July Issue 2003

By | News & Politics | Published 21 years ago

Abdullah was 21 years old when he decided to get married. But unlike most other young men, he did not marry a woman — he married a cause. He says he did not ‘join’ a Kashmiri militant group, he gave his life to it.

“The day I joined the jihad, I kissed the Kalashnikov I was given and fell in love with it. I knew it would bring me success and liberate my motherland,” he says nostalgically, reminiscing about the crusade which became his overriding passion while other youths his age were dreaming of love.

But 10 years down the road, the romance has been replaced by cold, hard reality and Abdullah is bitter. “After September 11, my mind began to tell me I might not be able to continue my struggle,” he says, dejection evident in his tone and body language. The split with his first amour became more pronounced three months ago, when Abdullah married a Pakistani girl in Rawalpindi and decided to quit participating actively in jihad altogether.

However, his committment to the cause remains firm. He is now the commander of a Kashmiri militant group comprising 80 fighters. “Now I no longer fight, but I take care of the mujahids — some of whom are still fighting in Kashmir — and their families,” he says.

Like other Kashmiri militants, Abdullah never thought the struggle would stretch on for more than a decade. “When I started out I thought success was imminent. But as the days pass, it seems that the distance between us and victory is increasing,” he says.

Hailing from an influential and religious family of Srinagar, Abdullah studied at one of the best schools in Kashmir. When he gained admission to Amar Singh College in the late 1980s, conditions began to deteriorate in the Kashmir valley as hostilities between Muslims and the Indian security forces intensified. “Like every young Kashmiri, I was influenced by the changing political situation in the valley. I secretly started attending meetings of Kashmiri intellectuals, and a couple of years later, decided to leave everything — my home, family, friends, the girl I was madly in love with. I just left a message for my mother saying I was leaving to wage jihad,” he says.

Abdullah joined the Hizbul Muhahideen and his adventure began in earnest. ” I crossed the LoC with other boys and entered Muzaffarabad. I was so excited that I felt I could defeat all the Indian troops singlehandedly,” he says. As planned, after spending two weeks in Muzaffarabad, he and his Kashmiri compatriots crossed over to Afghanistan for training. “The Afghans used to train us vigorously. Morning prayers, exercise on the mountains and then target shooting was our daily drill,” Abdullah recalls. Within two months Abdullah could handle pistols, automatic weapons, rocket launchers and explosives. “I was known as Abdullah Commando because I would wear the camouflage jacket 24/7.”

The Kashmiri boy who had left the valley as a college student with a promising future had become a militant. “I had a beard almost a foot long, hair below my shoulders, and was heavily armed,” he says. In 1994 Abdullah crossed the LoC once again, this time into Indian-occupied Kashmir to fight the Indian security forces and liberate his motherland. “Initially we got trapped in the hilly terrain around the LoC and several of our comrades were killed in the crossfire with Indian troops. But after almost a week, we managed to reach a border town and were received warmly by the villagers,” Abdullah recalls, his eyes visibly brightening at the memory. After several years, Abdullah met his family members, but the union was to be short-lived. The local authorities soon learnt he was a militant. “My house was raided several times. My parents were harrassed. So I decided not to meet with them again. It has been years since I met my mother and sisters. I talked to them on the phone on my wedding day. They wept, but could not say much. When I asked my father about the present situation in the valley, he said, ‘Don’t ask such questions, talk about yourself. We have had enough. We just pray for your long life and happiness’,” Abdullah says.

Abdullah has witnessed death and destruction. He has lost relatives and friends in the liberation struggle. “There were times when I lost entire battalions of fighters in Kashmir because of renegades who betrayed us. I lived in fear, scared of my own shadow. But then this was the life I chose. And I have survived. Allah has granted me a long life.”

Commander Abdullah, a college graduate, speaks fluent English, Persian, and Kashmiri. But all he has known in his adult life, is war. “Now I am wiser. I understand things better. We could have reorganised our movement to make it more effective. But it has taken too long — it is too late. For a militant, at 31, I am already old. My new found insight doesn’t matter. But as they say, wisdom comes at the end.”

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