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Ballot wins over bullet in Banihal
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Kaskoot (Banihal), April 23
In the Udhampur-Doda parliamentary seat that went to the polls today, the Banihal Assembly segment showed “ballot to be superior to bullet”. Over 12 former militants stood in queues at polling stations in and around Kaskoot in the hope of achieving what their guns could not.

In fact, disillusioned with militancy, a majority of these former militants have joined political parties to have their voices heard. With these people and their families participating in the elections, the region registered an incident-free polling.

Abdul Hamid Khan, code named Han Khan by his Harkat ul-Ansar (HuA) handlers from Pakistan, spent over five years lugging a Kalashnikov rifle, till one day it dawned upon him that he must return to his two sons and bring them up as honourable citizens. “In the training camps, we were brainwashed in the name of jihad to liberate Kashmir from India. But I realised that the liberation of the people of Kashmir can only be ensured through democracy and not gun. So, here I am exercising my franchise for a better future for all of us”, he told The Tribune while coming out of the Kaskoot polling station.

Abdul is not the only former militant to have given up gun to gain access to the EVM, Mohammad Salim Khar, a former Hizbul Mujahideen militant, also casted vote at Kaskoot today. After surrendering to the police with the help of Han Khan, he has now joined the NC and has been actively campaigning for the party.

“I was fed up flirting with death. I wanted to live a normal life and raise a family. Many of the surrendered militants realised that our trainers and commanders were simply fooling us at the behest of the ISI”, said Mohammad Ilias Nazar, also a former Hizbul militant, who is now active in the BSP, and along with Abdul had campaigned for BSP candidate Rakesh Wazir.

With a polling of around 40 per cent in militant-infested Banihal, Ramban and Gool areas, which is much lower than Doda and Kishtwar districts that polled over 50 per cent votes, it is commendable that these former militants from the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen and the HuA openly participated in the poll process. In fact, most of the former militants worked with the security agencies to infiltrate the militant ranks or became informers and were now on the hit list of the militants.

Nearly 12 surrendered militants, who met The Tribune at different polling stations, openly decried militancy and admitted that the path of violence was wrong. Shaheen Khari, a former Hizbul commander, who voted in Khari, said, “I had joined militancy because of poverty. But by taking up gun nothing improved, and hence I gave it up”.

There are around 60 surrendered militants in the area who have got together and formed a “surrendered militants committee” with Mohammad Salim Khan as its president and Abdul Hamid Khan as organiser. “When we can plead the case of a political party, why can’t we raise our voice against the unkept promises the government made to the surrendered militants.”

The surrendered militants were promised Rs 2,000 per month as honorarium, besides free ration, security from active militants, jobs or re-employment, restoration of their confiscated properties etc. These former militants now hope to organise themselves as a group to question the government on the non-fulfilment of promises, if the parties they had adopted did not help them.

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