When I got the news and saw images of Amanullah Khan’s hospitalisation on facebook I felt the urge to write something about him. As I have been part of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front for couple of years in Britain and worked under his leadership and he dominated the Independent Kashmir politics for six decades.
Unfortunately for me writing about Amanullah Khan does not seem as straightforward as has been about Maqbool Bhat. Perhaps it is due to my writing limitations or may be because Amanullah Khan’s politics has not been as straightforward as of Maqbool Bhat. It took me good few days to complete this and meanwhile the veteran Kashmiri leader was hospitalized again last month and on 26 April 2016 this long chapter of Kashmiri struggle spanning 82 years closed forever leaving behind thousands of his followers and as many critics.
During early 1970s in Akalgarh School I can recall shouting slogan (of course without understanding) Azadi ke teen nishaan; Hashim Ashraf Aur Eman. Three symbols of Freedom; Hashim Ashraf and Eman. I all ways thought Eman meant Faith. However, after many years when I knew Hashim Ashraf were the two Kashmiri Hijackers of the Indian plan from Kashmir under the leadership of Maqbool Bhat, I had long discussion with a friend in Britain who said it was not Eman it was Aman for Amanullah Khan. I said then why there was no mention of Maqbool Bhat who actually was leading NLF? We could not agree. Amanullah Khan by now was rose to the leadership of JKLF and became a symbol of Azadi for thousands of the members and supporters of JKLF across the State and in diaspora.
I never met Amanullah Khan. First time I heard of him was in 1983 when I came to Britain on first of many trips before settling here permanently. In 1986 when he was deported from Britain following the Mahatre Murder, I was a student at Karachi university where I was subjected to the severe beating and humiliation from the Pakistani Punjabi police for being in a protest demonstration on 11th Feb 1984 on the hanging of Maqbool Bhat which shook my political innocence and unconditional love for Pakistan.
Few days before his arrival to Karachi, a secret police officer came to my hostel room. He came there because he was my relative from back in Akalgarh and was a senior police officer. I knew of him but never met him before. So when he introduced himself I knew who he was and when he asked me if I can take him to some pro-independence Kashmiris I took him to the rooms of two pro-independence Kashmiri activists without even thinking that I was being a collaborator. For me he was an uncle and like a good boy I should be providing him any assistance he needed for doing his job. Fortunately, none of the two Kashmiri activists were in their rooms. My uncle officer told me that he also thinks independent Kashmir was the best solution for us and that he was not there to harm anyone but just to make sure that there was no trouble on the arrival of Amanullah Khan from Britain.
When my uncle left and I came back to my room, I had my first ‘political telling off’ by my roommate who was not a political activist but new the system inside out because of growing up inside the governing structure of AJK. He explained to me that police might arrest the pro-independence activists to avoid any disturbance on the arrival of Amanullah Khan.
For the next two years I was actively seeking knowledge about Maqbool Bhat and Independent Kashmir politics and Amanullah khan’s name was mentioned repeatedly in various contexts. But I became indulged into the history of Kashmir and also started reading socialist and communist literature so nationalism remained in the margins of my unplanned, unorganised and spontaneous quest for knowledge. Also I was more interested in literature and information than the practical politics of independent Kashmir in Karachi.
So all I could know about Amanullah Khan was that he originated from Gilgit Baltistan, was settled in Karachi where he ran a school then joined Mahaz Raye Shumari (Plebiscite Front) and along with Maqbool Bhatt started the National Liberation Front (NLF)
When I came to Britain in 1988 with very passionate attachment with independent Kashmir and the wider socialist ideas, with zero experience of party politics or ‘politicking’, I was initially shocked that there were not my people in the family and community who had ideological (read bookish) interest in the independent Kashmir and socialism. So when MH Mehboob (now Kakravi) and Shabir Kashmiri came to see me and told that they were member of JKLF and that JKLF was quite active organisation here and has branches in many towns I was very pleased to see them. How and why I joined JKLF and what the experience taught me is a different story. The relevant point here is that Amanulah Khan (Aman Saab as everybody called him within the JKLF) was an icon of the struggle for most in the JKLF but there were some critical questions raised by some others.Then I learnt more from some of the former and founding JKLF leaders about the background of Amanullah Khan and how he was brought to Britain and what happened here etc. However, while whole heartedly convinced of the independent Kashmir idea I was finding it hard to deal with the conflicting accounts of the struggle and the role of Amanaullah Khan. But the biggest shock of my life regarding the struggle in the Valley (till then) was to learn that it was controlled by Pakistani agencies through Amanullah Khan and JKLF was used to bring boys from the Valley. However, then there were others who revered Aman Saab regardless. They claimed that Amanullah Khan led the development of JKLF in Britain out of one baradrie to incorporate all baradries of British Kashmiris which created a wider secular political space for British Kashmiri identity where Kashmiris from all baradries and political affiliations can interact for the politics of Kashmir Issue and Inclusion. They also claimed that Amanullah engaged and encouraged young British Kashmiris like Shabir Ch (Dr Shabir Choudhary) Qurban Hussain (Lord Qurban) Zafar Khan (Senior lecturer) Azmat Khan (lecturer) and many others to the independence politics and introduced the campaigning for Kashmir Issue outside of the Kashmiri community to the wider British politics and then taking actions to make presence of Kashmiris felt in the UN Offices. Some of his colleagues criticised Amanulah Khan for the Mahatre Murder, that fatal extremist and violent activity that implicated JKLF and British Kashmiris and eventually caused the deportation of Amanullah Khan from Britain.
In 1989 when I joined JKLF Amanullah Khan was admired and revered by most of the JKLF members and leaders including Shabir Chaudhary, Afzal Jatalvi, Zafar Khan, Ch Sarwar, Malik Sarwar, Malik Latif, Haji Talib, Abdu Rehman, Ch Younis, Mehboob and many more. Azmat Khan was critical of some of the policies and style of Amanullahh Khan and so was Adalat (cllr Daalat). There were dozens of other at working committee who were clearly uncomfortable with the practice of questioning and challenging leadership of the ‘party’. They wanted to get on with the activities rather than, according to them, fruitless debates and discussions.
While the announcement of Independent Kashmir Government by Amanullah Khan soon after the eruption of mass uprising in the Kashmir Valley in 1988 was applauded by some members as a step froward, others described it as cheap sensationalism. However, the march to cross the ceasefire line in 1992 attracted massive participation and worldwide coverage that certainly was the most effective action by JKLF to raise the profile of Kashmir Issue in international media and also to show the world that Kashmiris across the divide share strong political sentiments and political purpose.
I was although clearly on the left side within the party but had an open mind about Amanullah Khan and appreciated his work in Britain for enhancing the Kashmiri identity and the confidence of pro-independence Kashmiris. I got hold of various issues of the Voice of Kashmir initiated by Mr Khan from Birmingham with the help and support of the Birmingham branch of JKLF especially Mirza Sadiq, Masoom Ansari, Nazam Bhatti and other members and supporters of the Branch. I am not sure what role Nazir Nazish, Yonis Taryabi, Jabbar Bahtt and Mushtaq Hussain played in this as these were the activists who in early 1980s (long before I came to Britain) left JKLF to form ‘The Bani Group’ (founders group). While academically one can criticise on the standard of the VoK but one must appreciate the conditions in which it was initiated and credit for its sustainability certainly goes to Amanullah Khan of course with the support of Mirza Sadiq and many others in and outside of the JKLF.
Anyhow, the first elections since I joined JKLF were held in 1992. In these elections the panel which was perceived anti-Amanullah Khan won the election apart from for the post of General Secretary which was taken by the ‘pro-Amanullah Khan’ candidate. However, I did not see the panels as pro and anti Amanullah but as representing the ‘old guards’ and ‘new enthusiasts’ and also between right and left tendencies within the JKLF.
It was one of the most disturbing moment of my short political life when I read in the Daily Jang London a statement by Amanullah Khan dissolving the JKLF Britain branch and suspending the membership of all the main activists who won against the ‘pro-Amanullah’ Candidates. In total 18 out of 32 branches in Britain opposed the Chairman decision as unconstitutional and undemocratic whereas 14 went along with the chairman most of whom said we don’t agree with him and the way he has done it but for the sake of the party and the movement in IOK we have to go along.
The 18 branches met in Halifax (or in Rochdale not sure) with Shabir ch, Azmat Khan, Ali Adalat, Abid Hashmi, MH Mehboob and Younis ch as some of the senior leaders of the group. Here I can recall suggesting to change the name of the group to Jammu Kashmir Democratic Liberation Front (JKDLF) and develop a work plan and move on. Someone else suggested that we should also remove the amendments in the constitution introduced recently to restore its secular character. Both of these suggestions were rejected. Shabir Ch and some others were adamant that we were the real JKLF and we will prove it. I said the real JKLF will always be the one whose head is Amanullah Khan even if each and every member leave the party. But they decided to go ahead with the same name and same constitution. After some time some of us especially Dalat Ali, Hafiz Abdul Qayum, Abid Hashmi became really disappointed and decided to work independently and not join any political party of Azad Kashmir in Britain. We shifted our focus on working as British citizens for the rights and equality of our community here which is another story for another day.
But the dissolution of JKLF this way really lowered my estimation of Amanullah Khan’s leadership capacity and abilities. To me this was an authoritarian and dictatorial action no different from the Pakistani dictators. I along with many other friends moved on from JKLF. I never had any personal animosity or hostility with Amanullah Khan because I never met him.
I think it was 1994 when I wrote a long letter to Irshad Ahmed Haqani who published it in the Dialy Jang in 4 parts where I argued the case for an independent Kashmir described by the veteran Pakistani analyst as ‘forceful’. Amanullah Khan sent me a detailed letter of appreciation. I was still angry with him so wrote back a very critical letter but never posted it.
After browsing through his biography some of the views about him appeared convincing and others were not. Leaving the analysis of his ideology and struggle for another day suffice to include here a brief life sketch of the demised leader. He was born in Astore on 24th August 1934, the year when the first state assembly with some elected members was introduced three years after the initiation of the popular politics and two years after formation of first political party of the state. His father Jumma Khan, a Revenue Department employee died when Amanulah khan was only 3. Subsequently Aman was sent to his sister in Handwara region of the state where Amanullah Khan completed his matriculation with top grades. In 1952 after completing first year at SP College Srinagar he moved to Pakistan via Sialkor. Here as recorded in his biography he sought admission at Garden Colege Rawaalpindi but was refused on the grounds that Kashmir University was not recognised here. He then managed to get admission in Edwards College Peshawar. However, resulting from a dispute with the Vice Principal he was expelled from College and ended up to Karachi. Where he started his life from a footpath and then like hundreds of students from Gilgit Baltistan and parts of Azad Kashmir he worked and studied and completed graduation in Law from SM Law College. However instead practicing law he set up a private school that remained the main sources of his income for life. He formed the Independent Kashmir Committee along with Mir Abdul Qayum and Mir Abdul Manan and some others to oppose the division of Kashmir perceived by them was on the agenda on negotiations between the Indian and Pakistan foreign ministers. Later when Plebiscite Front was launched in April 1965 he was elected its general secretary with Abdul Khaliq Ansari as president an Mabqool Bhatt as publicity secretary. However, when the proposal to set up an armed wing of the PF presented by him and Maqbool Bhatt could not win the majority they formed the Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front on 13th August 1966. From this date onwards him and Maqbool Bhatt along with Major Amanullah Khan etc focused more on the armed struggle and Amanullah Khan produced some literature including the famus booklet Alfatah and NLF. When the NLF was cracked down upon by the Pakistani authorities following the Ganga Hijacking Amanulah Khan along with Abdul Khaliq Ansari came to Britain while Maqbool Bhatt crossed back to the IOK in 1976.
Many on the left here view all his political life as a conspiracy while the Islamists described him as a secular liberal areligious person. I think that is what he was, secular, liberal nationalist with great liking for himself, huge ego and strong authoritarian tendencies. It appears from his biography and whatever I know about him that he not only liked all this and justified his politics but remained proud of his ideology, actions and tactics. He introduced the moto of JKLF ‘Islam our religion, Kashmiriyat our identity and independent Kashmir our goal’. Hundreds of thousands involved in the resistance and independence politics across the division line admire him for that.
In 2007 when I went to Islamabad as a director of ‘Aapna Channel’ and head of Current Affairs, I wanted to interview Amanullah Khan and ask so many questions. Soon I was picked up from Islamabad airport, I instructed the station manager in Islamabad to arrange an interview with Aman Sb. Initially he tried to put me off by saying that he is pro independent Kashmir and not very liked by Pakistanis so his interview can be damaging for the channel. I asserted that our policy is that the channel is for each and every viewpoint in the State and Amanullah Khan is one of the most renowned names of the independent Kashmir ideology and politics and deserves an opportunity to talk about his life and politics for as long as he wishes to. Although they agreed and promised that they will arrange the interview it was proved a promise not to be fulfilled. I came back to Britain without the interview of Amanullah Khan. In 2011 I went to Kashmir and Pakistan again with a camera crew but again the wish interview Amanullha Khan was not materialised due to crew under pressure for their drama work etc. it was not to be.
On 26 April 2016 he was no more and as per his will he was be buried in Astore, Gilgit Baltistan where the political environment has recently been changed from becoming province of Pakistan to greater autonomy and restoration of the State Subject that has been deferred since 1974 by the PPP government of ZA Bhutto. Amanullah Khan’s burial in Gilgit it seems reflects the vision of the Kashmir state he propagated all his life which includes the Valley, Jammu, Ladkah, AJK and Gilgit Baltistan.