Who were these two men and why are their names linked to all the controversial developments related to the Kashmir files?
Malik was the chairman of the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) – an organization that originally spearheaded armed militancy in the Kashmir Valley. The separatist leader of Kashmir has advocated the separation of Kashmir from India and Pakistan. Born in 1966 in Srinagar, Malik claims to have taken up arms after witnessing violence by Indian security forces in 1980. He formed the Tala Party – a radical front that printed and distributed political material and attempted to disrupt the first international cricket match. in Srinagar during the West Indies cricket team’s Indian tour in 1983. Malik was arrested and imprisoned for four months.
After his release in 1986, the Tala party renamed itself the Islamic Students’ League (ISL) and appointed Malik as its general secretary. This time it was more focused and the ISL joined the Muslim United Front (MUF) ahead of the 1987 assembly elections. Although it did not contest any seats as the group did not believe in the Constitution, Malik took charge of the MUF campaign in Srinagar constituencies. The elections were rigged and MUF’s Amirakadal candidate Mohammad Yusuf Shah (who would eventually call himself Syed Salahuddin and become the feared leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen) was declared the loser, despite winning a majority. Both Shah and Malik were arrested and held without any formal charges, court appearances or trials. Malik was in prison this time until the end of 1987.
When he was released this time, Malik crossed over to Pakistan to receive training in militant camps and returned to Kashmir in 1989 as a core member of the JKLF declaring his goal of independence for all of Jammu. -and-Kashmir.
It was during this time that he became one of the main figures who led the violence against the Kashmiri Pandits. He also led the kidnapping of Rubiya Sayeed – the daughter of then-home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed – and targeted attacks on Indian government and security officials. Malik was captured by Indian security forces in August 1990 and imprisoned until May 1994. He was released on the condition that he renounce violence and adopt peaceful methods to bring about a settlement of the conflict in Cashmere.
In October 1999, Malik was arrested again under the Public Safety Act (PSA), and again in March 2002 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, when he was detained for nearly a year. In March 2020, Malik and six accomplices were charged under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for the attack on 40 IAF members on 25 January 1990 in Rawalpora of Srinagar. Four IAF members were killed in the attack, and the trial against Malik and his accomplices is ongoing.
In 1988, he was handpicked by then JKLF Commander-in-Chief Ashfaq Majeed Wani for armed training in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (POK) where he was said to have received 32 days of armed training in a state-sponsored terrorist training camp. Bitta then unleashed a wave of violence. He was known for his targeted assassinations and ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits. Among his first victims was his close childhood friend who was a Pandit from Kashmiri. Bitta shot him right outside his house. Later, in a television interview, he would say that he was ready to kill his own mother or his own brother if he “received the order” to do so.
In 1980-1990, he reportedly walked the streets of Srinagar, looking for Pandits. If spotted, he would pull out his gun and shoot them on sight. In fact, he confessed on national television to killing at least 20 Kashmiri pandits in cold blood.
Bitta was arrested in June 1990 by Indian forces and remained in detention for 16 years until 2006. Upon his release on bail in 2006, Judge TADA ND Wani said: “The court is aware that the allegations against the accused are of a serious nature and punishable by death or life imprisonment. But the fact is that the prosecution showed complete disinterest in arguing the case. Bitta was released on indefinite bail in October 2006.
Once released from prison, he joined the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. He was again arrested by the NIA in 2019 for financing terrorism under anti-terrorism laws after the Pulwama attack.