years I’ve fought Pakistan with India. My house was burnt several times by the militants. I can’t leave home without protection. Most of the times, the Army did not accompany us on operations; we did them on our own. We get a paltry amount per month.”
Dar’s bitter words probably capture the current predicament of the Ikhwanis better than anything else: “We are living on a prayer.”