Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Kidnapping of Nahida Imtiaz - The incident that caused a spike in terrorist kidnappings in Kashmir

Nahida Imtiaz After She Returned Home in 1991 (courtesy: India Today)

Those following the issue of terrorism in the Kashmir valley may recall the infamous 1989 kidnapping of Rubaiyya Sayeed, the daughter of then Home Minister of India and later Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The harrowing episode had resulted in the release of hardcore militants of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). However, little is discussed about another kidnapping that had happened, just two years later. The target this time was another prominent Kashmiri politician – Saifuddin Soz.

THE TURBULENT SCENARIO

On 27 February 1991, the Jammu and Kashmir Students' Liberation Front (JKSLF) kidnapped Nahida Imtiaz, the daughter of Saifuddin Soz. The JKSLF demanded the release of five terrorists put in jail by the security forces. At the time, Saifuddin Soz was a prominent leader of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference led at the time by Farooq Abdullah. The JKNC had earlier abdicated power in 1990, letting the terror organizations run riot in the state.
The abduction, As reported by some journalists at the time, was seen as a desperate attempt by the Jammu & Kashmir Students' Liberation Front (JKSLF) to seize the leadership of the secessionist movement. A serious struggle was going on among the various terrorist organizations at the time to gain paramountcy. The pro-Pakistan Jamait-i-Islami expressed its willingness to hold talks with the Government as it saw itself losing out the popularity race in the Kashmir valley. This horrified other secessionist groups, particularly the JKSLF, Hizbul Mujahideen and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).

THE RANSOM IS TERRORISM

Abduction as a tactic to secure release of terrorists was gaining ground rapidly. The kidnappings of Professor Musheer-ul-Haq, the then vice-chancellor of Kashmir University, his personal assistant Abdul Gani and General Manager Hindustan Machine Tools, a manufacturing company, H L Kehra in April 1990 grabbed national headlines, with all of them later being slaughtered by their kidnappers.
The security forces, initially at a loss for a counter, fought back with a strategy. The state police adopted a tit for tat strategy, and saw success too. JKSLF was forced to free the Srinagar deputy commissioner's son Ghulam Abbas, after the police got hold of Javed Shalla, the group's deputy chief and forced the JKSLF to exchange the two. In this case, however, things went south.

THINGS WENT DOWNHILL

Banking on their previous success with Ghulam Abbas, the security forces arrested the brother of kidnapper Mukhtar alias Omar Kachroo. However, within a matter of hours, they had to release his brother. Events of the time remain disputed, but what is definitely known is that there was a request from Soz's family to release the brother of Omar Kachroo saying Nahida would be killed if the same was not done.
Saifuddin Soz, as per some news reports from the time, made a big issue out of the same with the Prime Minister’s office. BJP leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who was a senior minister in the then Prime Minister Chandrashekhar’s government, remembered how Saifuddin Soz bawled and threw a tantrum in front of him and the Prime Minister, begging them to save his daughter at any cost.

CONDEMNATION OF THE ACT BY OTHER GROUPS

The kidnapping of Nahida Imtiaz was condemned roundly by other militant groups, prodded on by handlers in Pakistan. A R&AW intercept at the time had shown that during his Beijing visit at the time, then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke to his information minister Maulana Kausar Niazi, and had asked him to tell the concerned people that kidnapping was un-Islamic and Nahida should be released.
Taking a lead from their handlers, groups like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the JKLF condemned the actions of JKSLF and demanded that Nahida be released unconditionally as the abduction of a woman was against their religious tenets. Partly driven by the sense of public anger, even the likes of JKLF chief Amanullah Khan made an appeal for Nahida's release.

THE EVENTUAL RELEASE AND AFTERMATH

While the police at the time had refused to budge from their position, what really helped to secure the release of Nahida remains somewhat unclear. Pressure from repeated raids on JKSLF hideouts by security forces combined with public pressure did make the body climb down from their earlier demand of five militants. Dr. Swamy has always maintained that “her release was obtained within a week and without any quid pro quo”. However, there were news reports that secessionist Mushtaq Ahmed was released in exchange. Jagmohan, who was governor prior to this incident before being replaced by Girish Saxena, has maintained that five terrorists were indeed released in exchange of Nahida’s release. In any case, Nahida Imtiaz, daughter of Saifuddin Soz, returned home within one week.

This incident deeply emboldened the terrorists, who scaled up the terror activities in Kashmir. Within a month’s time, Indian Oil Corporation Executive Director K. Dorraiswamy was abducted by activists of Ikhwan-Ul Muslimeen in Srinagar on July 29, 1991. His release on August 21 was possible when the government set free six militants. This incident later proved to be the inspiration for Mani Ratnam’s 1992 classic Tamil film Roja. Between 1990 and 1995, militant kidnappings saw a spike, with a peak of 368 kidnappings in 1995 that included the kidnap of foreign tourists, most of whose whereabouts are remain unknown to this day.

MUCH HAS CHANGED IN THE PRESENT REGIME

One must feel grateful today that the Modi government has literally broken the back of terrorism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. While strong action was on from the start of Mr. Modi’s term in 2014, the decisive turn came in 2017, when the BJP withdrew support to Mehbooba Mufti. Since that time, there has been decisive action, which has sharply reduced the overall number of deaths due to terrorist activities. Further, India has taken the fight into enemy territory with military operations like surgical strikes and air raids, both of which have caused considerable damage to the capabilities of terrorists and their handlers alongside several other measures.



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