On this date in 1984, India hanged Kashmiri nationalist Maqbool Bhat.
A terrorist to his enemies and a freedom fighter to his friends, Bhat was born in the Kashmir region back when it “was ruled by the Dogra Family and the entire Kashmiri nation was living a life of slavery.”
When Bhat was a nine-year-old child, the prince of Jammu and Kashmir inked a bitterly controversial accession of his domain to the foundling independent nation of India. Kashmir has been hitched to the adjective “troubled” ever since.
The broader Kashmir region remains a warren of competing claims among Pakistan, India, and China. Bhat operated not for any of these governments, but for Kashmiri independence … and since he came of age in the revolutionary twilight of colonialism, he did not shy from putting the fight in freedom fighter. Bhat was an early exponent of an armed independence struggle.
Both India and Pakistan proscribed as terrorist Bhat’s Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front (forerunner of the still-extant JKLF, which is the same acronym less the middle letter); both those longtime subcontinent antagonists arrested Bhat at different times for subversive activities. The most notable: Bhat engineered an airplane hijacking in 1971 to push his cause onto the world’s front pages.
But the hostage-taking game came a-cropper for the Kashmiri rebel.
Languishing under a dormant death sentence for the 1968 murder of an Indian policeman,* Bhat unexpectedly became the focus of his fellow-travelers’ revolutionary ardor: in Birmingham, England, Kashmiri activists kidnapped Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in an attempt to force a hostage exchange.
When Delhi refused to deal, the captors executed Mhatre. Within days, India traded tit for tat by stringing up Bhat — a man who in life had been known for his boast that “nobody has the rope which can hang men.”
They may not have got their man, but they sure got a martyr.
* Bhat’s partisans insist that he was wrongly accused.
Update: Reprint of a 1984 article, “The last days of Maqbool Butt”