Former al-Fateh member looks back at his life

  • GOWHAR GEELANI
  • Publish Date: Nov 24 2017 8:01PM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 24 2017 8:01PM
Former al-Fateh member looks back at his life

His son is in jail, named in 51 FIRs

 

Meet the 71-year old Ghulam Hassan Sheikh who was kept in prison for almost three years (from 1970 to 1973) for his affiliation with al-Fateh, the erstwhile armed rebel group active in the Kashmir Valley in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Sheikh, formerly an underground member of al-Fateh, presently spends his post-retirement days at his house in old town Anantnag in south Kashmir.

His only son Aatif Hassan Sheikh, 31, is lodged in Srinagar’s Central jail since July this year and is named in 50 plus FIRs for his alleged role in stone-throwing incidents and professing pro-Pakistan ideology on social media.

Like his son Aatif, the senior Sheikh too is defiant and asks why one should be caged for having a view on Kashmir’s political question?

Sheikh’s trajectory from once being a member of al-Fateh to a law-abiding citizen as government employee is an interesting one.

Sheikh, who retired as Range Officer in J&K Forest Department, tells Kashmir Ink that once his links with the former militant group were established beyond doubt, after an in-cameral trial, he was sacked from his services from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) way back in 1970.

He had joined the CRPF in 1969 as a ‘mole’, he says with a smile.

After joining the paramilitary force he was sent to Nimach, Madhya Pradesh for receiving training.

But in Kashmir, the al-Fateh module was busted after the arrest of one Dr. Farooq Ahmad who had impersonated as Superintendent of Police donning the khaki uniform.

A tiny group of al-Fateh rebels had planned loot inside the University of Kashmir in Dargah Hazratbal, Srinagar on 1 January 1970.

Some members of al-Fateh had been successful in looting one lakh thirty thousand rupees (then considered a huge amount of money) meant as salary for the university employees, Sheikh recalls.

“Our group’s plan was to first hurt the state economically and then weaken it on other fronts too,” says Sheikh, adding that “the underground al-Fateh rebels had also successfully looted seventy five thousand rupees in education office in south Kashmir’s Pulwama before the similar operation in Srinagar.”

The al-Fateh rebels, he says, had a safe house in Pampore. The hideout of the radicals was known as Barsoo headquarters, he adds.

However, with Dr. Farooq’s arrest the J&K police had achieved huge success in busting an important al-Fateh module.

Soon after, the police raided Sheikh’s house in old town Kadipora in Anantnag but there the cops were told that the man they were looking for was in Madhya Pradesh for his training as a CRPF personal.

Consequently, a team of the J&K police was sent to Madhya Pradesh to arrest Sheikh. On seeing the police, some of Sheikh’s colleagues were initially taken aback.

But as the beans were spilled, Sheikh recalls that he was told this by one of his senior officers: “I cannot believe that you are a Pakistani agent”.

“I have never voted in my life except when the MUF (Muslim United Front) participated in the 1987 Assembly Elections and the Jamaat-e-Islami asked its members and sympathisers to cast vote,” he tells Kashmir Ink at his new residence in Deva Colony Janglatmandi in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. 

Mirza Afzal Beg, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s close confidante, had fought Ghulam Hassan Sheikh’s case. For three long years Sheikh remained in Central jails of Srinagar and Jammu.

“Mirza Afzal Beg successfully fought my case and I was released on bail,” he says, adding that “we were socially ostracised for some time because of our association with al-Fateh”.

After his release in 1973, Hassan Sheikh finally joined the state’s forest department as a forest guard. With time and experience he got promoted as Range Officer.

Talking about the activities of his group he says that apart from having al-Fateh as an armed wing they also had Young Men’s League, a political wing meant for propaganda purposes.

Ghulam Rasool Zehgeer, a successful businessman from Gonzkhand Srinagar who had his business interests in south Kashmir, was chief commander of al-Fateh while Fazl Haq Qureshi, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, Abdul Rashid Dar, Peer Mohammad Hussain (the then district horticulture officer and a former minister in the PDP-Congress government), Mohammad Saleem Gilkar, Nisar Ahmad Mir, late Mohammad Shaban Wakil (former editor of Urdu daily Alsafa), Abdul Rahim Khan, late Nazir Ahmad Wani, Abdul Rahim Khan, Ghulam Hassan Sheikh himself etc were active members of the armed section.

At 71, Sheikh is a resolute man. He has not let the child inside him die despite the fact that his only son Aatif is presently lodged in Central Jail Srinagar after being booked under the notorious Public Safety Act (PSA) in July last year for “promoting secessionist ideology” and refusing to “join the mainstream” politics.

Sheikh says that he has no regrets in life but asks why one can’t have the right to have an opinion in Kashmir. His wife is diabetic and being treated for arthritis for last 30 years. Alluding to her bed-ridden wife, Sheikh says that she wants her son back so that Aatif can take care of his five-year old son Ahrar.

“I have no clear answers for my grandson Ahrar. He is asking very uncomfortable questions about Aatif’s long absence from home,” Sheikh says with a sigh.

The police, he alleges, are not allowing his son Aatif to lead a normal life. “Facing repeated detentions and long arrests my son has not taken any extreme step. He has not joined any armed group. He does not throw stones. He just has a view on Kashmir,” says Sheikh.