Birth and Childhood
Maqbool Butt was born on 18th February 1938 to a peasant family in Trahagam village Tehsil Handwara, district Kupwara. His father was called Ghulam Qadar Butt. All we know about his mother is that she died when Maqbool Butt was 11 years old pupil in the village’s primary (junior) school. He had a younger brother Gulam Nabi Butt. As per traditions Ghulam Qadar married again to provide mothering for his children. From second wife he had two sons, Manzoor Ahmed Butt and Zahoor Ahmed Butt and three daughters. The early years of Maqbool Butt’s life, like thousands of other Kashmiri children were shaped by the harsh living conditions that characterised the life of peasants at this juncture of Kashmir history.
It was the feudal system in the Maharaja’s Kashmir that forced Maqbool Butt to participate in the first political action in his life long struggle against suppression, occupation and for equality, freedom and social justice.Telling this story on 12 April 1972 from Camp Prison Lahore in a letter written in reply to Azra Mir, the daughter of veteran Kashmiri political activist and intellectual, G.M. Mir who was in prison with Maqbool Butt in relation to the hijacking of an Indian plane ‘Ganaga’, Maqbool Butt wrote:
It was 1945 or 1946 when I was eight or nine years old child. At this time Kashmir was ruled by the Dogra Family and the entire Kashmiri nation was living a life of slavery. One of the many forms of slavery is called feudalism. The feudalism gets established when the king allocates pieces of land to few people. Because these are loyal to the king and help him in suppression and oppression of his riyahaya (subjects) so they are made owner of large landholdings for their services. These landholdings are called their jagirs; estates. The Jagirdars; feudals neither plough nor sow in these lands. They do not put any labour in the land. Ploughing, sowing and producing the crops are the jobs of the kisans; peasant. All Jagirdar does is that when the crops are ready he appears in the fields and takes all the produce away leaving minimal for the kisans. The Dogra rulers also had appointed jagirdars in our country. The peasants did all the labour but the owners of the lands and their produce were these very jagirdars.
The owner of our regions’ lands was a Jagirdar by the name of Dewan. Although we never seen this jagirdar but his agents who were called Kardars( literally mean ‘making others work) used to collect grains and fruits from the peasants. In the year this incident happened most of the crops were destroyed by the bad weather. Therefore the produce was next to nothing. Because of the low produce the peasants were not able to provide the jagirdar as much anaj;grains as they used to provide previously. On this the Kardars of Jagirdar started harassing and beating up the peasants in the entire region. They raided the houses and grain stores of the poor peasants and lashed them. But what did they have togive for Jagirdar? When the required amount of grains could not be collected the Jagirdar himself came to our village in his motorcar. This was the first time that a motorcar came to our village and we were astonished to see it. The peasants of our village got together and pleaded before the jagirdar for some concessions.
They told him in details the reasons for low production. But he was not prepared to believe the peasants. He was persistent that, what come may, even if the children of peasants had to go hungry, his share of grains must be arranged. He also strongly advised his agents, kardars to complete the collection at any cost. These Kardars knew well that peasants did not have anything left to give to Jagirdar but how could they deviate from his orders? At the exact point when Jagirdar was about to get in his car after issuing the instructions, all the village children were told to lie down in front of the jagirdar’s motorcar. The Kardars were part of this plan. Therefore when hundreds of children laid themselves down in front of the jagirdar’s car he was pleaded either to stop the further collection of grains or crush these starved and naked children under his car.
I was also amongst these children and remember till this day that great big hue and cry. The children as well as elders, all were crying knowing that once the jagirdar left the village without writing off the further collections, the peasants will have to face the qiyamat; the day of judgement. At last the jagirdar seeing the hue and cry of the naked and hunger worn yellowish children agreed to make some concessions.
Not too long after this incident Maqbool Butt found himself at the centre of another successful action against the institutionalised inequality. While the land was granted to the tiller soon after the rise of Sheikh Abdullah to power in 1949, many practices of inequality carried on.
One of the most explicit manifestations of the class and status based inequalities was observed in the schools’ annual award ceremonies. Here the relatively rich children and their parents were used to sit on one side and those of poor background on the other. One year when Maqbool Butt was also amongst the high achiever he refused to receive the award unless the seating arrangements were changed. He said that all the children should sit together on one side and all the parents on the other. As a result the suggestion was accepted and since then was made norm in this village school. While still in school Maqbool Butt also successfully led the campaign for promoting this school from primary to secondary status.
After completing his secondary school certificate, Maqbool Butt moved on to St. Joseph College in Baramula. This was a private missionary college. Here he gained his first degree (BA) in history and political science.
Answering to a question about his college days from 1954 to 1958, in an interview with weekly ‘Zindgi’ (life) after the Ganga Hijacking in 1971, Maqbool Butt said:“I was a good speaker. Used to do lots of strikes. Like most of Kashmiri citizens we also had great interest in Plebiscite Front. From the start we had a clear aim before us. One benefit of our strikes in college was that the government took over the control of the college”.
Khawaja Rafiq in his ‘Safeer e Hurriyat’ (the ambassador of liberation) writes that listening to the passionate and enthusiastic speeches of Maqbool Butt, the college principle Father Shankas (could not work out the correct spellings due to the name given in Urdu only) said:“This Youngman, if managed to pass through the hardships, will become a great person. But these types of people usually face extreme difficulties in society. The kind of freedom this type of youngsters demand is very hard to achieve. Subsequently, they get sacrificed on their way to freedom”.
Crossing the Divide First Time
The journey on that road to great sacrifice for Maqbool Butt was started while still a student at St. Joseph College. Responding to a question about crossing over to Pakistan in the above interview that was recorded in room number 26 of Mujahid Hotel International, Maqbool Butt said:
Recalling his migration from one part of Kashmir to the other in an interview with weekly ‘Zindgi’ (life) after the Ganga Hijacking in 1971, Maqbool Butt said:In December 1957 the release of the lion of Kashmir (Sheikh Abdullah) initiated a chain of agitation activities. I had my B.A’s exams in March/April that year. The examination centre was in Srinagar. The arrests of freedom fighters were also started at the same time. My last exam was on 2nd of April and Sheikh was rearrested on 27th. Student activists were chased and arrested. I was also an obvious target. Therefore, I went underground. After three months when the result came, I asked my father to go and bring the ‘temporary certificate’. Then we came to Pakistan in August 1958. First we came to Lahore but then in September 1958 settled in Peshawar.In this journey that changed his life course forever Maqbool Butt was accompanied by his uncle Abdul Aziz Butt.ؐ
Maqbool Butt In Pakistan
First and foremost problem before Maqbool Butt in Pakistan was to continue his education and at the same time find a job to meet the expenses. For with out that “it was hard to live in Pakistan’. Therefore, I joined ’Injam’ (end/conclusion/performance), a weekly magazine, as sub-editor and started my working life as a journalist. I did my MA(from Pehswar university) in Urdu literature and worked with ‘Anjam’ till the start of full time politics in 196 (Khawaja, 1997). Meanwhile his marriage was arranged by his uncle with a Kashmiri woman Raja Begum in 1961. He had two sons from this wife, Javed Maqbool born in 1962 and Shaukat Maqbool in 1964. In 1966 he married to a school teacher Zakra Begum and had a daughter Lubna Maqbool from her.
In 1961 Maqbool Butt contested and won the Kashmiri diaspora seat from Pehsawar, Pakistan in the ‘Basic Democracy’ elections introduced by the then president of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, Khurshid Hassan Khurshid, commonly known as K.H. Khurshid. Soon after that he campaigned for K.H. Khurshid in presidential elections and for GM. Lone in the Kashmir State council elections. Both of the candidates came out victorious on their respective positions. But when Pakistan started the operation Gibraltar by sending militants across the Indian occupied Kashmir to capture Kashmir Maqbool Butt said farewell to the ‘election’ politics and offered his services to the Pakistani authorities but was rejected. This incident had radical affects on the political approach of Maqbool Butt. At this point there existed in Pakistan a ‘Kashmir Independence Committee’ (KIC) formed on 12th May 1963 by middle class Kashmiri activists including journalists, students, businessmen and lawyers to oppose the proposals by the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers for dividing Kashmir on communal basis.
This committee was headed by the Kashmir State Council member GM Lone who few years back Maqbool Butt campaigned for. After the end of India Pakistan talks without any conclusion the committee also became inactive. Meanwhile inside ‘Azad’ Kashmiri a ‘United Front’ of various political groups, voluntary organisations, shopkeepers associations and intellectuals got together to resist the construction of Mangla Dam paved the way for pro-independence politics. In April 1965 the political activists from ‘Azad’ Kashmir and members of KIC got together and crossed into Suchetgarh, a Kashmiri village inside the Indian occupied areas of Kashmir near the Pakistani city of Sialkot, and formed the ‘Jammu Kashmir Plebiscite Front here after PF.
Maqbool Butt was elected as Publicity Secretary for this first pro-independence political organisation of some significance in ‘Azad Kashmir’ that later gave birth to most of the pro-independence groups on the Pakistani occupied side of the division line including Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front (NLF) headed by Maqbool Butt and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (Britain) led first by Abdul Jabbar Butt and later by Amanullah Khan and Yasin Malik. Abdul Khaliq Ansari, the veteran pro-independence voice in ‘Azad’ Kashmir, and Amanullah Khan, now the head of JKLF (A) were elected president and general secretary of PF respectively.
This was the time when several national liberation struggles were echoed across the world. Maqbool Butt along with many Kashmiris in PF was also very much inspired by these struggles particularly those in Algeria, Palestine and Vietnam.
According to Amanullah Khan, a proposal to adopt armed struggle as an objective of Plebiscite Front was presented before the working party meeting of PF on 12th July 1965 in Mirpur but was defeated. However, Maqbool Butt, Amanullah Khan, Mir Abudl Qayyum, a Kashmiri migrant from Jammu settled in Pakistan and a middle class businessman, and Major (R) Amanullah from Highhama town of Kashmir who fought in the world war and served in the Indian National Army of Subash Chandar Bose and also participated in the Azad Kashmir war of 1947, secretly formed ‘The Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Front’ (NLF) on 13th August 1965 at the residence of Major Amanullah in Peshawar.
The aim of this organisation was written down in just one sentence, “including armed struggle using all forms of struggle to enable the people of Jammu Kashmir State to determine the future of the State as sole owners of their motherland” (Khan, 1992, p.112).
First Crossing Back to Indian Administrated Jammu Kashmir
For the next ten months the group of four recruited more people into the ranks of NLF including GM Lone (the vice president of PF) and on 10th June 1966 the first group of NLF members secretly crossed over to the Indian occupied Kashmir. Maqbool Butt, Aurangzeb, a student from Gilgit, Amir Ahmed and Kala Khan, a retired subedar (non commissioned officer from AJK force) went deep into Valley while Major Amanullah and subedar Habibullah remained near to the division line. The former were to recruit Kashmiris in the IOK into NLF while the latter were responsible for training and weapon supply. Maqbool Butt along with three of his group members worked underground for three months and established several gorilla cells in IOK.
However, after about three months the Indian intelligence services found out about the underground activities and started a big operation to capture these activists. In an encounter with the soldiers one of the NLF members Aurganzeb from Gilgit got killed and Kala Khan received injuries. Eventually Maqbool Butt and two of his comrades, Kala Khan and Amir Ahmed were arrested. Commenting on this incident later Maqbool Butt said that this was not a staged operation.
“We were still in organisational phase and were not fully prepared for taking the risk of clashing with authorities. The risk of clash should only be taken when you are able to invite the enemy for that. We were arrested and tried. The government of the occupied Kashmir wanted the case to be dealt with in a military court and finish us off. But the case was heard in civil court for two years (Khawaja op. cit. p.248).
The verdict was given in August 1968. We were three people in total. Two were given death (Maqbool Butt and Amir Ahmed) and one (Kala Khan) life sentences. Our comrades from the occupied Kashmir were given from three months to three years. Nearly three hundred people were arrested including students, engineers, teachers, contractors, shopkeepers and government employees. They belonged to all parties including Plebiscite Front, Congress, and National Conference etc.
The risk of clash should only be taken when you are able to invite the enemy for that. We were arrested and tried. The government of the occupied Kashmir wanted the case to be dealt in a military court and finish us off. But the case was heard in civil court for two years (Khawaja op. cit. p.248). The verdict was given in August 1968. We were three people in total. Two were given death (Maqbool Butt and Amir Ahmed) and one (Kala Khan) life sentences. Our comrades from the occupied Kashmir were given from three months to three years. Nearly three hundred people were arrested including students, engineers, teachers, contractors, shopkeepers and government employees. They belonged to all parties including Plebiscite Front, Congress, and National Conference etc.
Escape from Prison
Soon they started planning an escape from the prison and within a month and a half managed to escape from the prison in Srinagar. Maqbool Butt later wrote in great detail about the escape and submitted that before the Special Trial Court in Pakistan where he was tried along with other NLF members for ‘Ganga’ hijacking. However, only a brief account of the escape is included here from one of his interviews:
“On 22nd October 1968 we started planning to escape from the prison and after one and a half month of intense planning we managed to put this plan to practice on 8th December 1968 at 2:10 am by breaking the prison wall. Two of us were on death sentence and the third one with us was a prisoner from Azad Kashmir. It took us 16 days to reach to the first border check post of Azad Kashmir. We reached to Muzaffarabad on 25th December and were interrogated in the interrogation centre of Muzaffarabad till March 1969”.
Answering a question about their arrest in Azad Kashmir, Maqbool Butt said:“What can I say about that? It was the government of Ayub Khan (in Pakistan) 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 been very cruel to us. I was severely tortured while in the concentration camp. The pain increased with the thoughts that this was inflicted by our own (Khawaja op. cit. p249).
They were released on 8th March 1969 when PF, NLF and National Students Federation (NSF) activists staged demonstrations in Islamabad. In November 1969 the annual convention of Plebiscite Front was held in Muzaffarabad where Maqbool Butt was elected as its president.
While recognizing the set a back of the premature exposure of NLF in the IOK, Maqbool Butt was of the opinion that the above incident inspired and motivated more Kashmiris to join the armed struggle. Explaining this point in the above interview he says ‘now we have entered in a new phase. Not only are we able to speak in the language of power that is the only language India understands but also are able to make the world community, which has ignored our existence, to recognize us. In this world, you have to have your existence recognised. We have our existence recognised and we will rest only when the existence of the entire Kashmiri nation is recognised, Inshallah. (op. cit.) After being elected as the president of PF Maqbool Butt 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 1970 Azad Kashmir Act that turned ‘Azad’ Kashmir a colony of Pakistan, ruled through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and the Chief Secretary.
This Act also reduced the ‘Azad Kashmir’ to 4500 Square miles area and separated it from the rest of the state of Kashmir. With Gilgit Baltistan, the situation was even worse. These parts of the State were directly controlled by Pakistan through a political agent. The PF launched week-long activities to highlight this situation and announced that the next convention of PF will be held there. During this week PF activists including Maqbool Butt, Khaliq Ansari, Mir Qayyum, Amanullah Khan and GM Mir were arrested and forcefully exiled from the State boundaries.
The Ganga Hijacking
The event that brought Maqbool Butt and the Kashmir Issue in limelight in Kashmir, South Asia and at international level was the hijacking of an Indian Fokker plane ‘Ganga’. There are several official and common theories about the background and impacts of this hijacking which cannot be discussed in the scope of this article. Therefore only a brief account is presented below.
Ganga, an Indian airliner was hijacked on 30 January 1971 at 1305 hours while on its routine flight from Srinagar to Jammu. In total it was carrying 30 people including four crew members. The Hijackers were two young Kashmiris Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi. They brought the plane to Lahore airport and demanded the release of about two dozen political prisoners of NLF in the Indian prisons. On February the 1st 1971 all the passengers and crew were sent back to India via Amritsar and the ‘Ganga’ was set on fire. This incident was later used by India to suspend the overflights of Pakistani aircraft over Indian Territory (Lamb, 1991, p.289).
This situation later led to the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. The hijackers and Maqbool Butt under whose instructions hijackers said the hijacking was carried out firstly praised as heroes and freedom fighters but then they and hundreds of other members of NLF were arrested, interrogated in Shahee Qila Lahore and ‘Dulahee Camp’ Muzafrabad. Later six of them were tried in a Special Court of Pakistan under the charges of collaboration with the Indian intelligence services. They were Maqbool Butt, G.M. Lone, Mir Abdul Qayyum, Mir Abdul Manan and the two hijackers Hashim Qureshi and Ashraf Qureshi.
According to Khawaja (p.132), Maqbool Butt was charged under the ‘Enemy Act 1943’ of the Indian Penal Code. Ironically he was tried under the same colonial Act by the Indian Government in 1966 in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. The case started in December 1971 and after a long trial in which 1984 prosecuting and 1942 defence witnessed were called was concluded in May 1973. All but Hashim Qureshi were cleared of all charges other than dealing with arms and explosives etc.
Hashim Qureshi was sentenced for fourteen years imprisonment. The long statement Maqbool Butt submitted for this case is perhaps the most detailed reflection of his political ideology. While it can not be incorporated in the scope of this article, a brief quote from this statement would not be out of place here:
“I can say without any hesitation that I have not designed any conspiracy nor have I been a part of any group of conspirers. My character has always been transparent and unambiguous. However, I have done one thing and that is the rebellion against ignorance, the greed of wealth, exploitation oppression, slavery and hypocrisy. If the ruling class of Pakistan that is a product of imperialism and represented by the bureaucracy and military dictatorship of this country views this as conspiracy then I have no hesitation in accepting the charge”.
It will be interesting to note here that Ganga Case was carried out under special presidential orders of the then president of Pakistan Yahaya Khan according to which the accused were denied the right to appeal against the decision of this Special Court. Despite many requests and protests in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan the right to appeal for Ganga accused was not accepted. According to Mitr Qayyum, in a conversation with the founding president of PF and veteran Kashmiri independence activist Abdul Khaliq Ansari who is also a renowned lawyer in ‘Azad Kashmir’, the then law minister of Pakistan Mehmood Ali Qasuri said ‘where in the world do you have the right to appeal against the Supreme Court decision?’. In response, Khaliq Ansari asked ‘and where in the world the Supreme Court has ever been used as ‘Trial Court’?
According to Mir Abdul Qayyum, the right to appeal was restored only after the British Kashmiris warned several Pakistani ministers on their visits to Britain that the unlawful tactics of the Pakistani rulers to convict these Kashmiris will be exposed (Mir Qayyum, unpublished documents of NLF). Using this right NLF filed appealed against the Special Court’s decision about Hashim Quereshi. But it took seven years before this appeal was heard at Supreme Court where Hashim was also cleared (Khawaja op. cit. p.151).
In terms of Kashmir, the ‘Ganga’ trial had many far-reaching effects on the NLF and on the wider independence politics. Firstly it affectively paralysed NLF who lost many members due to physical torture, psychological pressure and financial losses. Many also became disillusioned and disappointed due to various misunderstandings that were developed between the leadership during the course of the trial. Maqbool Butt, however, continued his efforts to reorganise the struggle in both the armed and political fields. In 1975 the PF decided to participate in the elections held under the Bhutto’s Peoples Party Government. Maqbool Butt who at this point had no official responsibility in PF also contested the election. All PF candidates, including Maqbool Butt, lost to PPP candidates. The PF commentators claim that the result had a lot to do with massive vote riggings in favour of PPP candidates.
The Last Crossing
With NLF dismantled and PF demoralised, Maqbool Butt once again crossed over to the Indian occupied Kashmir against the advice of many of his friends and comrades in May 1976. This time he went with Abdul Hammed Butt and Riaz Dar. Within a few days of crossing, they were spotted and arrested by the Indian forces. In 1978 the Indian Supreme Court restored death sentence on Maqbool Butt and he was transferred to Delhi’s Tihar Prison. After eight long years in prison, Maqbool Butt was hanged on 11th February 1984 while the legal team was waiting for Maqbool Butt’s case to be reopened on the grounds of flaws in the trial that convicted Maqbool Butt of murder. His execution was carried out in haste to avenge the killing of an Indian diplomat in Birmingham by an unknown group ‘Kashmir Liberation Army’.
Rovendra Mahatre was kidnapped in the first week of February 1984 from his Birmingham office by KLA who demanded among other things the release of Maqbool Butt. Thus was ended the life of one of the greatest revolutionary of modern Kashmiri history and was born what Kashmiris remember as Shaheed e Azam (the greatest martyr). Ironically, death warrants of Maqbool Butt were signed by Dr Farooq Abdullah the then Chief Minister of IOK who spent several days with Maqbool Butt in ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Pakistan in 1974 and who said later that ‘I have found Maqbool Butt a very romantic man, just like Che Guevara. He could have added ‘like Shiekh Abdullah in 1930s’, whose politics initially inspired Maqbool Butt as a student at St Joseph College.
An Imprisoned Martyr in the world’s largest democracy
India is acclaimed by the democratic world as the largest democracy on earth. While there is no doubt that democratic traditions and institutions in India are far more established, when it comes to Kashmir India is no more than an occupier and oppressive state that rules Kashmir through colonial like structures and authoritarian means with little regards for the democratic values, human rights and civil liberties. This neo-colonial face of Indian rule in Kashmir was demonstrated in its worst form in the way Maqbool Butt was hanged and what followed.
Not only that Maqbool Butt was executed in revenge, no one was allowed to see him before execution and he was buried inside the prison premises after execution. Maqbool Butt’s sister says ‘we went at the Srinagar airport to catch flight for Delhi but the police did not let us go’. His niece tells ‘they did not return any of his belongings from Thiar’. I wish they let us have some soil from his grave in the prison’
Mohammed Yasin Butt another Kashmiri who was imprisoned in Tihar for his involvement in freedom struggle wrote to ‘Kashmir Times’ Britain in 1995 that during his time in Tihar prison he spoke to several prisoners and prison staff about Maqbool Butt. They all remember him with great respect for his dignified behaviour and for his struggle in prison for the rights of prisoners and the lower rank prison staff. He further wrote:
“Maqbool Sahib’s grave is the only one in Tihar prison which has a wall built around it by the prisoners. Every month prison staff cleans it and prisoners light fragrant candles on it and pray for him according to their own faiths”.
Despite the confidence-building measures and ceasefire between the Indian and Pakistani armies in Kashmir, the repeated demands by Kashmiris for the return of Maqbool Butt’s remains are not responded to and this icon of Kashmiri liberation struggle is kept in prison even after his execution. The only other example of this kind of disregard for human rights of political activists comes to mind is that of Baghat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru whose bodies were also not returned to their families by the British colonial authorities after execution.
Last year Iftikhar Gilani, a Delhi based Kashmiri journalist who spent ten months in Tihar wrote in his book that Maqbool Butt’s grave in prison has been built over. There are two other graves waiting for the body of Maqbool Butt. One in the martyrs’ cemetery in Srinagar’s old Eidgah district where its tombstone has an inscription in green Urdu letters that read “this is where Shaeed e Azam[ (the greatest martyr) Maqbool Butt will one day be laid to rest’. Another grave for Maqbool Butt is between the graves of his brothers in the courtyard of the house where he was born in Trahagam.
This unique situation about the burial of Maqbool Butt was nicely depicted by Mohammed Yamin, a Kashmiri poet from ‘Azad’ Kashmir in his poem ‘Roashni Ka Shaeed e Awal’ (the first martyr for the light) that is now juxtaposed on a large portrait of Maqbool Butt and hangs on the front room walls of many pro-independence Kashmiris across AJK and diaspora from this part of Kashmir.
Kahaan Tu Soya Khabar Nahee
Khabar Nahee Qabar Nahee
Magar yeh bandey nisar terey
Karror dil hein mazar terey
Many do not know where you are asleep There is no news, there is no grave But for the millions inspired by youYou live in their hearts and minds(Khawaja, 1997, p.6)