JKLF commander Ashfaq Majid Wani was killed in an encounter with the forces in Old Srinagar. Shocked, Kashmiris took to the streets in thousands, defying curfew. The slain commander was laid to rest at the Martyrs’ Graveyard in Eidgah.
Around one million people attended his rasm-e-qul on April 3. Addressing the gathering, Islamic Students League (ISL) leader Shakeel Ahmad Bakhshi paid glowing tributes to Wani.
“Ashfaq’s martyrdom has created a vacuum,” he said.
Known for his heroics, Ashfaq was among the JKLF’s core HAJY Group, comprised, along with him, of Malik Muhammad Yasin, Sheikh Abdul Hamid and Javed Ahmad Mir.
Wani was born on September 5, 1966, in the Sarai Bala area of Srinagar. He studied at the Valley’s prestigious Tyndale Biscoe School and later joined the SP College for further studies. Sports were an important aspect of Wani’s life, and he was a top athlete even when in early teens. He maintained a strict regimen. Getting up early in the morning he would go for training and exercises. He was a dedicated soccer player, a marathon runner and a table tennis player. He stood first in the interstate marathon tournament in 1985 and was selected to represent the state.
By 1987, he was already on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies. He was arrested on March 23 1987 for his involvement with the Muslim United Front, which took part in elections, subsequently rigged by the establishment, and was lodged at the Central jail, Srinagar. Hundreds of other opposition activists were also arrested in police crackdowns across the Valley. He was released on parole after nine months. His period in prison had made him bitter and he was found to have cigarette burns all over his body.
After his release, Wani worked on plans to procure arms from Pakistan administered Kashmir. A day before he left for arms training, while serving meals at a wedding reception, he overheard Mohiuddin Shah, a veteran National Conference politician, talking about the futility of agitations against the government. Wani is known to have reprimanded him in these famous words: “The government made two grave mistakes as far as Kashmir is concerned. First, it acceded to India, and second, it let me out on parole.”
Wani subsequently crossed into Pakistan administered Kashmir to become one of those who laid the foundations of the armed struggle in Kashmir.
Thousands of young Kashmiris in the Valley joined the JKLF and a full-fledged movement against Indian rule began in 1989. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people marched on the streets of Srinagar between January and May 1990, demanding a plebiscite.