SRINAGAR, Feb 10: Maqbool Butt was convicted in 1968 and sentenced to death in a 1966 murder case and was on trial in 1976 in another case of murder but he was hanged in Delhi’s Tihar jail on February 11, 1984, in “retaliation” for the kidnapping and murder of an Indian diplomat R H Mhatre by a UK-based shadowy organisation "Kashmir Liberation Army" even as he (Butt) was in Indian custody.
These and other controversial circumstances surrounding the hanging of Maqbool Butt 26 years ago have left many questions unanswered about legality and moral propriety of the action. These were compounded by the fact that even he was buried in the Tihar jail premises and, against accepted norms, his family was denied the permission to take his body for a decent burial.
“Judge Sahib, nobody has the rope which can hang me!” 50-year-old Mohammad Maqbool Butt, founder of the Kashmir Liberation Front, is said to have told the judge who sentenced him to death in 1968. But 16 years later, on February 11, 1984, Butt made history by becoming the first Kashmiri political prisoner to be hanged on Indian soil. Propriety or validity of his execution apart, Butt is today remembered and revered by Kashmiris as a hero who sacrificed his life for his belief.
His death is generally seen as a judicial murder and an act of revenge by the Indian establishment to suppress the voice of Kashmiri aspirations.
The trial background:
Maqbool Butt, born in Trehgam village in Kupwara district, crossed into Pakistan in early 1960s and became a Pakistani national. He did his Masters in English Literature from Peshawar University.
He was sentenced to death on August 17, 1968 by the special judge Srinagar, for the murder of a CID Inspector Amar Chand at Nadhibal in Baramulla district in 1966. He was tried by the Special judge under the “Enemy Agents Ordinance” in Srinagar Central Jail for offences punishable under Sections 302 and 395 of the Ranbir Penal Code.
However, Butt made a sensational escape in December 1968 from the Srinagar Central Jail while awaiting his execution and fled back into Pakistan where he founded the so-called Kashmir Liberation Front (KLF) along with Amanullah Khan who later shifted to Britain and headed the organisation from there. It was claimed that KLF had allegedly taken the responsibility for the assassination of the Indian diplomat, R H Mhatre in Birmingham a week before Butt’s assassination. Hashim Qureshi, a former prominent member of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), in his book has blamed Amanullah Khan for ‘engineering’ Butt’s execution by ordering kidnapping and hasty murder of the Indian diplomat.
Before infiltrating into Kashmir in 1966, Butt had declared himself to be the head of the ‘military wing’ of KLF. Among the well-known associates of Maqbool was Hashim Qureshi, who hijacked an Indian passenger aircraft to Pakistan in 1971 along with his cousin, Mohammad Ashraf. It is alleged that Butt was present at the Lahore airport to welcome the two hijackers who later blew up the hijacked Indian aircraft.
In 1976, Maqbool infiltrated back into Kashmir along with his two accomplices, Reyaz and Hamid. Later all the three were arrested in connection with a daylight bank robbery at Langate during which they were alleged to have shot dead a bank manager. He was again sentenced to death for the crime and transferred to Delhi Tihar Jail to wait for his execution under SRO no. 553 on July 23, 1976.
Maqbool’s re-arrest was followed by hijacking of another Indian aircraft to Pakistan in September that year by six Kashmiri youth led by Abdul Hamid Diwani of Bandipora who had identified themselves as members of Butt’s KLF. Butt is believed to have set up underground subversive cells in Kashmir during his two periods of stay in Kashmir before falling into police hands. The kidnappers of the Indian diplomat had demanded Butt’s release for freeing their captive before he was killed.
His final mercy petition which was lying pending before the president of India since July 25, 1977 was rejected on February 8, 1984. Earlier, Supreme Court had rejected his special leave petition against the death sentence awarded to him on August 17, 1968 for murdering the CID inspector. The state government had also rejected his mercy petition. A last ditch plea by Butt barely 36 hours before his hanging in Tihar Jail, was also rejected by the Supreme Court.
On the same day, i.e. February 8, the president of India rejected his mercy petition, a “Black Warrant” regarding the death sentence was issued in Jammu by Thakur Pavitar Singh, the then Special Judge under “Enemy Agents Ordinance” on a petition filed by the then J&K government through its senior prosecution officer, Bodh Raj Gupta. The Special Judge directed that “Maqbool Butt be hanged from neck till he is dead at 7.30 am on February 11 in Tihar Jail. The Superintendent of Tihar jail was directed to comply the order by executing Butt in Tihar and to report back the sentence of death has been carried out.
The close relatives despite a plea granted by the Supreme Court for a last interview of Butt were denied the access as his brother, Ghulam Nabi Butt, a tailor, was detained at Srinagar airport while he was on his way to New Delhi to pay his last visit to his brother. The court, however, refused to permit two local journalists to talk to Butt before he walked up to the gallows.