Srinagar: For 18 years, Qayoom Najar remained a mystery man, his tactics enabling him to live to be the longest-surviving militant in Kashmir, until today. But even in death he remained mysterious.
When the army’s 34 RR killed an infiltrator along the LoC near Zorawar post in Uri on Tuesday morning, they had no idea who he was. The army called the Uri police and handed over the body. According to the Sub Division Police Officer, Uri, Syeed Javaid, some documents had been recovered from the body of Najar which pointed to him being a militant commander.
“We called the relatives to confirm whether he was Najar,” Javaid said. “The relatives confirmed it was his body.”
Finally, the mystery shrouding Najar had ended. He was killed at the age of 43.
According to the two police officers who were tasked to trace him, Najar, a resident of Sopore town, joined as an Over Ground Worker (OGW) of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in the year 1993. He would transport weapons and provide lodging for Hizb militants.
In 1994, the police officers said, Najar was arrested. He was later released but he re-joined active militancy in 1999.
“Nobody exactly knows when he joined militancy,” the officers said. “From the testimonies of arrested militants, we could guess he joined in that year (1999).”
As he was a carpenter by profession, the police officers claimed that Najar used his carpentry skills to build hideouts for militants.
When he joined HM, the first thing he did was to destroy his pictures, so that nobody could identify him.
“In those days, Hizb in north Kashmir used to ask its cadres to destroy their pictures, unlike the militants of today,” the officers said. “From that moment on, he remained faceless. He would keep a low profile, and he would work using his tactics. He was a typical military commander.”
Najar never visited Pakistan for arms training, the officers said. He would plot and launch attacks, but he would never claim them.
In the year 2000, when Abdul Majid Dar, the then Hizb militant commander who tried to broker a peace with New Delhi, was killed, an era of brutal anti-insurgency began in north Kashmir. During that time, much of the Hizb cadre from north Kashmir was wiped out.
“It was during that time that Najar was made commander of the Hizb in north Kashmir,” the officers said. “He never liked glory. He worked in silence. He would recruit people into Hizb and strengthen the group. His mystery was his strength.”
When militancy was reduced to its lowest point in north Kashmir, Abdullah Uni, former head of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, was shifted from Kupwara to Sopore, where he would work in close coordination with the Hizb’s lone operational commander, Najar.
“Uni, who was active from 2007 in Sopore, claimed several attacks on security forces when he was active there till 2011,” the officers said. “But he was just a shadow militant. It was Najar and his newly recruited men who would carry out grenade and firing attacks upon the government forces. Uni just owned them. It was Hizb which carried them out. It seems Najar always thought it better to stay away from the security radar. He maintained a low profile.”
When Uni was killed in 2011, Najar rose to prominence as he took over the reins of Hizb.
“We would be told that he was seen at one place, and the next day we would be told he was caught in a raid, but fled. The truth was we could never be sure whether he was Najar or not. There was no cat and mouse competition in this case,” the officers said.
“He was a local man. He knew the mechanics of anti-insurgency operations here,” the officers said. “We had no picture of him. We were told that he looks like his brother. We brought a sketcher who drew his sketch on paper. Then we distributed the sketch.”
There was one more quality to Najar which helped him evade arrest – his military brain.
“Instead of Najar, actually we were on tenterhooks. He would make us think all the time. We would be waiting for his next move. We would listen to stories about his mysterious appearances, but we could rarely confirm them,” the officers said. “One day, we arrested a local militant recruited by him from Sopore. He told us that Najar provided him a pistol and took him to a house. After doing that, the detained militant told us during interrogation, Najar left the place. He told us Najar would never sit at one place for long. He told us that Najar visited him only after 30 days.”
Najar never used a mobile phone, nor did he allow other recruits of his outfit to use them.
“Whenever he would meet his cadres, he would pay a surprise visit. He never organised things. We were always caught on the back foot,” the officers said.
In 2015, differences cropped up between Hizb leaders and their militant commander. Najar broke away and formed his own Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) outfit, which believed in Islamic rule, not Kashmir becoming part of Pakistan, which is the agenda of Hizb.
As part of LeI, Najar carried out attacks on mobile phone towers. He was also allegedly involved in the killing of six civilians.
“This was the time when he came into limelight. For the first time in 27 years, his stories appeared in the media. He also issued threats to a senior Hurriyat leader. He called him and seriously threatened him. This phone call was the reason that Hizb commanders in Pakistan called him to Pakistan Administered Kashmir in 2015,” the officers revealed.
“The LeI led to the downfall of Najar as his group almost disappeared from the scene. Reports came that he had again joined Hizb and had become its active militant commander,” the officers said.
Before he went over to Pakistan in 2015, Najar married the sister of a slain militant commander. “According to our knowledge, he left for Pakistan through the Nepal border,” the police officers said. “Nobody knew that he would die at the Line of Control.”