As Trehgam’s defiant legacy had finally found it’s heir-apparent, the villagers would regularly watch a wiry, opinionated boy praying five times a day and simultaneously taking part in cultural activities — even devoutly performing in dramas. Then as its postal address changed with the capture of Teetwal by the Indian army on May 23, 1948, the teen Maqbool Butt would make multiple attempts to cross over the Ceasefire Line, which after the 1972 Simla Agreement became the Line of Control — the event which later shaped up his struggle.
“I remember it was 1953-54 when I along with Maqbool Butt tried to cross over to Pakistan Administered Kashmir,” says Showkat Ahmad, Butt’s former college-mate, now living in Baramulla. “After spending a night inside a hut on the LoC, as we began next day’s journey, police arrested and beat us up.” It was Maqbool Butt’s fourth unsuccessful cross over bid.
Next time, when he finally managed to crossover, he went on to change the history of Kashmir on more than one count.
After the police released him, his family sent him some 60 km away in Baramulla for studies. He joined a private missionary St. Joseph College to study history and political science. From the word go, his fiery campus speeches revolving around the ‘Plebiscite Front’ made his college principal to state: “If he manages to pass through the hardships, this young man will become a great man.”
But the principal had put a heavy condition on his greatness: Such persons often get sacrificed on their way to freedom. Years later, Butt’s college-mates—like Showkat Ahmad—would term the principal’s remark as prophetic.
Soon, Butt was participating in peoples uprising in wake of “the lion of Kashmir” Sheikh Abdullah’s release, in December 1957. After Sheikh was re-arrested on 27 April, 1958, Butt became an obvious target for his campus activism. He went underground for three months and collected his degree certificate before finally crossing over to Azad Kashmir in August, 1958, in his fifth and successful bid, along with his uncle Abdul Aziz Butt. He was only 20.
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They were reportedly detained, interrogated and released after some Kashmiris living in Muzaffarabad intervened. In Lahore where they next went, Maqbool’s uncle made efforts for his nephew’s admission in Punjab University. It didn’t happen, forcing them to finally settle in Peshawar in September that year.
Back in Trehgam, his friends saw his Pakistan forays as an attempt to campaign for the lingering Kashmir dispute. But before his politics, came his education. He applied for Masters in Urdu in Peshawar University and shared the classroom with the legendary poets, Ahmed Faraz and Ta’aha Khan. His friends would later recall in their tributes to the man as how he used revolution as the content for poetry in the campus.
Outside, he would edit a weekly titled Anjaam for a living. It was the beginning of a journalistic career for the man who wore many hats. He continued editing, till completely jumping into politics in 1960.
He was yet to bump into the two prominent Kashmiris from Azad Kashmir—Amanullah Khan and Dr. Farooq Haider—when his uncle mediated and married him with Raja Begum in 1961. His two sons Javed and Shaukat got their sister Lubna from another mother when Butt remarried to a school teacher Zakra Begum in 1966.
Then K.H. Khurshid—a Kashmiri who had risen from a fiery SP College student activist to the personal secretary of Quad-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah—had introduced Kashmiri Diaspora in the ‘Basic Democracy’ elections as the then president of Azad Kashmir. Butt contested and won from Peshawar. He would later become Khurshid’s election campaigner before quitting politics after learning how Pakistan was sending militants to Kashmir under Operation Gibraltar in the run-up to 1965 Indo-Pak War.
Butt offered his services to the Pakistani Generals in a bid to prepare for the armed struggle under the Pakistani army. He wasn’t taken for the job — the snub which would shake his confidence in the Pakistani army. By the time the last gun of 1965 war fell silent, the Indo-Pak Tashkent Agreement further disillusioned him.
Inside Azad Kashmir, then, a United Front and Kashmir Independence Committee (KIC) members were together resisting the Mangla Dam construction. Butt was the pivotal part of this collaborative campaign paving the way for pro-independence politics in Pakistan-administrated Kashmir. Its members would later march down to Suchetgarh border, where, the legend goes, Maqbool Butt and Amanullah Khan took a fistful of soil from the Kashmir side to pledge to fight for the liberation of their homeland.
By April, 1965, Butt gave a concrete shape to the loose liberation force when he founded the J&K Plebiscite Front for Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. It was floated on the pattern of the popular Plebiscite Front, then engaging masses in Kashmir. Veteran freedom fighter Abdul Khaliq Ansari from Mirpur was chosen its president, while Amanullah Khan became its secretary general.
Earlier, Butt had run into Amanullah Khan in his twin private schools in Karachi. Khan would invite the who’s who of town to deliver guest-lectures there. On the pattern of the Algerian, Palestinian and Vietnamese struggles, Amanullah Khan writes in his autobiography, Jahd-i-Musalsal, an armed struggle was proposed as an objective of the Plebiscite Front before the working party meeting on 12 July, 1965 in Mirpur. It was turned down.
The denial made Butt, Khan, Mir Abdul Qayyum, a Kashmiri migrant from Jammu settled in Pakistan, and Major (R) Amanullah from Highhama town of Kashmir, a World War-II veteran who had served in Subhash Chandar Bose’s Indian National Army, to secretly float The Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (NLF) on 13 August, 1965 at the residence of Major Amanullah in Peshawar.
NLF’s sole objective was to use all forms of struggle to enable people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their future.
As its ranks swelled in less than a year, NLF’s first group—Maqbool Butt, Tahir Aurangzeb, a student from Gilgit, Amir Ahmed and Kala Khan, a retired non-commissioned officer from AJK force—decided to secretly cross back over to Kashmir on 10 June, 1966. Major Amanullah and Subedar Habibullah remained guarded near the frontiers.
Fresh from another wartime passion, Srinagar then saw the arrival of a twirled moustache man wearing a demeanour of an army man. Introduced as Col Batra of BB Cant, Maqbool Butt along with his men held meetings to recruit Kashmiris into the NLF.
“For the first three months, they worked underground to establish several armed pockets in Kashmir,” says an advocate, Butt’s former NLF associate. “It was a sleeper cell model, which was quietly making great inroads in Kashmir.” For Butt’s Kashmir contacts, it was the first serious attempt to start the armed struggle against the Indian State.
Among those who met Butt and his associates then, were Prof Sheikh Ghulam Mohammad, Dr Farooq Ashai and various members of the Youth League of Regional Engineering College and some Al-Fateh members. “At the heart of those secret recruitments was the mission to liberate Kashmir,” the advocate says. “Maqbool Shaheed just asked for our support, but instead, we threw our homes open for him.” From Srinagar, the secret NLF recruitment spread to Sopore and Handwara.
“But in those early days,” Amanullah Khan would later write in a letter to Dr Farooq Haider on April 5, 1983, “strict discipline was not followed in regard to membership; as a result in 1966, a man from Baramulla became a member and who led the Indian army to the house where Butt sahib was hiding.” The cover was blown when the mission was still in the organizational phase and threw a potential armed uprising haywire.
The human intelligence had located Maqbool and his three associates in Handwara’s Kanila village on September 14, 1966. They tried to break the cordon, but after a brief exchange of fire, Auranzeb and a CID officer Amar Chand were killed. Butt along with Kala Khan and Amir Ahmad were arrested and tried in a Srinagar court for two years for killing the sleuth, and crossing the Ceasefire Line illegally.
In the raids that followed, some three hundred people were arrested including students, traders, contractors, engineers. “They belonged to all parties including the Plebiscite Front, Indian National Congress, and the National Conference,” Khawaja Rafiq quotes Maqbool Butt in his book Safeer-e-Hurriyat.
During his interrogation, says one retired CID officer, the man simply baffled his interrogators with his sharp wit. “What could you tell a person who even made us believe that he was on the right side of history by quoting every possible literature to justify what he was doing,” the officer, now living a quiet life in Sopore, says.
What the officer says had become obvious in August 1968, after judge Neelkanth Ganjoo awarded the death sentence to Maqbool Butt and Amir Ahmad, and a life sentence to Kala Khan in Amar Chand case.
Maqbool Butt turned down the charges of killing a secret cop and being an enemy agent under the Enemy Act. “I’ve no objection in accepting all the charges levelled against me but remember I’m not the agent of your enemy,” Maqbool stood up during the trial in the court.
“Look at me! I am your enemy. I am the enemy of your colonial mindset. Have a good look, I am your enemy.”
Such words coming from the man put to death made him a legend for his followers — who would later resume his suspended mission by crossing over in droves.
Inside Srinagar’s Central Jail, his 45-day long planning finally culminated in the jailbreak. On December 8, 1968 at 2:10 am, Butt along with Amir Ahmed and Ghulam Yasin escaped by digging a 38-foot underground tunnel.
After the jailbreak, Maqbool Butt had become a reckoning name, at least in Srinagar.
By the time a large scale manhunt was launched, Maqbool and his associates were already taking Ganderbal’s mountainous routes to trek to Muzaffarbad. Fearing death due to bone-numbing cold, he would later reflect in his letters, they took shelter in Malshahi Bagh village in the evening. They kept changing places and walked for over two weeks through the forests and snow-clad mountains to reach Muzaffarabad.
“We reached Muzaffarabad on December 25, and were interrogated in the interrogation centre of Muzaffarabad till March 1969,” he writes in Safeer-e-Hurriyat. “Ayub Khan’s government has been very cruel to us. I was severely tortured while in the concentration camp. The pain increased with the thoughts that this was inflicted by our own.” He was set free on March 8, 1969 when PF, NLF and National Students Federation (NSF) activists staged demonstrations in Islamabad.
In November that year, Butt was elected as the Plebiscite Front’s president in the annual convention in Muzaffarabad. But his mind was still in militant methods to settle the Kashmir dispute. “Now we have entered in a new phase,” Safeer-e-Hurriyat quotes him. “Not only are we able to speak in the language of power that is the only language India understands but also are able to make the world community, which has ignored our existence, to recognize us. In this world you have to have your existence recognised.”
Even after engaging himself in fighting for the rights of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, he remained busy in formulating a plan that would eventually bring him and the Kashmir Dispute at the international forum.
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