Nine days with Lone in Srinagar

The brutal murder of senior APHC leader Abdul Ghani Lone comes as a very tragic event in the politics and history of Jammu and Kashmir. During the last decade, many politicians, human rights activists, men of distinction had been killed and the scars of their blood were seen at the shoulders of Kashmiri freedom fighters and Islamabad by India. Despite a great diplomatic hype and widespread media coverage, New Delhi never came out open with the evidence and related facts.

Pakistanis and militants on the other hand always accuse India for the same killings. In such a complex situation, facts become the first causality. However, the tragic fact here is that the Kashmiris have become the major losers in this dirty game. The Kashmiri mothers have lost hundreds of brilliants sons in this process which seems to continue till indefinite time. Undoubtedly, Lone one of the most distinguished Kashmiri! May God bless his soul.

His tragic death reminds me of my recent meetings with him in Srinagar in June 2001 where he personally invited me to attend the valima ceremony of his son, Sajjad Lone. He was the true champion of state unity which is clearly manifested from the wedding of his beloved son. Lone married Sajjad with the daughter of JKLF chief, Amanullah Khan, who hails from Astore, Northern Areas of Pakistan.

Prior visiting Srinagar, I knew Lone through his speeches, political moves and his love for freedom. Meeting him in person was a different experience all-together. The warmth of his hospitality and regard for a Pakistani guest is beyond any description.

I spent 9 days in Srinagar. I had the opportunity to speak to him for hours. He had immense knowledge of Kashmir political history, culture, Indian political setup, current thinking as well as different tides of resistance struggle. He shared with me his views, experience and future vision. Lone, who held the ministerial office, for a number of occasions, was brought up in a very poor family. Describing his days at the Aligarh University, Lone recalled that he used to wear shalwar and kameez of different colours as he did not have complete suit. The humble and down-to-earth Kashmir icon told me that at the time of entering politics, which was limited to the elite at that time, the shoes he used to wear one to two inches bigger than the size of his feet. “They used throw dust on those walking behind me.”

It was only his dedication, honesty and self-respect that led him to the top offices in the state government and then the resistance movement against the Indian occupation.

Abdul Ghani Lone was not freedom fighter by birth. Initially, he was a true believer of Indian secularism and democracy. He spent sometime with Congress, Junta Dal and finally formed his own political party, People Conference. He won state assembly election couple of times and worked as minister. During my visit to Srinagar, I asked him what made him quit the luxurious life enter this risky battle of freedom movement, lone said, “I have worked with Indians for a long time and there I realised that Indians never treat Kashmiris as an equal and respected citizen of the country.” He foresaw that one day India would be able to erode the Kashmiri culture as well as Muslim values, like it did with the internal autonomy. Another reason for his entry into the freedom movement was the massive rigging of 1987 state assembly elections. He said that his trust on India government has been shaken long ago. He was also sure that Indian would “never allow free and fair polls in the state”. He repeatedly remarked, “Undoubtedly, the Indians love the land of Kashmir but detest the Kashmiris.” During my over a week-long stay, I found Ghani Lone a mature politician, very insightful with great comprehension of global and regional politics. He served as a minister in Jammu and Kashmir for a quite reasonable time. It was then he could get the insight and know-how of Indian system of governance and decision making. Certainly, this experience always made a difference. With his great knowledge of Indian political machinery, he effectively led the resistance movement for a complete decade. Thus many of the observers believed Lone to a true representative of Kashmiris as against other leader whom they very easily bracket as voices of New Delhi or Rawalpindi. From the very beginning, Kashmiri politics has always been divided in two camps, one represents Indian establishment and other always look for Pakistan’s signals. Lone has been asserting genuine Kashmir thinking as well as identity. He has preferred political initiatives on the armed one for the last three years. During his visit to Pakistan in November 2000, he spoke a lot on various gatherings and had the courage to criticize the Pakistani establishment. He found the Pakistani policies ‘inconsistent’ and they lacked Kashmiri thinking and input. His frank, candid and outspoken conversation made a great impact on his listeners which varied from President of Pakistan to a common citizen of the country.

On the other hand, the Indian were really afraid of his political understanding, effective communication and futuristic vision. He showed his diplomatic muscle on different occasions. Lone held various meetings with the US state department, independent think-tanks and media in 1996, and subsequently after Kargil war in 1998. Almost everybody he met there was full of praise for him. He was seen as a moderate voice from the strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir.

Interestingly, his wife Hanefa was amongst his most outspoken critic. She, very frankly, told me at his posh residence Rawalpura, Srinagar, “One day, Lone will be killed.” I curiously asked as to why she thought so.” She replied, “He has opened two many fronts, for example he is fighting against India and Farooq Abdullah Administration, and at the same time he is indulged in bickering with Pakistan and mujahids.” Although he was listening to our conversation but he did not disagree with his wife point of view. It was not just the Indian establishment, he was the only Kashmiri resistance leader who had good contacts with foreign media as well as Delhi-based diplomatic community. Many Hindu leaders and intellectual were his personal friends. Contrary to some other leaders based in the valley, he used to visit Jammu. Even though recently, he visited Pundits Refugees Camps in Jammu and had a detailed interaction with them. He was very much concerned with their plight. Due to his dynamic personality, Farooq Abdullah regime always considered him a serious threat for his political career. Very recently, a Shiv Sina leader physically beat Lone when he was addressing a press conference in Jammu Press Club. The state police prevented his personal guards to intervene. Some circles also suspect Farooq Abdullah’s involvement in this killing. It is possible that he could do by keeping it secret from the Indian government. Farooq knows those militants are not a real threat to his Shaikh family rule but moderate politician like Lone can cause a serious blow for his political monarchy.

Certainly, it is a difficult time for Pakistan to counter the Indian propaganda against Islamabad’s involvement behind the assassination. In a televised statement, US Sectary of State Colin Powell implicitly blamed the militants for killing Lone. Surely, other western countries will follow the tone set by Powell. It has been became a practice to blame Pakistan for the killing of some notable or commoners belonging from minorities. In such a complex situation, Pakistan should take a lead and demand that impartial inquiry by the reputed international bodies. Moreover, Pakistan and militant will have to come-up with clear-cut policy regarding killings of civilians.

The murder of Abdul Ghani Lone is a serious blow to any freedom-loving Kashmiri. It is a big loss for Pakistan too as the country has lost a very honest well-wisher behind enemy lines.

The writer is a specialist on dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir conflict and India-Pakistan relations. He has recently visited Indian-Held Jammu and Kashmir on invitation of late Abdul Ghani Lone.