In this second and final part of our cover story on Maqbool Bhat, we trace his struggles in Pakistan, the controversial Ganga Hijacking, the subsequent political subterfuge, his trail and jail term in Pakistan and his final cross over to Indian held Kashmir and his eventual hanging by the Indian government.
Maqbool Bhat and his companions had thought that after crossing over to Pakistan they would be welcomed and their struggle would be accepted but that never happened. They believed that Pakistani authorities would now back them on their future endeavors on Kashmir. But here again, they were treated with hostility, no different from what they had experienced in Srinagar. For about three months, from January till March, Maqbool Bhat was held in Azad Kashmir. JKNLF staged many demonstrations during these months which later led to his release on 8 March 1969.
Answering a question about their arrest in Azad Kashmir, Maqbool Bhat said in another interview, “What can I say about that? It was the government of Ayub Khan and what can I say about Ayub Khan? This man neither had the welfare of the Pakistani people at his heart nor of the Kashmiris. His government has been very cruel to us. I was severely tortured while in the detention camp. The pain increased with the thoughts that this was inflicted by our own.” (Khawaja pg. 249)
Maqbool Bhat became an overnight hero after his release. His story had spread everywhere, but deep inside he was troubled by what he and his friends had experienced at the hands of the Pakistani government. Nonetheless, it did not stop Maqbool Bhat and he kept going on. JKNLF sympathizers in Indian Occupied Kashmir were activated once again and their operations started. Amanullah Khan published a pamphlet titled “Al-Fateh aur Kashmiri Nojawaan” which was also distributed in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Even an encounter took place at Sopore, the news of which later echoed in the Kashmir Assembly too. A Congressman, Ghulam Rasool Kar warned his fellow ‘elected representatives’ about the training and arming of Kashmiri youth by JKNLF. Sheikh Abdullah too took notice of it and tried to explain to India how the Kashmiri youth were tired of peaceful tactics and ready for an armed struggle. These developments prove that the actions Maqbool Bhat and his party were taking were not futile but were bearing fruit.
In Pakistan, Maqbool Bhat was chosen as the chairman of the Plebiscite Front (PF is not to be confused with the Plebiscite Front from IOK). Many members of the PF were not in the favour of an armed struggle but Maqbool Bhat still went ahead and announced JKNLF as its armed wing but as we already know Maqbool Bhat was highly inspired by the national liberation struggles taking place simultaneously in the world particularly those in Algeria, Palestine, and Vietnam and it was these struggles that had motivated him to announce an armed wing. He then held a press conference in Lahore and Gujranwala where his ideas highly impressed the journalist community. As the idea of an independent Kashmir started to catch pace, the Government of Pakistan started creating hurdles for the group and even warned them. Nonetheless, Maqbool and his companions continued their work.
In 1970, the Pakistani government proposed the Azad Kashmir Act, this act was strongly opposed by the Plebiscite Front, who called it “a document of slavery”. Huge processions took place all over Azad Kashmir. As per those protesting the Act, Azad Kashmir was supposed to be Azad and self-governing not to be held in place by puppets. In October 1970, a meeting was scheduled by PF at Gilgit but fearing unrest and expansion of JKNFL’s idea many of the leaders were not allowed to go there. Maqbool Bhat, Abdul Khaliq Afsari, Mir Abdul Manan and Amanullah Khan still managed to reach. They were warmly welcomed and even distributed their literature among the people. During the night, the house where the leaders were putting up was raided and they were taken out of Gilgit and into the Qabali areas. After about walking for 36 hours, Maqbool and his companions reached SWAT and from there got into a bus for Rawalpindi.
In a press-conference, Maqbool Bhat once again announced that they would again be leaving for Gilgit on 5th of November but on the very next day Abdul Khaliq Afsari was arrested from Abbottabad on charges of sedition which led to the change of location for the meeting from Gilgit to Abbottabad. In this meeting, the leaders decided that 15 to 23 November of the year 1970 will be celebrated as the “Week of Gilgit Baltistan”. Various processions took place in Pakistan and AJK during this week. Thereafter, another trip was announced to Gilgit that would take place on 26 November 1970 and the promise was upheld by Maqbool Bhat, Mir Abdul Manan, Amanullah Khan, GM Mir, Peerzada Ghulam Mustafa, and other members. Soon after the procession started, the government imposed Section 144 (Curfew). All the members were arrested. Next day, all of them except Amanullah Khan were sent back to Rawalpindi.
After being elected as the president of JKPF, Maqbool Bhat spent the next few years in campaigning for the political rights in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. The focus of the campaign on this side was the Azad Kashmir Act 1970 that turned Azad Kashmir into a colony of Pakistan, ruled through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and the Chief Secretary. This Act also reduced ‘Azad Kashmir’ to 4500 square miles and separated it from the rest of the state of Kashmir. With Gilgit Baltistan, the situation was even worse. These parts were directly controlled by Pakistan through a political agent. The JKPF launched week-long activities to highlight this situation and announced that the next convention of JKPF will be held there. During this week JKPF activists including Maqbool Bhat, Khaliq Ansari, Mir Qayyum, Amanullah Khan, and G. M. Mir were arrested and forcefully exiled from the state.
THE HIJACK AND TRIAL
Talking a few lessons from the struggles going on worldwide, Maqbool Bhat decided to highlight Kashmir on the global level decades after the world had failed to deliver justice. To do this, JKNLF planned to hijack an aircraft. Farooq Haider’s relative, Jamsheed Manto who was a pilot taught Hashim Qureshi how to read a compass, maps, etc so that the pilots wouldn't be able to fool him. Hashim was arrested soon after he crossed over but still somehow managed to hijack an aircraft on January 30, 1971. But herein lies the greater game. As per Hashim Qureshi, Maqbool Bhat had told him that if he is arrested by the police, he should tell them what he has come for (i.e. – to hijack a plane), but he should also add that there were two more operatives who had been trained. As per Hashim Qureshi, Maqbool Bhat justified it by saying – “If they charge you for hijacking our goal will be achieved. We will get publicity. If they don’t hold you, they can kill you. But if you tell them there are two others, then they won’t kill you. They will try to get you to identify those others.”
Hashim Qureshi further says that the Police turned him into an informer (as per the alleged plan) so that he would help them catch the other two ‘terrorists’ at the airport but he didn’t snitch and hijacked the plane as planned. All was well and good among the common masses until a former senior sleuth of RAW, R.K. Yadav, claimed in his book Mission R&AW (2014) that Hashim was their man (a claim Hashim denies and has even lodged an FIR over). As per Yadav, India outsmarted Pakistan with the help of Hashim and facilitated the hijack on its own terms by supplying a Fokker Friendship aircraft, Ganga, which was retired from Indian Airlines for the operation. Arjimand Hussain Talib in his piece for the Greater Kashmir newspaper quotes another former Indian intelligence officer M.B. Sinha, who in his book suggested that Hashim “agreed to hijack an Indian plane to Pakistan, befriending Maqbool Bhat and infiltrating JKNLF”. Famous Pakistani journalist, Khalid Hassan says that the hijackers became victims of a larger game being played by India and Pakistan and that nobody had sold his/her soul.
What is the truth of the hijacking and subsequent game? We may never know!
When the news of a hijacked plane landing in Lahore reached Maqbool, he left from Rawalpindi to meet them. The Pakistani people thronged in thousands to see the hijacked plane, a sign of victory against India. Bhutto’s supporters carried him on their shoulders towards the hijacked plane. He shook the hands of Hashim and Ashraf, exchanged a few pleasantries but then beat a hasty retreat.
The passengers were taken to a glamorous Lahore Hotel and allotted rooms. “We were made to feel very special. Everybody was being extremely hospitable to us. We were being taken care of so well. But there were no radio sets, TVs or newspapers in our rooms”, Fayaz, the youngest passenger on the plane would later recall in an interview with Greater Kashmir. Fresh carom boards, chess boards, playing cards were delivered to the passengers in their rooms.
JKNLF wanted two dozen of their comrades released in exchange. Maqbool, the architect of the hijacking, had no presentable clothes to wear to address the press conference which followed after the plane landed. It was only after his associate Abdul Khaliq took a trouser and shirt from two different persons that Bhat could appear before the cameras to demand the release of around 25 NLF prisoners in Indian prisons in exchange for the passengers.
However, Pakistan didn’t agree on the exchange plan and sent the passengers back through Hussainwala border-crossing after which the passengers were sent to their respective states via Amritsar airport. Nonetheless, a message was delivered to the world.
Arjimand Hussain also writes, “According to Khalid Hassan, JKNLF leader Maqbool Bhat arrived in Lahore from Peshawar. The hijackers Hashim and Ashraf had asked to meet Mr. Bhat. According to Mr. Khalid, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Lahore, Sardar Abdul Vakil Khan, took K.H. Khurshid (the Srinagar boy picked by Muhammad Ali Jinnah as his personal secretary and also the first President of Azad Jammu & Kashmir) and Maqbool to a room where Hashim Qureshi sat with some officials. He told Bhat that “these men” were telling him to set fire to the plane. According to Khalid Hassan, Maqbool Bhat had clearly said that doing that would be unwise. After the meeting, as K. H. Khurshid and Maqbool Bhat were being escorted out, the SSP said to them, “Khuda ke liye hamari jaan chhod do, jahaz ko urha do” (For God’s sake spare us and destroy the plane). And Khalid Hassan says that is what happened. But the hijackers didn’t do that.”
This hijacking would give India an opportunity to disallow the flight of Pakistani aircrafts over its territory, which later on hampered the plans of Yahya Khan in sending troops by air to East Pakistan where a rebellion had already been going on. As the Pakistani government began to see a ‘conspiracy’ in the hijacking, a commission was set up on 21 March 1971 to investigate the hijacking. A High Court Judge, Noorul Arifeen headed this commission. The Commission’s report was yet to surface when the hijackers and JKNLF leaders were arrested on 14th of April. When the report was finally released on the 20th April, a huge crackdown began and anybody and everybody publicly connected to the PF or JKNLF was arrested. Within weeks, heroes had turned into traitors. The kingpins were shifted to the infamous prisons of Shahi Qilla (Lahore) where they were tortured for the next two years. Eight months after their wrongful imprisonment, a few JKLF members managed to get their plea lodged in the Lahore High Court. Justice Yaqoob Ali (Supreme Court) and Abdul Qadir (Sindh High Court) chaired the bench. The powers of this bench were but limited. Around 150 JKNFL activists were to be held on trial but after some time all except the kingpins - Maqbool Bhat, Mir Abdul Qayoom, Ashraf Qureshi, Hashim Qureshi, and Mir Abdul Manan, were dropped from the list. The remaining 144 activists suffered imprisonment without trial. Some of the activists who managed to get a release also started to look for legal help for their jailed comrades. Abdul Khaliq Afsari, Amanullah Khan, G. M. Mir, Syed Shah Nazki, Mir Hidayatullah, Peerzada Alawi, Naseem Lone, Ghulam Ahmed Bhat tried their best to do whatever they could and however they could.
Aijaz Patalwi, Abid Hassan Manto, Dost Mohammad Aiwan and Dr. Abdul Basit were the lawyers who represented Maqbool Bhat and his companions in the High Court. Ghulam Nabi Lone (G. M. Lone’s brother) paid the fees for the advocate who defended Maqbool. It was around 400 Pakistani rupees per day. As NLF had accepted the responsibility of the hijack and Maqbool was its chief, he was the main target. Just like in India, here again, Maqbool Bhat was booked under the Enemy Act of 1943 (An Act from the British era).
Before the verdict was to be delivered, the Judge gave Maqbool Bhat a chance to speak for himself and he spoke thus:
“Call it a coincidence or tyranny of the conditions, I have to stand today in this special court under a special order to defend the charges which are baseless and false. More appropriately these charges are the creation of a mind that is enemy of the freedom of my country and a cruel joke with the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are fighting for liberation. History has given the verdict against those conditions and self-acclaimed rulers of Pakistan who have made me stand in this witness box. This verdict of history is so clear that no further explanation is needed. It has drawn a clear line between us and our hypocrite opponents. I take this proceeding as a compliment for myself and my comrades as future generations will have no confusion about our identity.
Thus, this verse from the Quran has proven true about this group of hypocrites: “وَإِذَا لَقُواْ الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ قَالُوا ءَامَنَّا وَإِذَا خَلَوْاْ إِلَى شَيَـطِينِهِمْ قَالُواْ إِنَّا مَعَكُمْ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُسْتَهْزِءُونَ (And when they meet those who believe, they say, “We believe”; but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say, “Indeed, we are with you; we were only mockers.”)”.
By the crime this group is committing against the oppressed people, it was inevitable that they should trap themselves in a situation where they are unable to escape.
I have neither prepared any conspiracy nor been a part of any such group. My role is clear all the way through. However, it is true that I have rebelled against obscurantism, slavery, capitalism, exploitation, corruption, cruelty, and hypocrisy. If the ruling class of Pakistan, which is a product of the imperialist system and is represented by the civil and military bureaucracy, call it a conspiracy then I have no hesitation to accept it. I am then ready to accept all your charges.
For me, this case against us is not unusual at all. Through human history whenever exploitation and slavery are challenged the ruling classes have always relied on the word ‘conspiracy’. But history also is witness to the fact that in this battle between truth and falsehood, it is we, the oppressed, who have always emerged victorious. It is we, the people, who demolish these edifices of oppression. I loath self-praise but now when my role is being distorted, deliberately, I am forced to claim that at every stage of my life, I have not only supported the peoples struggle against exploitation and oppression but always actively participated in it.
I have consciously chosen this role for myself because I see it as the Sunnah of Prophets and as a way of revolutionaries. I have no doubt about the success of this role and the welfare it brings for the people. I can not refrain from bringing this fact to the notice of this court that apparently only six people are made involved, but the actual motive of this case is to crush our liberation movement.
Pakistani bureaucracy should know that no matter what turns our fate takes as a result of this case, they will achieve nothing but disgrace and failure, as far as their actual motive is concerned. If the struggle for freedom was to be stopped by the court rulings there would have been hardly any free nation on earth today. If the evolution of civilization, democracy, and freedom was to be prevented by the existing judicial or administrative system no revolution would have taken place from the beginning of history.
You have no jurisdiction to give any judgments, its only history that judges the revolutionaries. For the courts themselves are the product of the system that these movements are aimed to change.
It is for this reason that in some cases verdict given by these courts as present are proven meaningless. It is not possible here to give details of all those conspiracies made against my country and my people. However, it is imperative to highlight those aspects of these conspiracies that are exploited to construct this case.
This is not done by the unmistakable enemies of our people but by the imprudent and wicked ‘friends’ who have despicably occupied the power in this unfortunate country and have subjugated not only a hundred million of her own people but also put its existence at stake by their malicious actions for keeping power in their hands. It is obvious that leadership which has no sympathy for its own people cannot be hoped that it will extend any friendship to a nation which is still fighting against foreign occupation.
No one can stop me from claiming that every ruling power in Pakistan has exploited the Kashmir issue for the last 25 years. For its lust for power, it has abused this issue to mislead the people of Pakistan, who have and still do support the freedom of Kashmir. When the power came into the hands of military dictatorship this conspiracy has become even more dreadful. Division of Pakistan is only a logical result of this conspiracy.
It is said that conflict was started from the day NLF was formed; between our struggle and the bureaucracy and military dictatorship of this country. The roots of this conflict are in the disagreement on aims and strategy. Military rulers of this country never liked our concept of armed struggle. Not only did they not like it, they always tried to crush any such struggle.
The story of such conspicuous incidents is too long to cover here in detail, but before it never came to a stage where they would brand us as enemies of this country. The time chosen now by the military dictators to declare us the enemy of the country was when they were giving the final touches to their own conspiracy.
It was the last week of February 1971. In the President’s house in Rawalpindi, the dictators were planning to prevent the transfer of power to the elected members of 130 million people. From its formation to 24 February 1971, no faction of rulers ever suspected it or its activities, including Ganga Hijacking. However, as part of their conspiracy, the rulers decided to use NLF and Ganga hijacking on false grounds to justify their anti-people and anti-democracy designs.
The initial instructions were issued from the President’s House in Rawalpindi. Inter-Services Intelligence Bureau (ISI) was ordered to investigate the hijacking case and keep the freedom fighters away from the public and press. They should be transferred to a distant location, they were told. Responding to our inquiry we were told that the country is in a crisis. To solve the conflict with Mujeebu’r- Rehman on constitutional matters we need the nation to remain calm on Kashmir issue, they said.
We were also told that Sheikh Mujeeb stands for friendly relations with India and does not like to promote any confrontation, so they did not want political crisis of Pakistan to be exacerbated. We co-operated and agreed on freedom fighters’ transfer to Tanda Dam, in district Kohat. Only a few days later the proposed meeting of national assembly was postponed. Hence, the crisis was intensified. What happened in East Pakistan after the declaration of a former military dictator was pre-planned. Sheikh Mujeeb was invited for negotiations with the President in Rawalpindi. When he refused, another declaration was released in March 71 from President’s House that President was going to Dhaka for negotiations. Just one day before, Yahya Khan’s departure for Dhaka, it was announced by the foreign office that hijacking case will be investigated. Replying to our explanation we were told that this is to decrease the bitterness during Yahya — Mujeeb negotiations where it is inevitable that Mujeeb, who has already demanded an inquiry into hijacking, will raise this issue.
We were also told that international pressure on Pakistan is also increasing and to prove that Pakistan is not involved in the hijacking they needed to take such measures. We were assured that if necessary, a commission will be formed but it is likely that this stage will not come. The commission was appointed as Yahya -Mujeeb negotiations entered into concluding stage. The impression was given that the commission is nothing more than an eye-wash. Actual motives were to come out only on 27 March 1971 when a military operation was started in East Pakistan.
Only two days later, this commission started its proceedings as well. Among the three members of the commission, two were from the intelligence department and the third Mr. Rahat Chhattari was the one whose services were terminated from by the first elected government of this country under the allegation of corruption. This chain of events shows that this case had a special motive, which can be nothing but the need for a justification for an emergency situation to be created in the country by the military dictators. The report compiled by the commission according to the wishes of the rulers has fulfilled this need. We were arrested on 14 April, six days before the report was presented to the President.
And to crush our struggle mass arrests were made, memories of which are terrifying. But these rulers who were overwhelmed by the lust of power could not understand that lies are bound to be defeated. The law of nature did not take long to give its verdict. The rulers reached their logical end before making us their scapegoats.
It is easy to talk about freedom. But it needs a lot more courage and patience to fight for freedom. This is the path where every turn is full of tests. You go through such stages where your own friends on whom you relied, say that no longer know us, of course for their own vested interests. They, even, leave you and make alliances with your enemies.
The struggle is the best criteria to judge not only who is for and against the truth, but also to expose the hypocrites. It is not for freedom fighters to complain about the difficulties they face. I have gone through three stages of state torture; first in occupied Kashmir, then in Azad Kashmir and finally in Royal Fort (Shahi Qillah) Lahore, which is a remnant of the colonial era. As time is not sufficient to go into the details, I would give a brief account. At all three places, the purpose of torture was completely different. In Indian occupied Kashmir, occupying officers were looking for facts about our movement and about myself. In Muzaffarabad, “Azad Kashmir” the FIU (Federal Intelligence Unit) was not looking for facts, but they wanted me to confirm their pre-planned assumptions, and the Gestapos in Lahore Fort were torturing me to tell an utter lie and to give a false statement as part of their conspiracy.
Only the administrative machinery of the oppressive rulers of this country could have done what was done to us to distort the facts and to construct the stories and characters. Some details of the torture, of which we were subjected in Lahore Fort, are given by my comrades in their written statements. But there was a lot more done in the Fort. The fact is that some details are so shameful that it is not possible to bring them in writing. I leave the decision about what happened in Shahi Qillah (Royal Fort) for the Day of Judgement.
Whatever ruling is made by this court, I can clearly see that it cannot do justice in this case. It is not that I do not trust this court, but it is the self-constructed nature of the allegations made against us, for they can’t be defended in existing conditions. The false nature of these allegations cannot be proved as long as my country remains divided.
However, it is my faith that the dawn of freedom will fall in my country and the line of division will be trodden upon. This will be the time when facts about my life will come out. Only then will I get justice and history will bear witness. That day my people will know the reality of the allegations, by both the Indian and Pakistani rulers against me, of being an agent of India or Pakistan. I will wait for the time when my case is put in front of my own people, that hearing will be held in a free Kashmir. All the real evidence and witnesses will be brought forth and that is the day I will get justice because none of the witnesses and evidence will be backed by India or Pakistan. In my country, there will be justice and only justice.
During the examination, this court has inquired about the suspicion shown by FIU Major Naseer Gul Khattak in his report about my escape from Srinagar prison. Having read this report in full, I maintain that it is totally against the facts and nothing more than a biased view of a military officer. They held me for months after my crossover and whatever I told them is already in front of you. I cannot forget how my people looked after us after our escape from Srinagar, those memories are etched deep in my heart and my mind. I still remember how they would bid us goodbye with a lump in their throat and tears in their eyes. I am sure that God is not so cruel that he won’t listen to the sighs and duas coming from the depths of our heart.
All contradictions, which this ‘expert’ intelligence officer has pointed out are rooted not in my account of escape, but in his views about the peoples’ armed struggle. I feel sorry for such people. The product of colonialism, Generals hate the concept of peoples’ army because it challenges the monopoly of General’s on military resources. It is a historical fact that military dictators never supported any organization engaged in the liberation war. On the contrary, they made contacts with the enemies of freedom fighters. During martial regimes, the armed struggles of Palestine, Vietnam, Algeria, and other African countries were presented as negative. The military rulers of Pakistan never supported a peoples’ armed struggle for Azaadi in Kashmir. They hated it as much as the Muslims of the early period hated pig meat. It is this hatred of military rulers towards peoples’ armed struggle, which has made me and my comrades the target of brutal torture and humiliation. It’s an old habit of dictators to label anybody who doesn’t follow their command as an enemy agent.
Finishing here, I would like the court to fulfill its duty which has been given to it under special order. At present, I have no other choice but to give myself in the merciless hands of time and to wait for the day when the darkness of discrimination and malice, cruelty and exploitation will be replaced by the light of justice. That day I will ask for justice.”
There was another case going on against them for sending arms and ammunition into Indian administered Kashmir illegally, but as they had already spent two years in prison due to wrongful imprisonment, the Lahore High Court quashed both the cases on the same day and called them “patriots fighting for the liberation of their motherland”. However, Hashim Qureshi was the only one who remained in jail and was released in 1980.
In 1975, JKPF decided to participate in the elections held under Bhutto’s Peoples Party. Maqbool Bhat, who at this point had no official responsibility in JKPF, also contested the elections. All JKPF candidates, including Maqbool Bhat, lost to PPP candidates. The JKPF commentators claim that the result had a lot to do with massive vote riggings in favour of PPP candidates.
FINAL CROSSING OVER
With NLF in chaos and JKPF demoralized, Maqbool Bhat once again crossed over to Indian administered Kashmir, against the advice of many of his friends and comrades in May 1976, knowing very well that he carried a death sentence on his head and if apprehended, would be sent to gallows. This time he was accompanied by Abdul Hameed Butt and Riyaz Dar. Within a few days of crossing, they were arrested by the Indian forces. In 1978, the Indian Supreme Court restored death sentence on Maqbool after which he was transferred to Delhi’s Tihar prison by Sheikh Abdullah on the advice of his security advisors, who reminded him about Bhat’s heroic escape from Srinagar jail in 1969.
In Tihar, Maqbool would spend most of his time reading, when he wasn't, he would be explaining Kashmir and why he was fighting for its freedom from both India and Pakistan to the prisoners as well as the guards. He would also tell them stories of his travels between India and Pakistan and various adventures he undertook. The prisoners, as well as the prison staff, would go to him with queries. He would pray five times a day, always keep the Quran near him and read it constantly. At times, he would also play volleyball with the inmates. He brought two reforms in Tahir during his imprisonment. First, He argued if the jail was a correctional facility then for a lot of people that route was via spirituality and how would prisoners be influenced by spirituality if they do not have access to their religious books? Thus, religious books were provided. Second, he wanted stationary to be allowed in the Jails so that the prisoners can engage in their intellectual pursuits, the rules were thus again changed.
In their last attempt to save Maqbool Bhat who was about to be hanged after the suddenly killing of the Indian diplomat, Ravindra Hareshwar Mhatre in UK by a group called Kashmir Liberation Front (not to be confused with JKLF), Mian Sarwar, Zafar Mehraj, Muzaffar Beigh, R. M. Tufail and Kapil Sibal set up a case and pleaded that the execution of Maqbool Bhat was in gross violation of all the prescribed laws and norms, since the High Court had not confirmed the death sentence passed by the Sessions Court, which was mandatory and without which none can be hanged. R. M. Tufail called it a "retributive action" and "a judicial murder". A Tihar Jailer, Sunil Gupta in his book, "Black Warrant: Confessions of a Tihar Jailer" describes him as highly educated and pious who had taught them many things.
Muzaffar Beigh had obtained a certified copy attested by Malik Sharifudin, who was the registrar of the High Court at that time. Kapil Sibal produced the document before the court, but the Indian Attorney General, who represented the Union of India, took out a piece of " unsigned paper" claiming it was a confirmation of death sentence by the State High Court. The court took cognizance and dismissed the petition without any further argument.
Muzaffar Beigh later said in an interview, “The document produced by the Attorney General was just a piece of paper. Though neatly typed, it bore no signature, no seal, nothing. I was amazed how could this paper, unsigned, unauthenticated, override the otherwise properly certified document issued by none else than the Registrar of High Court, who is supposed to have complete knowledge of the court records."
A few days after his hanging, Justice Anand's court, oblivious to the developments started the scheduled discussion on the case but were informed about the events that had taken place. The Delhi High Court sent a notice to the government asking why he was hanged when his case was still under review in the high court. He was informed that the orders had come directly from the 'competent authorities' and the case was never pursued any further.
The court granted the legal team a meeting with Maqbool Bhat before he was to be hanged. Muzaffar Beigh, accompanied by R. M. Tufail and R. C. Pathak (Beigh’s colleagues), immediately left for Tihar to meet Maqbool Bhat for one last time. However, the jail superintendent made them to stay in his room till sunset, after which no such meetings are allowed. After a heated discussion, he allowed only Pathak to see Bhat, that too for “five minutes only” and told Beigh and Tufail that he had been ordered from higher-ups to not let others in.
While meeting Maqbool, who was wearing a black kurta pajama and a jacket, Pathak avoided the topic of his hanging and informed him that he will meet him again on Monday. In answer, Maqbool asked if ‘they’ would permit them a second meeting. It seems Maqbool knew very well what was about to happen given the radio provided to him, it didn't talk about the hanging but he had understood the developments taking place in Kashmir. None of his family members were allowed to meet him before the hanging. His brother Ghulam Nabi, who tried to fly to New Delhi, was arrested at the Srinagar airport.
In an article published by The Week soon after Maqbool Bhat’s hanging, the journalists after compiling information from different sources say that Maqbool was woken up at 5:30 am by the head warden after which he took a bath and read his Namaz and The Holy Quran. The Jail superintendent, A B Shukla too had paid him a visit during the night and chatted with him for a long time. He was later served tea and the death warrant was read to him. Maqbool was also asked if he wanted to write his will, in return he said he just wanted to leave a message. He got his message recorded by the sub-divisional magistrate in English, in which he said, "There will be many Maqbool Bhats that will come and go, but the freedom struggle in Kashmir should continue" this message was never released and only came to the knowledge of the public after the release of Black Warrant, the book already mentioned above.
Later, a dozen jail officials escorted him to the gallows where his legs were tied and his face was covered with a black hood before putting the noose over his neck. He was then wrapped in a 22-yard cloth before being lowered into the grave, followed by last rites performed by an Imam named Mohammad Khan and 10 other Muslim inmates.
The article also quoted Pathak saying that Maqbool appeared confident and unruffled when he met him. He also says that Maqbool wanted his body to be handed over to his family with his belongings and writings which had been placed in a coffee container but neither his body nor his belongings (including his jail diary) were returned. The jail officials denied having any such content with them. Maqbool had spent most of his time reading and writing during his imprisonment and most of his content was disposed of sooner or later except the books he read which were put into the prison library in Jail number 3.
As the news broke out, Muzaffar Beigh got into Satish Jacob’s (BBC Journalist) car, who was to report the hanging story and as soon as they reached Tihar, an official came out and confirmed the hanging. Beigh approached the official with the authority of Bhat’s family (as given to him by Maqbool Bhat’s brother) and claimed his body for performing last rites at his native place. The request was denied and he was informed that the body had already been buried as per “orders from higher-ups”. Beigh is quoted to have said, “If it is a political will it will never be given to us … We also don’t hope to get the papers he had left behind if they are of a sensitive nature.” He also quoted Maqbool saying, “I want a fair trial for my people and myself. But I don’t expect to get it in this subcontinent” when he had met him for the last time.
District Magistrate R. S. Sethi while coming out of Tihar had said “the execution went off all right. Bhat was hanged at 7:30 am as per the execution warrants sent to us.”
Soon after his hanging high-gear security was provided to all pro-Indian politicians in Kashmir. Indian forces also began to harass Maqbool Bhat’s family. Young and old were interrogated. Maqbool Bhat’s brother, Manzoor Ahmad Bhat was killed in a fake gunfight in 1995 after his arrest by Army in Trehgam. All of Maqbool’s pictures and belongings, some of which were hidden away and sewed inside cushions, were taken away or destroyed. To keep his memory alive, the family decided to draw a painting of Maqbool on the inside of the main gate of the house.
The jail inmates, as well as the guards, have since then claimed to have seen Maqbool Bhat roaming the premises. Sunil Gupta narrates an incident in which a jail inmate started crying and swearing with fear when he saw Maqbool in his white kurta pajamas stand right next to his grave. There have also been many cases where the guards themselves have reported such sightings to him. The fear was such that even the most hardened criminals who are kept in the cells near the phasi-khoti refused to stay alone in their cells. Some inmates claim to see him in their dreams, as a benevolent spirit who brings them good news which turn out to be true. These stories live on even today.
There are still two graves awaiting his mortal remains, one in Trehgam, between the graves of his two brothers, and another at Martyr’s Graveyard, Srinagar.
Maqbool’s hanging by the Government of India lit a spark in Kashmir, and only a few years later a full-blown armed insurgency against Indian rule erupted. The insurgency, much more popular and widespread now, continues to this day and has caught the attention of the world.
Pakistan’s famous Urdu poet Ahmad Faraz, in his tribute to Maqbool, wrote these lines following his hanging:
Go aankh se duur jaa chuka tu
Roshan hai magar charaag sa tu
Mehroom labun ka harf e zinda
Mazlum dilun ka hamnawa hai tu
Mai bhi tera hamsafar tha lekin
Mai aabla paa tha barq paa tu
Zindaan ke azaab tak raha mai
Aur manzil e daar tak gaya tu
Dushman ke hisaar mein akela
Lashkar ke muqaable pe tha tu
Kab qatl hui hai sach ki aawaaz
Kushbu ki tarah hai jaa baja tu
Aye jaan e jahan sar faroshaan
Leila e watan ka dilruba tu
Tha tazqirah e Maseeh o Mansoor
Be saakhta yaad aagaya tu
Aye kushta e shab Faraz ko bhi
Marne ka hunar sikha gaya tu. ♦