A militant trying to settle in his homeland Kashmir while his Pakistani wife long for home

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Yusuf has started painting to earn a livelihood for his family in Kashmir. His income is not sufficient for him and his family

by Rouf Fida 15 May 2020

On an unusual afternoon of 31 August 2015, a surprising yet beaming crowd had gathered around the two-story house of old yet happy Gulam Hussain in Shalimar, Srinagar, in Indian administrated Kashmir. For Hussain, his son, Mohd Yusuf, was returning home with his family from Pakistan after 22 years. For the crowd, the former militant ‘Colored’ was returning from war with stories of valor, suffering, agony, and pride. But Yusuf was coming back to start the third phase of his life thanks to the rehabilitation policy that the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) introduced in 2010 to facilitate the return of Kashmiri former militants who had crossed to Pakistan for arms training between 1/1/1989 to 31/12/2009 to fight the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir, but had given up insurgent activities and were willing to return to Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have been locked in a dispute over the state of Jammu and Kashmir since they won independence in 1947 from British rule. India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in full but control only parts of it. The countries have fought four wars, three of them over Kashmir. But in 1991, hordes of young men waged war against Indian rule in the region. The organization leading this movement was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front [JKLF], which beliefs in a sovereign Kashmir, independent from both India and Pakistan. Indian security forces fought to stem the wave of insurgency and the popular uprising sweeping the valley. Due to this counter-insurgency campaign of India, the insurgency lost strength and momentum. The Kashmiri youth who went to Pakistan for arms training couldn’t come back and started a new life in Pakistan away from home. They aim of the rehabilitation policy was to bring them back.

“The announcement made me feel young again. I was missing my home, and my parents and want to see them before destiny will part us forever,” told me the 42-year-old Yusuf, whose features make him look older than his age.

Obtaining a direct visa to India from Pakistan is a difficult task, so ex-militants with their families reached Nepal and from where they entered the Indian border as the India-Nepal border doesn’t require any Visa. 

“But before we could pack our bags and leave for Kashmir, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) cancelled its direct air services to Nepal as former-militants with their families were leaving Pakistan.  Also, the decision by the state government was unilateral, and Pakistan was not taken on board. So Pakistan authorities didn’t consider the policy, and hence former Kashmiri militants were not able to travel India directly.” Yusuf added.

“I gave up. I thought I will never be able to walk again on roads that witnessed my childhood. But my parents kept calling me back, and the love for my motherland kept me on my toes.” Yusuf added.

He decided to break all mountains and cross all rivers to reach Kashmir. He made a plan, worked overtime, and saved 4.75 lack rupees.

“In 2015, I had to book return flight tickets for my whole family to Nepal, which had two layovers:  one of 2 hours at Dubai and second of 3 hours at Oman as direct flights to Nepal weren’t available.” Remembers Yusuf.

The flight tickets cost him 375000 rupees. He tore the return tickets at Tribhuvan International Airport Kathmandu, Nepal. From Nepal, they went to Lucknow, the capital of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, via bus costing 12000 rupees.

 “We then board the train to Jammu at 1600 rupees, and from Jammu to Srinagar, we came by bus, costing further 4000.” Calculated Yusuf.

When Yusuf alighted from the taxi near his home, no one recognised Yusuf at first, for he had drastically changed. Only his mother cried from a distance, “myani Yusfoo” (my Yusuf).

Hearing this, the crowd started chanting Yusuf Bhai zindabad, Yusuf Bhai zindabad (long live brother Yusuf).

“They were happy and were celebrating as if it was Eid. They treated me as if I was a leader or a superstar,” he added smilingly.

Friends, neighbors, and relatives kept coming for weeks to their home.  They brought gifts for the whole family. They were excited to know about the second chapter of Yusuf’s life, for they knew how exciting his first chapter was, which started in 1986 when a 9-year-old Yusuf went to Pakistan administered Kashmir by foot lonely, crossing snow-laden lofty Himalayan Mountains.

“My friends and relatives think that I went there for arms training and did four years of training in Pakistan administered Kashmir. Then I joined some AL-Umar militant group and came back to valley as a 13-year-old militant in 1990. They have also heard that my code name was ‘Colored,’ and after surviving for a year from the Indian Army, I went back to Pakistan in 1991.” Sarcastic Yusuf said.

 Yusuf thinks that people of the valley are great novelists, for they create several stories from a single character. He believes that rumours and stories in valley travel faster than blood in veins.

“Interestingly, I heard so many stories about myself. One of my childhood friends told me that I had gone to Afghanistan as a trainee militant. After two years of further training in Afghanistan, in 1993, I came back to the valley as a special sniper shooter but went back to Pakistan again. I don’t know where they have heard such stories.” Yusuf added with a sarcastic smile stretching the muscles of his face.  

In reality, Yusuf, while crossing the borders barred by Border Security Forces, forests, and snow-laden Himalayan Mountains, got sick and was admitted to a hospital in Pakistan administered Kashmir. After a year as a civilian, he came back to the valley only to find himself in the wanted list of militants. He went back to Pakistan administered Kashmir the same year and stayed there for six years doing odd jobs.  

“I had gone to Pakistan administered Kashmir for arms training, but after seeing a lot of blood and bodies at a very young age in the hospital I was admitted in, I realized the importance of life. In 1993, I left Pakistan administered Kashmir and went to Karachi, Pakistan.” He added, shaking his head.

 He started the second phase of his life from Nazimabad Karachi, where he established himself as Abas Jafri, aka Kifayat. He worked in the textile industry and got married to Nadiya in 2010.

“Nadiya was a tailor cum social worker, so I also became a social worker with her.” Said Yusuf.

 Yusuf bought 14 acres of land with his savings in Nazimabad. He became a respected citizen of Pakistan. He would often call his parents from Pakistan and invite them to Karachi. His life in Nazimabad was a calm sea with four naughty bubbles – Zehra, Urooba, Hazim, and Ali floating on it.

“I ended the second phase on a hope that Kashmir will be a friendly host for my family and me.” Disappointed, Yusuf said, brushing his salt and paper beard with his hands.

 For the first few months of his stay, he was showered with love and care from his parents, which he missed for 22 years. He put on weight because his mother ‘Jana’ made him eat a lot. Nadiya got bored because she was neither allowed to do any work nor household chores and was treated like a new bride by her in-laws. The children were savouring the love of their grandmother and grandfather.

But this reception didn’t end for a long time.

“My parents showed their cold side when they learned that I hadn’t brought any money with me from Pakistan, and I was financially dependent on them.” He said.

The family having dinner in their 11 by 17 feet room in Shalimar Srinagar. This room is their entire house

 Yusuf was only given one 17 by 11 feet room on the first floor with three windows painted white from his father’s property.  With no kitchen, washroom, and job, their lives came to a standstill. They had to start a new life from nothing. Circumstances made Yusuf a painter. He began painting shops, houses, and his hopes. Wife Nadiya chose the most lit corner of the room for tailoring. Elder daughter Zehra, 16 years old, took care of household chores and her younger siblings. Nadiya’s income helped Yusuf to run the family.

 “We thought that the government would rehabilitate us soon as per the policy, and our problems will be solved.” Said Nadiya while trying to thread the needle.

“But rather than rehabilitating, they charge us with illegal resident cases. If we are illegal residents, then send us back.”  Added Nadiya, still struggling to thread the needle.

Nadiya is more educated than Yusuf and earns more than Yusuf during strikes in the valley.

The family, which was once living in their own house, is now subsisting with a single room with no fan in it. They work, read, cook, laugh, cry, and sleep in the same room. They change clothes behind window curtains. They store water in water bottles, for they don’t have a water tank. The children use their uncle’s bathroom every morning. The four kids were once students of the second-best school of Karachi, but now they can’t even afford a simple private school.

“I want to study medical science, but I know my father’s income here.” Said the elder daughter Zehra.

Yusuf regrets his decision about coming back. “We were hoping that the government will rehabilitate us. But rehabilitation policy was mere an announcement.” Said disappointed Yusuf.

In 2013 police arrested 23 members of four former-militant families in Keran while trying to exfiltrate to POK near LOC.

In April 2014, Saira Begum, Pakistani wife of an ex-militant who accompanied her husband to Kashmir, committed suicide. Same year former militant set himself on fire in the village square of Kreeri in north Kashmir

And protests in the past years and recent ones, wherein spouses of the former militants said they were neglected and not granted travel and other documents by the state administration, have revealed the 2010 rehabilitation policy’s failure. According to the system, the returnees would be given training in suitable trades or skills in IITs or other training institutions to enable their reintegration into society. The then state cabinet approved this policy in November 2010 after the government clearance of India. 

However, the rehabilitation policy was meant for those, who entered through four points – Poonch-Rawalakote, Uri-Muzaffarabad in Jammu and Kashmir, Attari-Wagah in Punjab and Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. India Nepal border is not on the list.

In 2017, the state government in the Legislative Assembly revealed that only 377 former militants, along with 864 family members had returned since 2010. Since none of them had come via approved routes, so they are not entitled to any benefits available under the policy.

“We had crossed illegally; we had to return illegally. How could Pakistan allow us to cross from these designated routes?” Said Yusuf.

Photo album of Mohd Yusuf when he was in Pakistan living as Abas Jafri

Senior editor Dr. Suhail Ahmad said, “The Nepal border thing was the officially cited reason. But the real reason must surely have been a lack of political will. This lack of political will have led to the failure of all other confidence-building measures as well.”

The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, too, had demanded Nepal to be recognised as an official point. Still, there has hardly been any response from New Delhi.

Yusuf and his family now don’t want any rehabilitation from the government and want to go back to Pakistan. 

“Like many such families, we also neither have citizenship rights nor travel documents to go back to Pakistan. My brothers got married in-between, and I couldn’t attend their marriage ceremonies.” Complained Nadiya. 

Chairman Ansar Burney Trust International and Pakistan’s former Federal Minister for human rights Mr. Ansar Burney told me via Whatsapp call, “Both the governments should look into the matter on a humanitarian basis and should keep politics at bay.”

The family is praying and protesting for five years. The once friendly atmosphere has turned hostile because of their income and standard of living. They are also tired wandering from pillar to post for rehabilitation or visa. Such is the stay hurting them that Yusuf said, “If God gives me a chance to go back in time and change my whole destiny, I will only change our visit to the valley in 2015. Rest, I will keep the same.”

Nadiya said when there is any kind of escalation of tension between India and Pakistan, she prays that it turns into a war only then she might see her family if she survives.

After travelling thousands of kilometers and spending lakhs of hard-earned money, the family is still looking for their home and nation. A home where they won’t feel like a refugee and land where they are not illegal.

More reading

‘I have no one here’: Why Pakistani wives of former Kashmiri militants long for home

Credit for the photographs goes to Bilal Ahmad.

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