Amanullah Khan, 86, who died recently was one of the pre-eminent ideological progenitors of Kashmiri separatist movement. In seventies, he along with Maqbool Bhat founded in London the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the organisation that a decade later spearheaded the militant separatist movement in Kashmir.
In 1984, however, Maqbool Bhat was hanged in New Delhi’s Tihar jail after JKLF abducted and killed Indian diplomat Ravinder Mhatre in London.
Khan had a political identity even before the JKLF, beginning in late forties when he first came to Kashmir from Gilgit to study. He soon got involved in the student politics steeped in Kashmir’s contentious status between India and Pakistan. He was the general secretary of the Students Union at Srinagar’s Sri Pratap College. It was here in 1952 that he led a protest against the assassination of the then Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Khan, although there was no Indian hand in his death. It turned out to be his last arrest as it brought him to the notice of the local administration led by the Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Fearing arrest, Khan fled from Kashmir.
In Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, he couldn’t keep himself away from the politics on this side of the state. In 1953, Abdullah was summarily dismissed from power for allegedly conspiring with United States to make Kashmir an independent state. Sheikh launched his two decade long political movement for self determination for Kashmir. Khan became an active part of the movement from PoK. In 1964, he was elected the first secretary general of Sheikh’s Plebiscite Front.
But Sheikh’s return to political mainstream in 1975 following his accord with Indira Gandhi alienated Khan. “I was shocked at Sheikh Abdullah’s about-turn,” he would later say in an interview. He went his own way, changing his political tack to pursue the independence of Kashmir as against its merger with Pakistan.
But Khan came into true political prominence in 1971 during hijacking of an Indian Airlines Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft named Ganga. The plane flying from Srinagar to Jammu was hijacked by two Kashmiris Hashim Qureshi and his cousin Ashraf Bhat and flown to Lahore. The hijackers demanded the release of the political prisoners belonging to Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front, led by Khan. The passengers and crew were released and the aircraft was burnt on February 1, 1971. Khan was arrested for being a part of the hijacking conspiracy but soon let off after protests broke out in Gilgit, his hometown. Pakistan accused him of planning the hijack with India. He was later acquitted of the charge.
However, Qureshi and Bhat who were earlier treated as heroes were taken into custody. Qureshi served a nine year jail term in Pakistan after which he went to the Netherlands where he remained for 20 years, even getting citizenship of that country. His cousin remained in Pakistan after release from jail. On December 29, 2000, Qureshi was brought back to the Valley where he still faces trial in the hijack case
In 1976, Khan went to England where on May 29, 1977 he along with Maqbool Bhat founded JKLF in Birmingham. They established its branches in various cities of UK and Europe besides Middle East. In Kashmir, the branch was secretly set up in 1987, two years before the outbreak of the militant separatist movement. Khan became one of its foremost militant leaders and the champion of a secular independent Kashmir. He travelled the world to mobilize international support for the struggle. Though he hailed from Gilgit, it didn’t stop him from becoming a pre-eminent leader of the Kashmiri separatist struggle.
Khan’s daughter Asma Khan Lone is married to the separatist turned mainstream leader Sajad Gani Lone, who is an ally of the Hindu nationalist BJP in the state. Lone didn’t go to Pakistan to attend Khan’s funeral. Instead his brother Bilal Lone, who is in Hurriyat, did.
In Srinagar, the authorities today put in place severe restrictions to thwart JKLF programme to hold a mass funeral ceremony for Khan. His successor, JKLF supremo Yasin Malik was taken into preventive custody and moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was put under house arrest. “Khan’s death has left behind a void that would be very difficult to fill,” said Mirwaiz in his statement.
Even Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah condoled the demise of Khan and “prayed for the peace to departed soul”.
For Khan, both Islamabad and New Delhi were enemies. “Both Nawaz and Rao are our enemies,” he told India Today in an interview in early nineties. “Our fight is against Pakistan, ISI and Raw”.