Yasin Malik, the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and amongst the most recognised faces of the Kashmiri struggle, was born in Srinagar on April 3, 1966 in Srinagar. Part of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the JKLF has, from its inception, sought an independent Kashmir, a stand not widely accepted in the early days.
The JKLF emerged in 1977, in Birmingham, to fight for Kashmir’s independence, but its stand found little traction in Islamabad and New Delhi.
But Yasin Malik’s rise to become a Kashmiri folk hero wasn’t a fairytale journey. He believed in militancy and an armed resistance, when he first decided to side with forces working to liberate Kashmir from Indian occupation at the age of 18.
Kashmir has been a disputed territory between India and Pakistan since the partition of British India in 1947, pending a United Nations Security Council resolution, adopted on April 21, 1948, calling for a plebiscite to decide its fate so that peace and order could be restored in the region.
Pakistan terms the dispute as an unfinished agenda of Partition and that a lasting peace cannot be achieved until and unless the dispute is resolved as per the aspirations of the people of Kashmir.
During his initial activist days, Malik was often seen on the streets campaigning for support to draw in as many people as he could
An independent Kashmir is surely a dream for Kashmiris from the valley, but it was never presented as an option in the UNSC resolution recommending a plebiscite. Instead, the resolution gives the option of accession to Pakistan or India.
Pakistan, a strong supporter of the Kashmiris’ right to freedom and self-determination, has never objected to the idea. Instead, Islamabad has consistently maintained that no solution can be considered without the active participation of the Kashmiri leadership in the process.
The JKLF was originally spearheaded by Amanullah Khan and Maqbool Bhat, who believed that raising voices peacefully in the face of brutal Indian repression was not an option. Both of them continue to inspire many Kashmiri youth to take up arms.
Having worked closely with Khan, who died in Rawalpindi in April last year, and Bhat, who was hanged in Tihar jail in February 1984, Malik realized that the solution to the Kashmir issue is more likely to be found in the realm of political engagement rather than armed militancy.
It was then that he came up with his own JKLF – popularly regarded as a breakaway faction of the original – that strived for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, working more intensely towards highlighting Indian atrocities in front of the world community. Malik’s JKLF declared indefinite ceasefire in 1994 and committed itself to a political struggle. Later in 2011, both JKLF factions merged under the leadership of Malik.
During his initial activist days, Malik was often seen on the streets campaigning for support to draw in as many people as he could. His campaigns were to unite Kashmiris to choose one leader. In December 2004, Malik organised a photo exhibition in New Delhi of over a million signatures he had managed to collect from some 3,000 villages to measure his strength as a representative of Kashmiris. Time and again, he has called for a “clearer yardstick”, suggesting elections to choose who the true representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is.
In an interview to Newsline magazine in 2005, Malik said he had served time “in every jail in the valley” where he used to spend time catching up on his reading. From being a student leader to becoming the leading light of the Kashmiri resistance, Malik draws inspiration from Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Yasser Arafat, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, who he says are his all-time heroes.
For Malik, the political struggle is about freedom, which he considers as one of the most powerful ideas of the times we live in. In a column he wrote for Dawn newspaper in 2015, Malik said: “History is not determined by interests and power but by ideals and ideas. We are all travellers on this earth. We too will pass but ideas will remain. The most powerful ideas of our times are freedom, liberty and self-determination. Great powers rise and fall but ideas have a longevity that transcends time and spans generations.”