When the Maulvi recited the last verse in Arabic, the huge crowd assembled to pay homage to the young boy, joined him in one voice. Their ‘Amen’ echoed all across the valley with the gloomy sky witnessing premature culmination of yet another life. Hundreds of villagers, some carrying Pakistani flags, were present there to attend the funeral of slain terrorist Mushtaq Ahmed, a twenty-year old young boy who was killed in an encounter by the security forces a day before. The moment his coffin was lowered into the grave, dozens of terrorists fired assault rifles and the whole crowd chanted “Shaheed Mushtaq, we will avenge your death” and it was followed by the hysteric hullabaloo of “Azaadi… Azaadi… Allah-o- Akbar… Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e- Mustafa… Kashmir banega Pakistan…”
In the cacophony of these slogans and gun shots Mushtaq’s mother fainted. Her husband and daughter supported her limp body and prevented her from falling down. Other women in the crowd also came closer and consoled her. Mushtaq’s father tried to gather all his strength to show a brave face in front of the community to acknowledge that his son has laid down his life for a cause. He was trying to sprinkle some water on her face to bring her around when he felt somebody touching his shoulder. Yes it was Buda Bab. His soft and affectionate touch and empathy in his eyes gave him a vent and he broke down!
“Mushtaq was like my own child,” Buda Bab hugged him and said with a broken voice. “But don’t grieve his death. He is a martyr…. he has sacrificed his life for jihad… for Allah….”
Mushtaq’s father kept on sobbing while other people gathered around Buda Bab and some consoled him saying, “You should feel proud that your son has achieved martyrdom in the name of Almighty Allah…”
As soon as Buda Bab realized that the bereaved family was being taken care of by other people, he quickly came out of crowd and turned back to the person who was nervously following him like a shadow for past half an hour. After looking around like a hawk to ensure there was nobody to hear what he said, Buda Bab whispered in to his ears, “Go ahead!”
Buda Bab, sitting alone in his baithak, looked at his hookah which had already cooled down with hardly any smoke coming out of it. He realized that he was deeply immersed in his thoughts and had actually stopped smoking from the hookah. It was already late night and with his mobile phone firmly grasped in his right hand he was eagerly waiting for a WhatsApp message. He was gloomy and lost in his thoughts since the time he came home from Mushtaq’s funeral. When he had said, “Mushtaq was like my own child,” it was not just a stereotyped expression he always used at such occasions, but he really meant it. It was a genuine feeling coming straight from his heart. Mushtaq’s family lived in his neighbourhood and he had seen him growing up as a child. Despite his commitment to the cause and firm determination for the success of jihad, there was something inside him which hurt him, some strange feeling which he never experienced during the last twenty years after insurgency burrowed its roots in the valley. He had attended hundreds of such funerals of martyrs during this period but never felt so weak. He was distressed and in conflict with his own conscience. His ultimate goal of transforming a community uprising into a people’s movement was not too far but at this critical juncture his emotional vulnerability was counterproductive. He realized it and was determined to remain strong, come what may. So he shook his head off as if getting rid of a bad dream and rejected such thoughts coming to his mind. He reiterated to his own self that the order he gave for “Go ahead” was absolutely necessary for the cause.
It was a bad day for Buda Bab from the morning itself. Soon after he finished his morning prayer he was requested by his workers to see a young boy who wanted to meet him urgently. Salim, again a youngster from Buda Bab’s own village, who had recently left his engineering studies in Chandigarh to join the uprising in the valley and be a part of jihad, was waiting for him in his baithak along with some members of the group. Salim was emotionally charged when he heard about the happenings in the valley. He had decided to sacrifice his life for the cause and left his studies, but after learning about the ground realities of jihad his cowardice overpowered him and he wanted to go back to Chandigarh. Buda Bab was never harsh to young people even if they committed blunders. He was always soft but crafty with them to win over their mind as well as their heart. But his assistants knew it pretty well that whatever sweetness he had in his angelic discourse was limited only to his conversation and counselling. Buda Bub always ensured that his harsh decisions were executed as per his orders but he never antagonized young boys on their faces.
Without expressing his anger at Salim’s request to let him go back to Chandigarh, he softly said, “Salim beta, why do you want to go back after having made such a noble decision?”
“Jenab, last week my father was killed in cross fire. My mother and sister are alone. I want to take care of them…”
“My child, you don’t have to worry about them. Allah will take care of them…. and we are also here to support them. I promise you. In the eyes of Allah your contribution to jihad will pass on your rewards to them also. In a way they will be sharing your achievements without actually participating in it. You should feel proud you are doing it not only for yourself but for them as well…” Buda Bab didn’t have to think and articulate his words to impress the young boy because this was the usual narrative he used to express as a sermon to all such shaky recruits.
“But Sir I am not liking this bloodshed. I fainted yesterday when I saw Mushtaq’s dead body. Sir… I want to study and become an engineer….”
“And make buildings, bridges and dams for these kafirs…” Buda Bab almost lost his temper for a moment but controlled himself in the next breath. “My dear there can be no education, no training, and no development till we establish Nizam-e- Mustafa in the valley. You go with these boys, they will tell you what to do.” He pointed to the ferocious looking person who had brought him in.
Salim could guess what was going to happen to him and what Buda Bab had ordered for him. As a last attempt he rushed to him and touched his feet. “Sir, I am like your grandson, please let me go…” Without losing his mask of kindness on his face Buda Bab held Salim by his shoulders, patted him on his back and said, “Don’t worry my son, they will guide you…” and without looking back at his face he got inside his room.
Buda Bab lit his hookah for the third time but could not take his mind off from an array of images hovering over his mind and floating before his eyes… hundreds of boys… and Mushtaq’s and Salim’s faces overlapping with each other ! He felt as if the whole room was revolving and the roof was about to fall on his head. He got nervous and immediately closed his eyes. He started praying again and his fingers swiftly moved the beads of tasbih to relieve his anxiety.
Khwaja Abdul Qayum Bhat, an octogenarian and one of the most respected people in the community, was a leading carpet exporter before he drifted away from his ancestral business. To begin with it was just a gesture driven by his hurt ego but with the events which followed it snowballed in to a full-fledged war against the establishment. It was barely thirty years back when he was at the peak of his business establishment with multiple showrooms across the country as well as in Europe and in the United States. He was always a shrewd businessman and never strayed towards something which was not profitable but for no good reason he decided to fight parliamentary election to further boost his ego. But destiny had something else stored for him. He lost the election because of large scale rigging. Despite unfair means used by his opponent and the gross rigging at the booths he lost the election by a narrow margin of 1000 votes. This really infuriated him and led to a cascade of events which finally carried him to a place where he was standing now, a grand old man with a determination, undeterred by a long struggle against the establishment which he later re-discovered as ‘jihad for Nizam-e-Mustafa,’ popular amongst masses as Buda Bab ( Great Father).
At personal level Buda Bab lost most of his possessions apart from the money he gathered after selling his huge business and invested in community mobilization work. His elder daughter Salma, who was an architect, got married and moved to Australia along with her engineer husband. She settled there and preferred not to come to Kashmir with her children because of the perpetual disturbances in the valley. But she was in touch with her father and used to regularly call him. Buda Bab’s only son Sajjad, a physician settled in England, was the one who actually disappointed him far beyond his expectations. He was not angry with him because he married an English nurse who was a Christian, but because he married her without converting her to Islam and preferred court marriage to nikah. It was over twenty five years now and despite Sajjad’s pleas to forgive him Buda Baba cold shouldered him for rest of his life.
Buda Bab’s life temporarily came to a halt a few years back when his wife passed away. Life suddenly came to an end and he felt lonely but his commitment to his mission re-energized his dampening spirits and he again rose up with a bang. Buda Bab had no regrets for his transformation from Khwaja Abdul Qayum Bhat to being the tallest person in the jihadi movement.
It was quite unusual for Buda Bab that even after praying and endlessly moving the beads of his tasbih his mind was distraught. The invisible turbulence in his mind initiated a bizarre chain of thoughts which made him restless. It was already 11.45 pm and he was eagerly waiting for the outcome of tonight’s mission. Despite Mushtaq’s death yesterday and more stringent police deployment in the area, he had already given a green signal for the fidayeen attack on security camp at 12 midnight. There was still some time left for the clock to strike 12 when he expected to receive ‘done’ signal soon after it was accomplished but he was finding it hard to spend these 15 minutes.
Buda Baba looked around himself, his beautiful baithak with most sophisticated low level furniture and traditionally decorated floor for sitting with gav, takiyas etc. His eyes caught attention of the huge wall-to-wall Persian carpet spread across the baithak. A cool breeze of tranquility crossed over his mind and a faint memory brightened his thoughts. It was a gift from his friend in Shiraz who had insisted that he use it in his own living room. And Buda Bab had kept his promise partly because it was perhaps the last gift he received in his life. Thereafter he only received consignments and remittances from across the border with specific operational instructions for each one of them. And with clear understanding that none of those consignments or part of them should be found in his house. The first consignment, however, was an exception.
The first consignment which Buda Bab received from outside the valley more than 20 years back was a ‘human’ package whom he sheltered in his house for about a month. His close childhood friend who was a staunch supporter of Sufism warned him at that time “Qayum, it is not a gift like your Persian carpet. It is a time bomb which can explode anytime and burn your home…” But Buda Bab was convinced that whatever he was doing was right. He continued to get remittances and consignments from time to time and his friend kept on reminding him, “These human consignments are like Par Gaggur*. They will ensure that one day they overtake the locals and then you can do nothing about it…” But it was of no avail because Buda Bab was so deeply immersed in this mission that he couldn’t control anything.
Over the years the outside consignments were supplemented by local recruits who were executing most of the terror modules in the valley. Everyday they caused some damage to security and police force. “But that is not enough…” argued his bosses across the border. “We need to do something big, something extraordinary this time. We need to attack Army base camp with fidayeen…”
Buda Baba got convinced about a fidayeen attack. He had the will to execute it but what he did not have was the trained manpower to do it. He had more than a hundred local young boys who were ready to lay their lives for jihad but lacked adequate skills to bring out tangible outcome. Therefore he didn’t hesitate to request for a consignment from across the border.
The wall clock struck 12 midnight with both the needles overlapping each other as if one protecting the other. Buda Bab’s heart started beating faster. He looked at his mobile phone. He was sure that the foreign mercenary who had been sent to execute the planned fidayeen attack would have accomplished it with success and expected a WhatsApp message any time.
There was vibration in Buda Bab’s phone alerting him about a WhatsApp message but before he could see it there was a loud telephone ring which pierced through his ears. The telephone ring echoed all around the room because of pin-drop silence around him at the middle of the night. He lifted the phone with trembling hands and listened to the voice coming from the other side.
“Abba, this is Sajjad this side… we are in distress… My son Faizan had been missing along with his friend for the last 2 years…! Abba, they had joined ISIS… just now his friend came to me to tell me about his whereabouts…. His friend ran away from Syria and has returned home … but Faizan… he told me Faizan has been trained as a fid…da… yeen…. He also told me that he has been sent to Kashmir to…”
Buda Bab looked at his WhatsApp message and suddenly felt a lump in his throat and a thump on his chest.
“Abba, are you listening…? Please save him…. you know these people… please help him come back to us… we are waiting for him. Abba… please…”
The receiver slipped from Buda Bab’s hands and he crashed down like an old tree!
* There is common saying in Kashmir that when a Par Gaggur (a rat from outside) enters a household it eventually drives out the Gar Gaggur (the original inhabitant) – a symbolic metaphor for terrorists who came in to the valley from across the border.