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From Streets of Srinagar To Top Kashmiri 'Terrorist': Who Is Mushtaq 'Latram'

Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, who was recently designated a ‘terrorist’ by Centre under UAPA, was among the three militants released by the Indian government after the hijacking of IC-814 in 1999.

File photo of Mushtaq Latram.
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After the 1987 Assembly elections threw Kashmir into another conundrum, particularly with candidates and workers of Muslim United Front (MUF) feeling disenchanted with the electoral process, the political landscape of the valley was changing and fast to become synonymous with bombs and bullets. 

It was time when ‘Azadi’ slogans started to reverberate in Kashmir in 1988. The prolific atmosphere of 'Azadi' also touched Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, a skinny boy from Srinagar’s downtown—Nowhatta locality.

Zargar worked as a coppersmith locally, and for his love for number game earned him the nickname ‘Latram’. However, having lived his youth in the politically sensitive Nowhatta locality, Zargar soon got radicalised and decided to go across the Line of Control for arms training in Pakistan. Soon, Zargar returned as a Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front “guerrilla” to fight security forces for ‘Azadi’ in Kashmir. 

With his background growing up in the separatist bastion of downtown, Zargar quickly rose through the militant ranks. He soon developed differences with JKLF top brass including Ashfaq Majeed, considered pioneer of militancy in Kashmir. It was at that time when Zargar floated his own militant organization— Al Umar Mujahideen (AuM) in December 1989. 

Being a “bakra”(Mirwaiz supporter), Zargar got considerable support in downtown, with the tacit endorsement of Srinagar-based cleric Maulvi Umar Farooq, after whom the outfit was named. The militant organization drew its cadre mainly from downtown localities. 

As tales of Zargar's alleged whereabouts started doing rounds of the security forces, various sketches of Zargar alias ‘Latram’ were drawn and distributed. Some would say that he had long hands and long ears. Some would gossip that ‘Latram’ was some kind of ‘supernatural being’ and that it would never be easy for security forces to catch or kill him. He gained considerable influence in his bastion at the time. On many occasions, Zargar even issued bans on the use Maruti gypsies, since those vehicles were used by security forces. 

Zargar is said to played a key role in the infamous kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of then Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in 1989. There were also allegations of ‘Latram’s’ men indulging in extortion at across Srinagar and intervening in local businesses and property disputes. There is no denying that Zargar aka ‘Latram’ had a strong base in downtown in those days of 90’s. 

Zargar is also accused of executing several attacks on security forces. The militant was arrested in May 1992, only to be released in 1999, along with Jaish chief Masood Azhar and Sheikh Omar. The trio were exchanged for passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814 in 1999. The plane, which was en route from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal to Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, was hijacked and flown to Taliban-ruled Khandhar. 

The release only brought more limelight to Zargar, who is now considered to be among the high profile militants in Pakistan. Apart from Yousuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, who heads Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Al Umar Mujahideen is the only other militant group, which is led by a Kashmiri. Zargar now lives in Pakistan and operates AuM from there. 

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