Muhammad Ayyub Thakur (1948 – March 10, 2004) was a Kashmiri political activist and founder of London-based World Kashmir Freedom Movement (WKFM), an organisation that claimed to seek a peaceful political solution to the Kashmir Conflict. He founded a charity organization, Mercy Universal, which was investigated by the British Charity Commission for links to Kashmiri terrorist groups including Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir after Indian government raised concerns. However, Thakur claimed that he had sent money for the destitute and had documents and video evidence to prove it. The money was allegedly sent to purchase 800 sewing machines for the widows.Thakur also struggled for the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. After Thakur’s death in 2004, both WKFM and Mercy Universal became largely inactive. Neither has any full-time employees as of 2011, nor does either have any regular source of funds.
Thakur lectured extensively on Kashmir issue. He attended hundreds of seminars and conferences around the world in universities, think tanks and other institutions, including the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and United Nations bodies. Thakur was a self-appointed Trustee of the UK-based charitable organisation, Mercy Universal, which he had founded in 2000. Mercy Universal claimed to provide humanitarian assistance mainly to the Kashmiri people., He was the Director of the Justice Foundation,which he founded in 2003 as a registered UK company “to advance the Kashmir cause through public advocacy”.
Muhammad Ayyub Thakur was born in 1948 in a farming family in Pudsoo village near Shopian, district Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. He was the eldest of four children.
Dr. Ayyub Thakur obtained his Doctorate (Phd.) in Nuclear Physics from the University of Kashmir. In 1978, after a brief stint at the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (Zakoora, Srinagar)he became lecturer in the Department of Physics in the same university. He had a keen interest in the social and political issues of Jammu and Kashmir.He started his political career in early 1970s as a student leader in the University of Kashmir. He rallied Kashmiri youth and students and founded Jammu and Kashmir Students Islamic Organisation in 1974 and continued to be its patron till 1977. This organisation later merged with another organisation and changed into Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, which he headed from 1977–1981. He was also the president of Kashmir University Students Union and Kashmir University Research Scholars Association. As a student leader, Dr. Thakur attended international youth and student conferences at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1979, Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1980 and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the same year. In these conferences, Dr. Thakur “put forward the Kashmiri viewpoint” and “drew the world attention towards” the Kashmir problem. In Kuala Lumpur conference in 1980, he was “instrumental” in passing a resolution condemning the alleged Indian “occupation” of Jammu and Kashmir. Dr. Thakur organised meetings of the youth and students to “challenge the Kashmir’s accession to India” which he considered as “fraudulent”. He strongly opposed the accord between unionist Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974, as being aimed at strengthening Indian “occupation” of Jammu and Kashmir.
After becoming lecturer at the University of Kashmir he intensified his “peaceful political activities”. He began organising students and colleagues to form an “intellectual response” to the Indian “occupation”. In August 1980, he and many of his colleagues at university and students organisation, Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba, organised an international conference on the issue of right of self-determination of Kashmiris as outlined in the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir. Indian government, however, banned the conference and dismissed Dr. Ayyub from his job as a university teacher, and later imprisoned him along with his colleagues under Public Safety Act (PSA). Thakur, during his five-month imprisonment, was subjected to inhuman torture of all sorts, but he refused to compromise on his political ideology. After his release in 1981 he began to travel across in Kashmir to mobilise Kashmir youth. He claimed that police tried to interrupt his activities every now and then. Claiming to be tired of “playing a cat-and-mouse game with the police”, on May 25, 1981 he opted to accept the offer of a lecturer in the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia where he served up to 1984
In 1981, Dr. Thakur joined the Nuclear Engineering Department of King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as a lecturer. During his stay, he tried to “mobilise support for the Kashmir cause”. He married the daughter of a respectable man from Baramulla in 1981, in absentia. After six years of his service, he went to London in 1986 for post-doctoral research programme and simultaneously started organising support for the “Kashmir issue”. Later in 1990, he took over as the president of the World Kashmir Freedom Movement (WKFM).He was also a trustee of the UK-based charity, Mercy Universal, which he had founded in 2000 and Director of the Justice Foundation, which he founded in 2003.
All the three organisations founded by Thakur have been investigated by Scotland Yard, the Charity Commission and the FBI for financial ties to the Pakistani Military and terrorist groups active in Jammu and Kashmir. Of the three, only the Justice Foundation (Kashmir Centre) is still “active” as of 2011, while the other two are only sporadically active. As of August 2011, a Brussels-based affiliate of the Kashmir Centre, named the Kashmir Centre-Europe, also came under investigation based on evidence found by the FBI implicating the Inter-Services Intelligence agency of the Pakistani Military in secretly funding both Kashmir Centres in London and Brussels, however all the allegations made were found to incorrect and of false pretense.
The Government of India stripped Thakur of his citizenship in 1993, after impounding his passport. He subsequently obtained British travel papers which he used until his death in 2004. Upon his death, Thakur’s family petitioned the Government of India for the privilege of being buried in his ancestral village in Jammu & Kashmir. Since he died a de facto British subject, having forfeited his Indian citizenship, the Indian Government summarily dismissed this petition.
Thakur founded and participated in two “movements”, the World Kashmir Freedom Movement (WKFM) and Mercy Universal. Both became inactive after this death. There is little evidence in the public domain that confirms any of the claims made by Thakur as to the self-described activities of WKFM and Mercy Universal. WKFM was an umbrella organisation of expatriate Kashmiris from Indian Kashmir working internationally for the “promotion of the Kashmir cause”. It was set up in 1990 with Dr. Ayyub Thakur as it president and claimed to have offices in Europe, Americas and Middle East. In July 1991, the WKFM organised an international conference on Kashmir issue in Washington, D.C. A handful of junior US congressmen, backbenchers from British Parliament and European Parliament as well as “distinguished intellectuals” participated and “supported tri-partite talks for the resolution of Kashmir”. During his address to the conference Thakur “urged Kashmiri militants to renounce the misuse of force” no matter how compelling the self-determination aspiration.
According to Thakur, the Indian Government took the “success” of the conference “very seriously”, and accused him of sending money to Kashmiri activists for terrorist activities. The Indian Government booked him under infamous Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA). This case later formed the genesis of the famous Jain Hawala Corruption Case, in which 38 prominent Indian politicians were charge sheeted and later discharged.
Thakur also attended the 1991 Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Foreign minister meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, the 1993 OIC summit meeting in Dakar, Senegal and World tactics did not yield the desired result. On this occasion Thakur led a delegation and “highlighted the Indian intransigence” and the “massive human rights violations”. WKFM also joined other Kashmiri groups and attended March 1993 session of United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and later the World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna, Austria in June 1993. According to Thakur, since the WKFM activities were “growing”, Indian Government tried to extradite Thakur on charges of financing terrorism. Indian government twice sought his extradition from the UK in 1992 and 1993. After its failure, they finally impounded his passport in 1993. This left Dr. Ayyub stranded in United Kingdom for about four years along with his family. However, in 1997 the British government issued him with a travel document, which he used till his death.
During the visit of British Home Secretary Jack Straw to India in May 2002, Indian Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani in his meeting with him accused Thakur of diverting funds to the Kashmiri militants for terrorism. He first demanded the arrest of Thakur under the new anti-terrorist laws and when it did not work, demanded his extradition to India. According to Thakur, the Indian Government made repeated demands for his extradition. Moreover, the Indian intelligence agencies launched a “vicious propaganda campaign” in the Indian media against Thakur. Later, in 2002 when LK Advani visited UK, he again demanded the extradition of the Thakur.
In 2000, WKFM and its leaders formed Mercy Universal, self-described as an “International Humanitarian Organisation” registered with the Charity Commission in the United Kingdom. It claimed to work “for the mitigation of peoples suffering in some of the world’s poorest communities in South Asia and East Africa” and also “provided humanitarian relief”. No reports have ever been made available to the media as to the organisation’s self-claimed activities.
Ayub regularly claimed that his family members, relatives and friends were allegedly subjected to “house raids, torture and harassment” by the Indian army. He often claimed that his ancestral home in Kashmir was “raided many a time” and his parents “threatened”.
His son Muzzammil Ayyub Thakur is a small businessman, self-described as a Financial Consultant, based in London. Even though his visa applications to visit Kashmir were dismissed several times, the Indian government allowed him to openly visit Kashmir in 2011. He has given interviews to a few channels including Press TV of Iran. He has also regularly lectured across the UK, in addition to having attended numerous international conferences.
Thakur died at the age of 55, in London on March 10, 2004 after an illness.He was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.His funeral was held at the London Central Mosque, Regent Park, and he was laid to rest at the Garden of Peace, in Greenford, West London, close to where he had been living for many years.The Indian Government, having stripped him of his citizenship in 1993, dismissed a request by his family that his remains to be returned to his self-described “homeland” in Kashmir. He is survived by his widow, a son and two daughters.