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Mirwaiz Assassination Suspects Arrested After 3 Decades, Bringing Back Memories Of A Troubled Past

Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, a political arch-rival of Kashmir’s tallest political leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, was assassinated in 1990.

Late Mirwaiz Farooq with his son Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
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Just five days ahead of Mirwaiz Moulvi Mohammad Farooq’s death anniversary, Jammu and Kashmir Police’s intelligence wing on Tuesday announced that two of his “absconding killers” have been arrested and handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The police added that the two accused, Javaid Ahmad Bhat alias Ajmal Khan from Srinagar’s Azad Basti and Zahoor Ahmad Bhat alias Bilal from Srinagar’s Batamaloo, were involved in the killing of the Mirwaiz on May 21, 1990. 

The Mirwaiz is the head-priest of all the Muslims in the Kashmir Valley. Historically, it has been an important position that has also carried political and social influence. Mirwaiz Moulvi Mohammad Farooq was the arch-rival of Sheikh Abdullah, the tallest leader of Kashmir at the time. 

Besides Ajmal Khan and Bilal, three others were involved in the Mirwaiz’s killing, according to the police. Of the three, Abdullah Bangroo is considered to be a pioneer among Kashmir’s global jihadists. Bangroo and another person involved, Reham Shigan, have been killed in encounters. The fifth person involved, Ayub Dar, was arrested, prosecuted, and convicted. He is currently serving a life sentence.

The police said all of the five terrorists belonged to pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.

Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq’s killing

On May 21, 1990, armed men entered the home of Mirwaiz Farooq’s in Srinagar’s Nigeen area, meters away from Hazratbal shrine, and killed him. 

In more than three decades since, the 45-year-old cleric’s killing has remained a mystery — at least publicly.

Mirwaiz Farooq is among the most prominent Kashmiri clerics to have been been killed in the Valley’s conflcit. He had shot into prominence when he had led the Valley’s mass movement for recovery of the holy relic in 1964. It is known as ‘Moie- Muqadas Tehreek’. He was just 19-years-old at the time. 

Arch-rival of Sheikh Abdullah, ally of son Farooq

Mirwaiz Farooq was political arch-rival of Kashmir’s tallest political leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, popularly called the ‘Lion of Kashmir’. There used to be a bitter rivalry between the supporters of Mirwaiz and Abdullah. It was known as ‘Sher-Bakra’ rivalry. The supporters of Abdullah were known as ‘Sher’ while supporters of Mirwaiz were known as ‘Bakra’. There used to be pitched stone-throwing battles between the supporters of two leaders in Srinagar’s downtown area. 

In 1977, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq joined Janata Party’s assembly election campaign. It was then he invited Prime Minister Morarji Desai to his bastion in downtown Srinagar. At Mirwaiz’s bastion in Rajouri Kadal, many old timers recall that the-then PM Desai was welcomed with the song of “Sabzi dastar…Pakistanuk gaze aav”.
Then, the tables turned. Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq became friend of Abdullah’s son Farooq Abdullah. Many say both had love for cricket and it is how their camaraderie thrived. 

In a historic turn-around, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq joined Farooq Abdullah’s and the-then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s electoral alliance in 1986-87 and he got two of his nominees elected as MLAs. Both Maulvi Farooq and Farooq Abdullah also had tacit agreement for elections. It came to be known as ‘Double Farooq Accord’ in Kashmir.

Maulvi Farooq also translated his book Islam Ka Aafaaqui Paigam in Hindi and got its foreword written by the then-President of India. 

The road to Mirwaiz’s assassination 

In 1989, Maulvi Farooq condemned Rubaiya Sayeed’s kidnapping by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) militants. He tried to act as “peacenik”. He was in regular touch with then Union minister George Fernandez.

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During those days, when Kashmir’s atmosphere reverberated with “Aazadi” slogans, Mirwaiz Farooq’s overtures were being watched from other side.

The air was filled with rumours. Labelling is what gets people killed in Kashmir. It is what perhaps killed Mirwaiz Farooq too. He was labelled as an “Indian agent” by his killers. However, the other side maintained that it was work of ‘agencies’ — unknown and masked, as always in Kashmir. 

Mirwaiz Farooq’s killing had shaken security apparatus in Kashmir. The-then Governor Jagmohan was replaced in Kashmir after his killing. Mirwaiz Farooq’s killing led to bloodshed in Kashmir.

Tragedies and ironies following Mirwaiz’s killing 

Following the killing of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, when the mourners were carrying his body on their shoulders from Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar to his ancestral home at downtown Rajouri Kadal, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel opened fire on them along the way. Human rights groups maintain that over 60 were killed and around 200 were injured in the firing. The CRPF maintains that its soldiers opened fire after some militants among the mourners had opened fire on the men inside bunkers.

Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq’s killing led his teenage son to tread his father’s footsteps:

Maulvi Farooq’s assassination led his then-teenage son Umar Farooq to ascend the chair of head priest at Srinagar’s grand mosque—Jamia Masjid. He was also subsequently made head of his father’s socio-politico organisation Awami Action Committee (AAC). Umar, like his father, became Mirwaiz in May 1991. He was just 17-years-old then and a student at Srinagar’s Burn Hall School. 

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Umar is considered a moderate separatist leader. He favours resolution of the Kashmir issue through peaceful negotiations. While he has never denounced the ‘armed struggle’, he maintains a safe distance from militant groups. AAC which mostly draws its base from Srinagar’s downtown localities is considered pro-Pakistan. 

The Hurriyat has been calling for shutdown and urging people to march towards ‘Martyrs’ Graveyard’ in Srinagar to commemorate the death annivesary of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq on July 21 every year.

It was during one such march in 2002 that Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone was killed by gunmen on Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq’s death anniversary, making the date more blood-drenched in Kashmir’s history.

Ironically, both Maulvi Farooq and his killer Abdullah Bangroo are buried at the same ‘Martyrs’ Graveyard’ in Kashmir. 

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