From wielding a Kalashnikov to a self-styled follower of Mahatma Gandhi, legendary Kashmir rebel leader Yassin Malik has spent his life battling Indian rule in the disputed region for the past 30 years.
Malik, one of the leading separatist leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir, has advocated for a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict and warned of the dangers lingering disputes pose to peace and development in South Asia.
Malik leads the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which advocates the creation of a Kashmir state independent of India and Pakistan, both of which rule parts of the Himalayas but have sovereignty over the entire region.
JKLF is one of several separatist groups banned by the Indian government in 2019 Because of their “separatist ideology”. Following the ban, there was a widespread crackdown on separatists and insurgents, most of whom remained in prison.
Later that year, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was re-elected to power, the Hindu nationalist government headed by Modi scrapped Indian-administered Kashmir of its special status, divided it into two federal territories and imposed an unprecedented security shutdown in the valley, During this period, thousands of Kashmiris were arrested and jailed.
Malik’s conviction seen as last effort Modi’s government left Kashmir’s pro-freedom groups without leadership — one of the goals behind India’s 2019 campaign.
take up arms
Malik was born in Maisuma in the center of Srinagar, the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir, in 1966. Before revoking the region’s special status, Mesuma was dubbed “Kashmir’s Gaza Strip” for its relentless anti-India protests.
For Malik, the defining moment came in 1987, when the Indian government was accused of rigging parliamentary elections in collusion with the National Congress, the main pro-India party in Indian-administered Kashmir that has ruled for most of the past seven years. the region for decades.
In that election, Malik campaigned for Muhammad Yusuf Shah, one of the leaders of the Muslim United Front (MUF), a party bloc that called for a referendum to secede from India. Analysts say the MUF is on its way to victory when the polls are rigged.
The manipulation of the polls in 1987 sparked unprecedented outrage in the region, with thousands of Kashmiri men, including Malik, crossing to Pakistan for weapons training and returning to fight Indian rule.
Shah now lives in Pakistan under the name Syed Salahuddin and leads Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the prominent anti-India militant groups.
Malik returned from Pakistan in 1989 to lead the JKLF, the first group to declare an armed rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir.
In December of the same year, the group kidnapped Rubiyah Saeed, the 23-year-old daughter of then federal interior minister Mufti Mohammad Saeed, who is also a prominent Kashmiri politician.
Said was freed five days later after New Delhi agreed to the JKLF’s request to release five of its members.
Malik was arrested in 1991 on multiple charges, including the kidnapping of Said. When he was released in 1994, he was a different person and decided to give up his guns.
Malik’s JKLF announced an indefinite unilateral ceasefire with the Indian government. Since then, Malik has advocated for a nonviolent struggle for the region’s independence.
“He is the leader of everyone here. He lives a life of suffering for a cause. We are all grieving,” said one of his neighbors, Ahmad, who would not reveal his identity for fear of reprisals. name, he told Al Jazeera.
After giving up arms in 1994, Malik took over the JKLF’s political wing and became a leading activist for Kashmir freedom. Sai Ali GilaniThe veteran Kashmir leader, who rivaled Malik in the separatist camp, died last year.
While Malik has been routinely detained by police and released for protesting freedom, he has persisted in mobilizing the masses, organizing a shutdown and calling for a boycott of India’s elections in the disputed region.
Malik’s JKLF is part of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a coalition of pro-freedom groups separatist movement In the region until 2003 when the APHC split.
After JKLF quit Hurriyat, Malik embarked on Safr-e-Azadi (Freedom Journey) – a year-long journey through Kashmir to mobilize people for self-determination.
In 2006, Malik met then-Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but their talks did not lead to any breakthrough. New Delhi continues its tight noose over Indian-administered Kashmir, sparking massive street protests.
In 2010, Malik joined forces with top separatists Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to form a coordination committee to lead anti-India protests in the valley.
After the top rebel commander was killed Burhan Varney In 2016, the three top pro-freedom leaders came together again to form the United Resistance leadership. The group sparked months-long uproar in the region over the killing of Vani by publishing a calendar of protests and calling for a shutdown.
The following year, Malik wrote an open letter to the U.S. government, calling it a “failed commitment” to resolve the Kashmir issue.
“With the persuasion of US, UK and European envoys, I made the most unpopular unilateral ceasefire decision that endangered the lives of me and my colleagues. [Despite] At all costs and provocations, the Indian Army is back on the road to violence, and I stand by my decision,” he wrote.
Malik has said in many interviews over the years that he is also disappointed by the position of India’s left-wing liberal class in Kashmir, accusing them of being “firefighters” of the Indian state in the region.
“Unfortunately, in times of crisis, (members of Indian civil society) came to Kashmir, accused their own government, and sold the Kashmiri people big dreams, but as soon as the crisis was over, they packed up,” he told Pakistan in 2013. Dawn newspaper said in an interview.
Kashmir political experts called Malik one of the “top leaders in the region”.
“[By] Sentencing him to life in prison, despite negotiations with him at the top Indian leadership, including the former prime minister, the Indian government wants to send a message that separatism in Kashmir will be tolerated at any cost,” the analyst told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity in the case of.
He warned that Malik’s sentence “could backfire as there is enormous anger repressed in the valley and a small trigger could lead to violent street protests”.
“By deciding not to challenge his allegations, Malik also puts a question mark on the entire judicial process and the independence of the Indian judiciary,” he added.