In his 2020 autobiography, the incumbent interior minister unpacks the controversy over housing ‘terrorists’ at his farmhouse near Rawalpindi
In his 2020 “best-selling” autobiography, Lal Haveli sey Aqwam-e-Muttahida tak (From Lal Haveli to the United Nations), Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed offers insight into various matters of import in the country’s history. Among the key revelations is his discourse on the scandal relating to his facilitation of the training of “Kashmiri terrorists” on his property in Rawalpindi.
(Note: the “terrorist camps” could either be in Cambellpur as indicated by Rashid; or in Ternaul, or anywhere near Rawalpindi.)
Extracts from the book
“Kashmiri freedom-fighter Ashfaq Majeed was staying with me when I saw that he was going out in the morning and coming back awash in sweat after hard exercise,” writes Rashid on page 154 of his book. “When I asked him, he said he had gone to Liaquat Bagh to take exercise because Allah loved martyrs with beautiful bodies. Ashfaq later died fighting Indian troops in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk,” adds the politician who served as Pakistan’s information minister at the time.
Earlier, Rashid had detailed how he had granted refuge to Kashmiris fleeing India-held Kashmir during the peak of the conflict between the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “In those very days thousands of Kashmiris migrated from Indian Kashmir and came to Pakistan,” he wrote on page 152. “Pakistan’s intelligence agencies were clueless but I knew how the lava of freedom was boiling over. All these young refugees were full of the urge (tarap) of freedom. When I saw this I invited them to come and live on my farm The Freedom House (250 kanals) in Cambellpur,” he added.
“After a few days, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, who had gone and met President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, told me that the president was upset over my keeping the Kashmiris on my farm,” Rashid continus. “[Then-P.M.] Nawaz Sharif asked me to meet the president and clear the matter. When I met the president I got to know that the intelligence agencies had reported me to him for sheltering Kashmiri terrorists. I met the president and made it clear to him that I had provided only food and boarding to the Kashmiri mujahideen,” he added.
“After some days, Benazir Bhutto told London’s daily newspaper The Times that Sheikh Rashid was training terrorists, and India could bomb his Freedom House estate to get rid of them. After that my property in Cambellpur where the Kashmiris were staying was subjected to commando action,” he said. “Guards were placed on my properties but when journalists Marianna Babar and Nusrat Javed tried to enter the camp, Kashmiri mujahideen frustrated their effort. The commando action was also a fiasco because of the numerical strength of the Kashmiri mujahideen. They foiled the commando action, tying the policemen to the trees. Then-ISI chief General Asad Durrani sent word that he wanted to meet me but I never went to see him. He also didn’t come to Freedom House,” he added.
The details provided by Rashid are further supported and clarified by the remembrances of senior officials who had been at Pakistan’s helm in those days. “I was the Army chief in 1991, when the government of Nawaz Sharif came to know about this camp,” daily Business Recorder quoted ex-Army chief Mirza Aslam Beg as saying in a report published on June 17, 2005. “The camp named ‘freedom house’ was located some 16-kilometers from Islamabad. However, when presence of the camp came to the notice of Nawaz Sharif, immediate orders were issued for its closure in 1991,” he said.
According to the Business Recorder report, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik had said, in the initial days of the Kashmir movement, that about 3,500 boys were accommodated at Sheikh Rashid’s farmhouse. In New Delhi, senior separatist leader Hashim Qureshi said that all the initial armed training to Kashmiri youths was imparted at the camps run by Pakistan’s information minister Sheikh Rashid: “Yasin Malik has spoken the truth. I was a senior office-bearer of the JKLF till 1994. I have myself talked to the cadres who were trained in his camp in Ternaul.” Qureshi, then 17, had hijacked an Indian Airlines plane on Jan 30, 1971 along with his cousin, Ashraf. He claimed that camps at Sheikh Rashid’s farmhouse were being looked after by senior JKLF leader Sardar Rasheed Hasrat.
Journalist Amir Mir, writing in Indian news outlet Rediff on June 29, 2012, provided some more details about the situation: “A senior Pakistani politician and a former member of the Musharraf cabinet, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who was detained at the Houston airport on arrival on June 27 for his alleged links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and freed after five hours of interrogation, used to run a ‘funded’ training camp for Kashmiri militants in the garrison town of Rawalpindi when the armed struggle in Jammu and Kashmir was at its peak.
“Having detained the former information minister and chief of the Awami Muslim League, the American immigration staff took his two mobile phones into custody and copied all the data on the phones, including phone numbers. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed was told that he was being interrogated under directions from Washington, D.C., despite the fact that he had a multiple-entry U.S. visa and he was set to leave for Dubai after two days. He was eventually released after then-Pakistan ambassador to the U.S., Sherry Rehman, officially lodged a protest with the U.S. State Department,” he added.
Detained in the U.S.
“U.S. media reports say Rashid was detained for his links with Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the LeT founder and the alleged mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. In the recent past, Rashid had actively attended rallies and meetings organized by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, an ISI-sponsored coalition of pro-Kashmir extremist groups formed by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who also heads Jamaatud Dawa.
“Considered close to the establishment, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had accompanied Hafiz Mohammed Saeed to a series of rallies and press conferences that were held in Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore where they made harsh statements against India and the U.S.,” he continued of Rashid’s frequent meetings with suspected terrorists.
“Rashid, one of the few Pakistani politicians to have served not one but two military dictators (Zia and Musharraf), has always been a colorful character, mixing populist rhetoric with the idiom of the street, which borders on the crass. He is famous for his tongue-in-cheek political one-liners that aim to demean anti-establishment opponents in the style of folk jesters,” wrote Mir.
“While Pakistanis are well aware of his patronage and facilitation of” groups linked to armed resistance in Kashmir, it really came to media limelight when the Indian government denied him permission to visit New Delhi in 2004 after Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik publicly disclosed that Sheikh Rashid’s residence and farmhouse had been used by jihadi organizations.
“Therefore, when Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik stated at the Marriot in Islamabad on June 13, 2005, that Sheikh Rashid had the honor of having trained around 3,500 jihadis in guerrilla warfare, it was not at all surprising for those who are aware of his past. Yasin Malik declared: ‘Sheikh Rashid has played a great role for Kashmir’s liberation. He used to support the frontline jihadis from Kashmir, but few know of his contributions’.”