Murder & Mystery: The dramatic execution of Mushir-ul-Haq

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It’s April 6 in 1990. An armed rebellion has broken out in Srinagar against Indian rule. Four armed men are lurking outside the University of Kashmir. A white ambassador car starts off from the vice-chancellor’s lodge and makes its way towards what is now Sir Syed Gate of the Varsity. Inside the car is Prof Musheer-ul-Haq, the vice-chancellor, his personal secretary, Abdul Gani and an orderly. Haq is on his way to offer Friday prayers. When the car approaches Teacher’s Apartment, it slows down to make a right turn towards the gate when the four men sprung to action, brought the car to halt by pointing gun at the driver from a distance, forcibly got in and ordered the driver to move without making any fuss.

On April 6 morning, Haq had received a call from Kashmir’s then Governor Jagmohan, confirming his request for an appointment. After meeting with Jagmohan, Haq’s car drove to his office at the Varsity where he met with the registrar and the developmental officer till it struck 1 pm on the clock. At this time, the VC, along with his personal secretary, left for Friday prayers when they met their abductors. The car drove away for a few kilometers till it reached a locality in old Srinagar city where the VC was shuffled into a standing red Maruti jeep along with Gani. His driver was allowed to go and the jeep sped up, disappearing into the narrow alleys of Fateh Kadal.

The news of vice chancellors kidnapping was announced in the evening news broadcast on Doordarshan. In the meantime, a university official informed Haq’s family in Delhi about the abduction. On the same day, Jammu Kashmir Students Liberation Front, the student wing of JKLF, claimed responsibility of the kidnapping. The following day, Haq’s nephew, Qamar Furqan, flew to Srinagar from Delhi. Shortly after landing, Qamar talked to Governor Jagmohan over phone.

On the morning of April 8, Jagmohan sent senior State Police and government officials with assurances to Haq’s family in Srinagar that the government was making every effort to ensure his safe release. The dramatic abduction was the second high profile kidnapping in the Valley. Earlier, Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then federal home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was kidnaped by JKLF militants who had demanded the release of five of their comrades in exchange.

The government had buckled under pressure and released the militants. Ms Rubaiya was set free after six days. Two hours after their release, the freed militants were given a rousing welcome at Rajouri Kadal in Srinagar.

The kidnapping was a watershed moment in the advent of armed rebellion in Kashmir. The State government faced criticism for bending to militants’ demands. Now, in Mushir ul Haq’s kidnapping, the government headed by Governor Jagmohan was in no mood to cave in. The abductors belonging to JKSLF militants were demanding release of three of its detained militants and a three-hour relaxation in curfew which was a regular feature at that time in Srinagar. The militants’ demands were communicated by BA Subla, the acting registrar of the Varsity.

On the evening of April 9, three days after the abduction, Mr Subla called upon the family members of Mr Haq at around 8 pm and informed them that he had some good news and he will meet them at VC’s lodge. Arriving shortly after midnight with DG of CRPF alongside him, Mr Subla told the family that he received a call from the militants who had ‘expressed unhappiness’ about the government’s efforts in securing the release of Haq.

“Haq had spoken briefly on the phone and he sounded fine,” the registrar told the police when he was questioned. A senior police official present at the lodge asked the registrar whether the militants had left any phone number. When the registrar said no, the officer questioned the credibility of Subla’s account.

Moments later, the registrar was taken to governor’s house for ‘questioning’.

Next day, the family of Mr Haq learned about the killing of another abducted person. HL Khera, the general manager of HMT, who was kidnapped when his car was stopped at Qamarwari and gunmen shoved themselves into the vehicle. Three days later, his abductors arrived outside Police Control Room near Batamaloo, pushed Khera out and dramatically shot him dead in broad daylight. JKSLF claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The killing increased tension at VC’s lodge. Mr Subla returned to the lodge and said he had been questioned all night at the Governor’s house about why the captors had called him. What efforts the authorities were making to ensure Haq’s safety remain unknown.

On April 10, four days into Haq’s kidnapping, his nephew Furqan was called to the police station near the university. The superintendent of police desperately pleaded Furqan to make an appeal to the militants, but he refused. The family stated that ‘the government had assured them that everything was done to secure the release of Haq’. At around 1.30 am on April 11, a police officer came to VC’s lodge and took Furqan to police control room from where another police officer took Furqan to a place near Airport Road.

By the side of the road near a canal lay the bullet riddled bodies of Mr Haq and his personal secretary Gani. Haq had bullet wounds on the left side of his back and one in the right palm. Mr Ghani also had bullet wounds on the left side of his body and his neck. The bodies were taken to the police control room and post mortem found 12 bullet wounds on Mr Haq’s body. Later that day, Haq’s body was flown to New Delhi by his grief-stricken family and buried there.

These details are part of police records, case dairies of Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), which investigated the case, and the reports prepared by independent human rights groups who closely followed the case. The CBI took charge of the case soon after the killings and filed a charge-sheet at Special Court under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act in Jammu, blaming JKSLF for the killing. The agency named 15 persons for various roles in the abduction and murder. The story offered to the court by CBI was that the accused had abducted Haq and his private secretary on April 6, 1990, to secure the release of jailed militants Nissar Ahmed Jogi, Ghulam Nabi Bhat and Fiyaz Ahmed Wani.

“The CBI told the court as the demand of JKSLF was not met, they killed both the hostages. In the challan presented in the court, the CBI named 15 people including JKLF chief Amanullah Khan as the main conspirator, Hilal Beigh, a self-styled chief commander of J&K Students Liberation Front, Javed Ahmed Shala, Mushtaq Ahmed Sheikh, Saleem Zargar, Mohammad Ashraf Bhat, Aftab, Hilal Ahmed Sheikh, Rafiq Wani and Mohammad Hussain Khan,” Yogesh Bakshi senior defense counsel at a special TADA court in Jammu told Authint Mail over phone.

One of the accused, Khalid Rashid, died in a grenade attack when he was being shifted from a jail. The key accused, Hilal Ahmad Beg, was killed allegedly in a fake encounter. Hilal Beigh died during the pendency of trial. Among the four absconders, declared as proclaimed offenders, were Amanullah Khan, Hilal Beg’s cousin Bilal Ahmad Beg and Javed Ahmad Shah.

Fifteen days after Haq and Ghani’s bodies were found lying dead near a canal, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) issued a statement titled ‘The kidnapping and execution of Mushir-ul-Haq and Abdul Ghani: An Explanation’. The outfit distanced itself from the execution of Prof Haq and his secretary. Squarely placing the blame on Hizbul Mujahideen and Pakistan’s spy agency ISI, the outfit stated that although it might become ‘necessary to order kidnappings’ from time to time but ‘the targets should be government officials and collaborators, not the sons and daughters of soil’.

“JKLF was opposed to the execution of its hostages and one Brig Imtaiz had wrongly used Amanullah Khan’s name to order the killing of Mushir-ul-Haq. Our advice was not heeded by Hizb- e-Mujahideen, which carried out this operation on the instructions of the ISI and Brig Imtiaz,” the JKLF statement said.

In 2009, the presiding officer of TADA Court, Jammu, after hearing counsels from both the sides in the case pertaining to the killing of vice-chancellor Haq and his private secretary, observed that confession of Mohammad Saleem Zargar was inadmissible in evidence and ‘a doubt arises on the voluntary nature of the confession made by accused Mushtaq Ahmed Khan and Mohammad Sadiq Rather’, Indian Express reports.

“The implicit reliance cannot be placed upon the confession made by accused without corroboration, which is lacking in the present case to hold accused guilty of the commission of offence with which they are charged,” the court observed, acquitting them of all the charges.

“The case couldn’t pass the judicial scrutiny and the accused were acquitted of all charges in 2009 after nineteen years, “The case was won by a technical fault in the prosecution (CBI) case,” Bakshi said. The CBI however took the case to Supreme Court.

Only until April 2014, twenty four years after the execution of the vice chancellor, the Jammu and Kashmir police in a breakthrough announcement stated that it has arrested the co-accused in the Haq’s kidnapping case – Hilal Ahmad Sheikh. He has been charged by CBI for being part of the conspiracy.

Hilal Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Naid Dori, who was released on bail by the court recently, said he borrowed a friend’s red Maruti jeep, in which Prof Haq was shuffled after the abduction near Kashmir University, in order to take his mother to see a doctor.

“On the way home to pick up mother, he was apprehended by four armed men and threateningly told to drive the car to a certain location. He obliged without a word. It was a time when the fear of death ruled all and sundry,” one of his relatives said.

Driving the car to the desired location as ordered by the abductors, Hilal’s family says he was let go near Fateh Kadal after Prof Haq was shuffled into the car and he came home panting. “He was threatened to keep silent,” the relative said.

When the police in Srinagar claimed to have arrested Hilal for his role in the kidnapping and murder of Prof Haq after twenty four years, it was consciously made out to look like a ‘feat’. The police in its handout mentioned that the accused had been ‘absconding’ and ‘evading’ arrest.

The twist in the story was brought about by the fact that Hilal has been living in Naid Dori area of Srinagar for many decades. He is married and has a son. His wife went into depression by this sudden calamity that has befallen her family. Speaking in a low tone, she rejects the police version of her husband being a fugitive.  “My husband has been a prosperous and respected businessman for many decades now. He was not a fugitive. The arrest is certainly a conspiracy to implicate him,” Rafia says.

The Sheikhs live a small distance away from the Zadibal police station. In fact Hilal had recently complained to the police about a wall in front of his embroidery shop caving in. “Some of the policeman sometimes offer prayers at the local mosque where Hilal is a regular. In fact he had good rapport with a few of them,” says Hilal’s brother-in-law, Nisar Ahmad.

Hilal’s part in the kidnapping seems incidental from the way his family recalls the story. Srinagar was on boil. It was chaotic situation in the streets. The fear of gun was everywhere. In such a situation, a driver giving up his car to four armed men seems a plausible theory. But the arrest and subsequent message sent out into the media by police is the picture of Hilal being a co-conspirator in the kidnapping and murder of the vice-chancellor when the case didn’t even stand the judicial scrutiny.

“To portray him as the kidnapper will be a grievous mistake. He was merely driving a car which the abductors forced away from him, at gunpoint. Any man in that position would do what Hilal did,” Mr Nisar says.

The ‘facts’’ put out by two sides of the story are contradictory in nature too. From last eight years, Hilal is a bearer of a valid Indian Passport bearing no F 7780428 which was issued to him on October 10, 2006. The acquirement of a passport in Kashmir involves verification and security clearance from multiple agencies. Are there any loopholes in the scrutinizing process employed by the agencies before issuing passports? How did a person involved in a ‘crime’ manage to acquire a passport which police and other agencies have to answer!

“How can he be an absconder when he was holding an Indian passport? Hilal performed a Hajj pilgrimage in 2006 and would often travel outside India for business purposes,” Nisar said.

When the news broke about the arrest of Hilal in connection with murder of Prof Haq and his secretary, both Indian and Kashmiri media ran the police version. According to police, Hilal was arrested after “specific information regarding his presence in the jurisdiction of Zadibal police station.”

“Hilal was on his shop and he was told by a cop to be come to Zadibal police station, which he did. He was arrested right there. How can they call it ‘nabbing an absconding criminal’? These are all lies,” Nisar said.

Originally published here — https://archive.authintmail.com/article/reportage/murder-mystery-dramatic-execution-mushir-ul-haq

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