Does Yasin Malik’s Conviction Give Hope For Justice For Kashmiri Pandits?

New Delhi, May 19 (ANI): Separatist leader Yasin Malik being brought out of the NIA Court after the court convicted him in the terror funding case, at Patiala Court, in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI Photo/Ayush Sharma)

A special National Investigative Agency (NIA) court’s handing of two concurrent life term imprisonment sentences to JKLF leader Yasin Malik — on charges of terror funding and waging war against the nation — marks an important milestone in India’s fight against Pakistan-inspired terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir for decades.

This is the first big case in which the Union government has taken a strong stand against terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. It is also the first case of terror funding that has led to a verdict in which a top separatist stands convicted.

Yasin Malik was sentenced to 10-years of rigorous imprisonment under five different sections, and 20-year imprisonment under two other sections, apart from fined a Rs 10 lakh fine.

Special Judge Parveen Singh specifically rejected Yasin Malik’s contention that he had been adhering to “Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of non-violence” for the last 28 years when he gave up militancy in 1994.

Despite his notoriety, Yasin Malik was not given the death penalty though NIA asked for it, citing his role in the genocide and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. The Special Judge noted that the case before him related to the funding of terrorism and his role in the atrocities against the Kashmiri Pandits was “neither before this court nor has been adjudicated upon and thus the court cannot allow itself to be swayed by this argument.”

Also, the Special Judge held that he was not awarding him the death sentence because the manner of the commission of the crime (a conspiracy) did not pass the test set by the Supreme Court for “rarest of rare” cases.

Justice for Kashmiri Pandits?

So, the big question is whether Yasin Malik’s conviction gives some solace and hope for the kin and kith of those Kashmiri Pandit families who lost their members during the forces exodus of 1990.

Perhaps, not. The tragedy of that period is that no cases were registered by local police for those crimes during that period. Subsequently, too, the demand for setting up a high-level probe has been stymied by local politicians who oppose any inquiry into those killings unless there is a bigger omnibus inquiry into the deaths of all civilians including those who fell to security forces.

As on date, about 800 Pandit families are still living in Kashmir as they still struggle to secure their security. Isolated incidents of attacks on them further erode any possibility of their return to the Valley though everyone says they are committed to their cause.

On March 11, Vivek Agnihotri-directed ‘The Kashmir Files’ hit the screens, beginning a new round of heated discussions on the exodus of 1990. But they have failed to examine how the perpetrators could be brought to justice.
Definitely, the movie shook the consciousness of the country but beyond that, nothing tangible seems to have been achieved.

Of course, the outrage caused by the film saw Kashmiri Pandits organization “Roots in Kashmir” file a curative petition in the Supreme Court, seeking a fresh probe into the killings of Kashmiri Pandits.

The curative petition was filed against a 2017 verdict of the Supreme Court which had dismissed the organisation’s petition for probe, citing long delay.

Support for Yasin Malik?

Predictably, Yasin Malik’s conviction has been opposed by the Gupikar alliance (a grouping of Valley-based parties including National Conference and People’s Democratic Party) who shout from the rooftop that injustice has been done to him.

A section of the Indian commentariat is also upset — because it cannot accept the revocation of Article 370 (which gave a special status for J&K and fuelled separatist ideas). It has declared that this would not bring peace to Kashmir and will only create more possibilities of greater radicalisation. They cite the instances of rise of young militants like Burhan Wani and Maqbool Bhat who became local heroes.

Probe began only under Modi government

But it must be remembered that NIA begun its probe into terror funding charges against Yasin Malik only in 2017. That too after the Modi government decided that strong action must be taken in this regard. The NIA proved in court that he had taken money from Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed.

Yasin Malik sent this money to terror groups active in the Valley. This money was used to provoke stone-throwing incidents, attacks on army and security forces and targeted killings. During the trial, NIA produced 3,000 pages of evidence, and recordings of conversations between the accused.

The NIA produced more than 400 electronic pieces of evidence in court. It even documented how the accused had contacts with the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi. The NIA even gave evidence of properties acquired by Yasin Malik, which was the main reason why the Special Court levied Rs 10 lakh fine on him.

Yasin’s past is sure to catch up

Yasin Malik is no ordinary militant leader. He went to Pakistan for arms training in 1990 to carry out several terror attacks. He was the mastermind behind the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, sister of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, and daughter of the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

He was also the mastermind behind the terror attack on Indian Air Force personnel in January 1990, in which four officers including Squadron Leader Ravi Khanna were killed.

In August 1990, Yasin Malik was injured in an encounter with security forces and was arrested. In 1994 when he was released from prison, Yasin Malik claimed in court that he never indulged in violence and took to Gandhiji’s ideals.

Previous governments in New Delhi erred in indulging him. Thus began his foray into politics.

They did not realise his duplicity for a long time. He met prime ministers I K Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh when the Centre was hoping for a political dialogue to resolve the imbroglio in Kashmir.

The Vajpayee government even issued him a passport to travel abroad because it trusted him to take forward the political dialogue. But Yasin Malik showed no remorse or reform and, instead, arranged to fund for terror groups in the Valley. and maintained close relations with his Pakistani handlers.

No wonder, we have seen his conviction being condemned by many Pakistani leaders including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and former PM Imran Khan. On the Indian side, he has got the full support of PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti who toe Pakistan’s line.

But, with the Modi government firm on its approach despite critics predicting doomsday in the Kashmir Valley because of what they see as “repression”, Yasin Malik’s conviction is more than a strong message to those who believe in the power of the gun even now.

(The author is a senior journalist and a well known political commentator)

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