Dr. Muhammad Ayyub Thakur, the first of four children, was born in 1948 in Pudsoo village near Shopian, in the Pulwama district of Kashmir.
It was 1973 when I first heard that Dr. Ayub Thakur was active in raising the awareness about the Kashmir dispute at Kashmir University and was the President of Kashmir University Research Scholar’s Association. One fine morning I went to see him along with a family friend, Jinab Aashiq Kashmiri, then the Editor of Daily Azan. We just knocked on the door at his university apartment and went in. I had never met Dr. Thakur until that time. After greeting us, he went out and in few minutes brought a cook and told him to prepare the lunch for us. We told him that we did not want to eat. It is customary in Kashmir to say that even if you are hungry. He did not listen to us and the cook prepared the lunch and we had a delicious meal.
We spent a few hours together. I was very impressed to see the level of intellectual growth in him, reflecting even then, I think now, of the huge outspoken man of leadership he would become. He understood the long road ahead of laboring for the minds and hearts of people when he told us that our priority should be to meet with those 50 to 60 foreign students who were enrolled at the Kashmir University (KU), Regional Engineering College, Srinagar which was located adjacent to the KU and Government Medical College, Srinagar. He said if we could convince these foreign students, they could become our unpaid ambassadors about the Kashmir cause.
Then we began meeting at least twice a month and visiting these foreign students, sometimes inviting them to Ayub’s apartment, sometimes to Aashiq Kashmiri’s home, sometimes at our home and sometimes visiting them at their apartments. These interactions turned out to be very productive and also provided an opportunity for us (Ayub & me) to get to know Dr. Thakur and work together.
He started his political career in early 70’s as a student leader. Aside from his work with Kashmir University Research Scholar’s Association, Dr. Thakur also founded Jammu and Kashmir Students Islamic Organisation in 1974 which later merged with another organization and became Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, which he headed until 1981. He was also the president of Kashmir University Students Union.
Dr. Thakur was to obtain his Doctorate (PhD.) in Nuclear Physics from the University of Kashmir, Kashmir’s first nuclear physicist. In 1978, he became a lecturer in the Department of Physics in the same university.
However, Dr. Thakur was dismissed from his service at Kashmir University in August 1980 because of his political belief that Kashmir is a disputed territory under UN resolutions.
After his dismissal, he was imprisoned for five months. It proved to be just the beginning of his troubles with India.
Soon after his release, he called me in February 1981 while I was in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. I asked if he would like to come to Makkah to teach at the King Abdul Aziz University, and he was immediately enthusiastic about the idea.
Next day, I approached the President of the University and discussed in detail the predicament of Dr. Thakur. The President immediately called the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and a job visa was sent to Dr. Thakur right away.
Dr. Thakur was in Jeddah within three months where he joined the Faculty of Engineering, Department of Nuclear Physics in May 1981.
He was a man with a mission.
After reaching Jeddah, he was consistently thinking about galvanizing the cause of Kashmir. A small group of persons, including Dr. Thakur, Sheikh Sad-Ud-Din, Moulana Abdul Bari, Nazir Ahmed Qureishi, Tariq Mehmood Tariq, Professor Alif-ud-Din Turabi and I had scores of meetings in Makkah, Riyadh and Jeddah about the future strategy of a mission which was yet to be articulated. When Syed Ali Geelani, Chairman, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Kashmir came to perform Hajj in1980’s, we again held multiple meetings with him to deliberate about the vision that we wanted to pursue to strengthen the internationally recognized right of the people of Jammu & Kashmir — right to self-determination.
Later, after I had left Makkah and was living in Philadelphia, USA., I invited Dr. Thakur to the US where we met dozens of Kashmiri Americans and discussed with them the idea of establishing a worldwide organization for the Kashmir cause.
After much deliberations with like-minded persons in the US, the “World Kashmir Freedom Movement (WKFM) was established in 1981 with its headquarters in London. Dr. Thakur became its founding president. WKFM started mobilizing public opinion for the Kashmir cause at major capitals of the world, including London, Vienna, Geneva, Oslo, Washington, etc.
Finally, in 1986, Dr. Thakur decided to leave the King Abdul Aziz University (KAAU) and move to England where the headquarters for WKFM was located and the environment was more suitable for his political activities.
Despite the insistence of both the President of the King Abdul Aziz University and Dean of Faculty of Engineering to renew his contract for next two years, Dr. Thakur chose to do research on the Kashmir conflict in an academic arrangement in London.
Soon after arrival to London, Dr. Thakur, Advocate Hassam-ud-Din, Syed Munawar Hussan Mashhadi, Moulana Tufail Mohammad, late Khurram Jah Murad and I had a few meetings on how to channel our energy for the Kashmir cause. The “International Institute of Kashmir Studies” was subsequently established at Leicester in 1987 where Advocate Hassam-ud-Din was placed in charge of the Institute.
Dr. Thakur also saw a need to establish a press agency. Advocate Hassam-uddin then registered “Kashmir Press International” at Birmingham England in 1988.
Tehreek-e-Kashmir Britain was established with Syed Munawar Hussan Mashhadi as its founding Chairman.
WKFM organized its first International Conference on Kashmir on July 13, 1991, in Washington, DC. That date, July 13, is known as Martyr’s Day in Kashmir. The guest speakers included: Honorable Lord Eric Avebury, Chairman British Parliamentary Human Rights Group; Congressman Dan Burton; Honorable Recai Kutan, Chairman of Turkish Human Rights Commission and later the Leader of Virtue Party; Senator Mushahid Hussain; Mr. Abdul Rashid Turabi; and Professor Mohammad Ashraf Saraf. The two days conference attracted over five hundred participants who came from all across the United States and Europe.
It was here in this conference in 1991 that Dr. Thakur suggested two important historical ideas: One, that the negotiations over the Kashmir dispute must be tripartite – the Governments of India and Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership — and second, the Kashmiri militants must not misuse the gun. They must be under the control of the Kashmiri political resistance movement.
The second point was important for the simple fact that in 1991 India had almost lost control of Kashmir. The ruling party, the National Conference, had become irrelevant. Kashmiri militants were at the helm of affairs. Under these circumstances, to call the militants and ask them to keep their activities accountable to political leadership was not an easy job.
Dr. Thakur always maintained the idea of helping those who were in need. In consultation with like-minded persons in Europe and the USA, he established “Mercy Universal” in 2000. Mercy was literally universal as it helped the needy, particularly orphans, both Muslims and non-Muslims. Mercy’s focus was not only Kashmir; its reach was beyond Kashmir in some parts of India.
“When Dr. Ayoub passed away, he (the Indian commissioner) came to his grave to pay his tributes to Dr. Ayoub.
When he was asked why he came to pay tribute to Dr. Ayoub as he was their enemy, he replied: “No doubt we had political differences with him. But as far as his personality and character is concerned, it was free from any kind of blemishes. We have confirmed reports that he used to provide monetary help not only to Muslims of Kashmir but also to non-Muslims, keeping aside their religion, sect, caste, creed or ideology.”
In order to penetrate the academic and educational institutions of England, Dr. Thakur established “Justice Foundation” in 2003. A young British national of Kashmiri heritage. Ms. Nabila Sadiq was appointed to be its first coordinator. She had graduated from Oxford and was enrolled at Cambridge University. She is currently residing in Australia.
As its website says,
“The Justice Foundation does not align itself with political parties in India or Pakistan, nor campaign for a resolution of the dispute exclusively in accordance with the wishes of either country. It simply believes that the people of Kashmir have an inalienable right to self-determination as guaranteed by the United Nations (U.N.) Charter and affirmed in various U.N. Security Council Resolutions and Conventions. The international community should facilitate the realization of this right.
“Since its establishment in 2004, the Justice Foundation has hosted and participated in a wide variety of programs to raise awareness of the Kashmir dispute. Seminars, local and regional conferences, NGO and academic meetings, and press conferences have taken place at the Centre on a monthly basis. In addition, leaders of the Justice Foundation have also met regularly with Parliamentarians, High Commissioners, and Directors of other London-based NGOs to keep dialogue active and build bridges between peacemakers all working for the same causes: an end to human rights abuses and a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
Dr. Thakur was an icon.
He was a charismatic leader, a man of vision, always selfless, always pro-Kashmir, highly educated and very intellectual.
As I wrote in a tribute to him shortly after his death in 2004, “Since the birth of the WKFM in 1990, Dr. Thakur subordinated his marvelous array of academic and professional pursuits to the Kashmir cause. On that score he was Kashmir’s great hero. Magnanimity, charity, and resolution were his signature despite agonizing hardships.
”India retaliated against Dr. Thakur’s family to silence his strong and persuasive voice. Both his parents died lamenting his absence for more than 10 years. During an even longer period, Dr. Thakur’s family members, relatives, and friends were harassed by the Government of India. But Dr. Thakur would never place personal considerations above the lofty aspirations of the Kashmiri people.”`
Today, Muzzammil Ayub Thakur, his proud son has kept the candle of freedom kindled through his deep involvement with the Kashmiri political resistance. Huda and Emaan, his daughters have used their intellectual capacity to strengthen the cause that was so dear to their father. Firdous Thakur, his life-partner has dedicated her life to create opportunities to serve those in need, in particular orphans and widows. His family friend, Ghulam Jeelani Wani said during his memorial, “Dr. Thakur was the leader with innovative ideas who set high standard of moral values not only for himself but also for his colleagues.”
In an article remembering Dr. Thakur in 2012, Naveed Qazi wrote in Insights: Kashmir, “It is our duty, as Kashmiris, to salute our heroes who devoted their worldly life for the freedom struggle. Dr. Thakur was indeed one of them, and certainty the most passionate advocate of them – a great leader and a vision maker of his people.”
I remember attending few Islamic Summits along with Dr. Thakur at Dakkar, Senegal in 1991, Tehran, Iran in 1997 and Doha, Qatar in 2000.
In Tehran, Ghulam Mohammad Safi, leader of All Parties Hurriyet Conference made the intervention during the Islamic Summit on behalf of the people of Kashmir which was well received by the dignitaries and Heads of the State. This session was chaired by Yasir Arafat. After the speech of Mr. Safi, Dr. Thakur and I went to meet with Yasir Arafat while he was still on the podium. Dr. Thakur asked Mr. Arafat to talk about the oppressed people of Kashmir. “Kashmir is always in my heart and it will always remain in my heart,” Yasir Arafat replied. Dr. Thakur replied but Mr. President (Yasir Arafat), “now is the time that you keep Kashmir on your lips”. That was the wit of Dr. Thakur.
During the Doha Islamic Summit, when Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh mentioned that India and Pakistan must try to resolve the Kashmir conflict, Dr. Thakur told me that that we must thank the Prime Minister Hasina. We rushed to her table in the conference hall, introduced ourselves as delegates from Kashmir. Dr. Thakur told Sheikh Hasina that we truly want to thank you for mentioning Kashmir while as we know that you are under lot of external pressure. Prime Minister Hasina became defensive and said. “Gentleman, this is what I believe in and I am under no pressure from anybody.” She then asked her foreign minister, Abdul Samad Azad, to invite us to Bangladesh and let them know that we make our own foreign policy.
During second United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 at Vienna, Austria with more than 7000 participants, (including Atel Behari Vajpayee from India and Ms. Nusrat Bhutto of Pakistan) when “Vienna Declaration and Program of Action” was being debated, it was Dr. Ayub Thakur, Barrister Majid Tramboo, Dr. Nazir Gilani, Dr. Nazki and I who suggested to the Chairman of the conference that those people who are dispossessed and do not belong to any country should also be given the seat at the decision-making.
The Chairman of the session ruled that all unrepresented people should meet and decide a representative who will represent them at the conference. An emergency meeting of “the Unrepresented Peoples and Nations of the World (UPNW)” was held in the conference hall and Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani was elected to be the representative of UPNW and Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai was elected to be its Chairman.
Dr. Thakur was also involved in meeting with the officials of Indian and Pakistani governments. Together, we met with more than half-a-dozen high profile delegations of India, both in England and Washington who were directly sent by the then prime ministers of India. We also met with the high profile dignitaries of Pakistan. One thing was beyond doubt: Dr. Thakur had defined three parameters about the talks. One, that the issue of Kashmir is about the right of self-determination guaranteed under the UN resolutions. Second, Kashmiri leadership can never be marginalized in any solution. Third, violence and negotiations do not go together.
Dr. Thakur knew that Kashmir could move the world only by moral argument and peaceful advocacy to awaken the conscience of leaders and citizens everywhere. Kashmir sports neither oil nor diamonds to command attention or sympathy. Kashmiris repudiate weapons of mass destruction. What they possess as substitutes are brave hearts and the righteousness of self-determination. Dr. Thakur built upon those pillars to keep Kashmir on the international agenda.
We miss him a lot but we are glad that Dr. Thakur never let his people down!