97 years old, icon and most recognizable authority on Kashmiri freedom struggle, Ambassador Yusuf Buch died on Friday, May 24, 2019 at 5:44 PM at his residence in New York City. Akhtar Husain, his nephew informed me about his demise around 6:00 PM and the management of Waterside Plaza, his residence also contacted me few minutes later as these were the instructions given by Buch Sahib to them to contact me in case of any emergency. I immediately made preparations to leave for New York City to make sure that all logistical issues are taken care of.
Mian Maqsood Sahib of Makki Masjid, Brooklyn, New York (one of the largest mosques in New York City) had already contacted Al-Rayaan Muslim Cemetery which is adjacent to the Makki Masjid. Sardar Sawar Khan Sahib, former advisor to the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir along with Mian Maqsood Sahib were fully in charge of all the arrangements relating to funeral and transfer of body to Muzaffarabad.
Buch Sahib had already signed the contract with Makki Masjid on May 22, 2009 and had paid all the expenses to cover funeral charges, cemetery costs, etc. Buch Sahib was very particular even with minute details in the contract which he signed with the Masjid, i.e., how to transfer the remains to funeral home; basic arrangements for funeral; ritual washing – Ghusal and embalming; supervision for funeral service; hearse to cemetery; ‘square-peg’ pine casket, etc. He had even mentioned in the contract that “Dr. Fai has signified that he will make himself available for consultations on any question that may arise.”
Buch Sahib concluded the contract with these words, “These are the earthly considerations relating to my life’s end. But its greater reality will be in the transcendental dimension. In that context, my soul derives comfort from the belief that the participants in my funeral – whether few or many – will be performing an act of the kind that is known to have earned the pleasure of the beloved Founder of our Faith. Its reward lies only with God.”
The Janazah prayer of Buch Sahib was held at Makki Masjid, New York City on May 27 which was attended by a large number of people – a cross section of various ages and ethnic backgrounds. The Janazah followed by a glowing tributes paid to Ambassador Buch’s dedication and commitment to the cause of Kashmir.
Anwar Husain, Buch Sahib’s nephew eulogized in these words: “Thank you for being here today on this sad and solemn occasion, as we observe the passing of a singular individual. Mr. Muhammad Yusuf Buch was Yusuf Mamoo to me, and I remain as struck by his merits and achievements as would any who knew or met him. He was known variously as Yusuf Sahib, Buch Sahib, Mr. Muhammad Yusuf, and to a few as simply ‘Yusuf’. But no matter how he was addressed or referred to, he was not easy to forget. It was due to his manner, his eloquence, and all that he strove for.”
“Let me take you back,” Anwar said, “if I may, to many decades ago, to a time when India had just gained its independence. The subcontinent had been partitioned, and Pakistan had come into being. Events unfolded, and Yusuf Sahib was one of those selected in an exchange of prisoners between India and Pakistan. He was packing some belongings, and his sister… my mother, suggested that he pack a sweater or two. It was late summer, she said, and soon the leaves would turn pale. Yusuf Mamoo answered that there was no such need as the dispute between India and Pakistan would be resolved in a couple of weeks and he would be back home. In a way, those few weeks are still to be over. The dispute over Kashmir lingers, with no sign of abatement.”
“For my Mamoo, the ‘couple of weeks’ turned into sixteen years of exile. From here – New York City, he would apply year after year for permission to visit home. He was repeatedly denied, and turned his focus to the issue of Kashmir,” Anwar said.
Anwar added that Yusuf Sahib’s ambition upon graduation had been to teach. At the time he imagined that all he needed to decide was whether to teach Literature, or Philosophy. But life took him along a different path, and he devoted himself to the cause of his people. He never wavered. False revolutions, and ‘springs’, came and went. But he stayed true to his ideals. He knew that enduring solutions take work and preparation, and do not spring from a smartphone screen.
To his family, Anwar stressed, Yusuf Mamoo was affectionate and loving. He believed in strong emotional bonds. Though far apart from most of them, he celebrated and took pride in their achievements, especially those of the younger generation. And he mourned the losses and setbacks that inevitably strike any family.
“Lastly, I would like to say a bit on how he managed his own life. This was a man who lived independently till the age of 92! Apart from having someone visit every few weeks to tidy the apartment, he took care of everything himself, whether it be meals, shopping, dry-cleaning, or other chores. Then came the last five years, and those were hard. The fatigue in his bones became overwhelming. The displacements in memory were too acute,” he said.
“He used to say that he displayed bad taste in living so long. It was expressed in equal parts jest, and lament. His body had turned into a prison. He wanted to go. He has been released. May his legacy be burnished by those who are capable of it. I pray that Allah grant his soul maghfirat in Jannat-ul-Firdaus, Aameen,” so concluded Anwar Husain.
Akhtar Husain, another nephew of Buch Sahib, paid tribute in these words: “For many people in all corners of the world, who have been involved in, or have been deeply concerned about the resolution of the Kashmiri stalemate, Mohtarram Muhammad Yusuf Buch Sahib was a unique figure. Even though, out of the 97 years of his life, 54 were spent outside Kashmir, he gave every ounce of energy and effort to bring clarity and logic to the cause of the Kashmiri struggle. With his knowledge of the land and its history, and the events that continued to take place, he used every opportunity presented, to explain the sole purpose, and help to find a just solution.”
Akhtar recalled: “Of course, for all these years, to me, he was, and always will be, Yusuf Mamoo. Ever since I can remember, Mamoo was involved in the education and early upbringing of my brother and myself. He was the ‘chotey’ (youngest) Mamoo in New York, for much of our childhood, till we met him for the first time in Srinagar, in 1972.”
“After the early tragic demise of our mother a few years later, who was his very dear sister, and very close to him in deep intellect and thought (Mamoo always insisted she was a lot smarter than him), Yusuf Mamoo continued to take a deep interest in our ongoing education, which eventually brought us to the US for graduate school. Although my chosen field was Electrical Engineering, very much removed from his own interests, he encouraged me as always, to apply myself as best as I could, as well as take a serious interest in other fields, whether in the Arts, or otherwise,” he added.
Akhtar noted: To this day, I clearly remember my first ride with him in a Taxi after landing at JFK in August 1987, all wide eyed, trying to absorb valiantly, enormity which New York presents to you the very first time. Years ago, when my mother would encourage us to write letters to Mamoo, even when we were as young as 5 or 6 years old, in one letter, I had asked Mamoo “How is America going on?” Both my mother and Mamoo had enjoyed the question. Well, now, here I was, in ‘America’, to find the answers.
Akhtar continued: I went to work in Northern California in 1989 and have continued to be there ever since. But there were many visits to New York, with fond memories of so many conversations, where he recounted many events in his life, memories of a bygone era, with its own ups and downs, and its dramatic moments, some of which he would describe to me about in great detail after dinner, each of us finishing more than the share of ice cream we had decided to have that night. Those were indeed ‘fun’ times.
“I learned so much from Yusuf Mamoo. Today, he is no longer in this world, but his words continue to heed me, correct me, advise me, and yes, sometimes sternly admonish me to make corrections in my sometimes-wayward ways. It was a unique privilege to be his nephew, to be so close to him, and to have always had this marvelous opportunity to learn from him. I will never ever forget how fortunate I have been. Through all these years, I have often seen the deep respect people have had for Yusuf Mamoo. Many of them, brilliant in their own fields, who have achieved the highest of honors and success, have conversed with him and heeded his words,” Akhtar remembered.
“I am sure a day will come when Kashmir will finally be dealt a just hand, and the struggle of so many, whether those who gave every ounce of their intellect and thought, or those who paid the ultimate price with their lives, will finally be accepted. On that day, Yusuf Mamoo will rejoice with all of them, and exclaim ‘We finally did it’. Of that, I am certain,” Akhtar concluded.
Dr. Manejeh Yaqub, grand-niece of Buch Sahib expressed her emotions in these words: “In the passing of Ambassador Yusuf Buch, Kashmir has lost a formidable indigenous voice of reason and rationale. Since his peaceful passing to a better world, I’ve heard several kind words from generations of world voices describing him as a Distinguished Diplomat, Iconic Expert, Legendary Intellectual, Moral Compass, Over-Achiever, Meritorious, Mentor, Guiding Light, Resolute, Intelligent, Wise, Scholarly, Advisor, Brilliant Star, Living Encyclopedia, Son of the Soil and so much more.”
She said, “He led a fulfilled life, a life that I know shall inspire generations to come. To have vision with the kind of clarity he had with unwavering commitment to truth and fairness, publicly for over 8 decades, with steadfastness, strength and courage despite all the challenges he was faced with, is indeed unique. Reams of paper would probably summarize his unique experiences, presenting a true chronicle of Kashmir history in the last 100 years. He died at the age of 98, but had a unique mastery of Kashmir history since we have known it.”
Dr. Manejeh continued: “I shall not venture today to write about Ambassador Buch the seasoned and brilliant Diplomat, Intellectual or Socio-Political Scholar, but I want to share with all, the amazing family man he was, My Grand Uncle.”
“In all his letters, emails and conversations, with me over the next 4 decades his profound love and affection for each member of the family always shone through. Ironical that he never truly had a family that he lived with most of his life, but he never ceased to provide family values and guidance to his extended family. His relationship with his brothers also bore the stories that one can derive history from. All three of them shared love for English literature, Persian poetry, playing chess, and intellectual opinion on various world matters. In being witness to their conversations one could learn an ocean of information. Whether it was Saadis romanticism, or the tragic symbolism of Keats, or opinions about the socio-political situations anywhere in the world, the conversations were astute, deep thinking and full of questioning and learning from one another,” she added.
Another remarkable talent he had, Manejeh recalled, was to understand relationships. When I got married in 2004, he had the best advice for me, which I not only cherish and live by, but also hold it as some sort of a motto to live a married life by. He said, “The beauty of this relationship is your endless devotion to one another”. That is so true. A complex relationship can be made beautiful by that simple motto. To stay devoted.
Dr. Manejeh narrated: “Last week, as we drove from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad via Murree and Nathia Gali to fulfill his last wish, to be buried in Azad Kashmir, I felt like I knew the region fairly well, although I had never been there before and he had not visited in about 20 years, his conversations captured every detail with such visual beauty, it became a part of my living memory which gave me a strange sense of being acquainted with the region. He came back to finally rest at the place he deeply loved, as a revered hero that shall inspire generations to come.”
“Beneath a pine tree, besides his mentor (Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah), adjacent to his dearest counterpart Khurshid Hassan Khurshid, with two Chinar trees in the back, surrounded by snow capped mountains and a library/reading room full of books and newspapers, with people of all ages learning from them right besides. Rest in peace and absolute power my dearest Uncle Yusuf. Your guidance helped shape my identity and in me, you shall live until I do, and I know far longer than that in so many stories of courage and brilliance,” Dr. Manejeh concluded.
Buch Sahib was a real freedom fighter, true legend, an iconic personality, an intellectual par excellence, a thinker and a scholar. He was a captivating personality, a person with farsightedness, judgment and judiciousness. An eminent diplomat and truly a living encyclopedia on Kashmir who rendered his services for upholding the human and political rights of the people of Kashmir. He was certainly one of the most recognizable experts on the subject of Kashmir.
The nation of Kashmir honors his illustrious life of courage and salutes his commitment and dedication. We all pay tribute to his inspirational spirit and pay homage to his life in exile for he dedicated his energies for the freedom of his homeland, Kashmir. His message to the people of Kashmir in general and to the youth in particular, I recall, was to hold on to the cause, despite the oppression of the occupying forces. The repression cannot be the reason for apathy towards Kashmir cause. Participation in the freedom struggle should become the second nature of the Kashmiri youth.
I was always impressed to see a self-less, highly educated diplomat of Kashmiri origin in the Cabinet of the United Nations Secretary General who was informed, statesmanlike, poised, and engaging. I remember Buch Sahib saying: “Yes, we have made errors, we have miscalculated, we have not organized our campaign with the care it should have been. We can correct our mistakes. But we cannot forsake our goals. Those have been sanctified by the blood of our martyrs and the tears of the bereaved among us have put them beyond compromise.”
I emphasize that Buch Sahib never compromised on the basic principles of the Kashmir dispute. When he was laid to rest at the compound of the mausoleums of Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah and K.H. Khurshid, former presidents of Azad Kashmir, in the Capital City of Muzaffarabad, his headstone reads: “Ambassador Muhammad Yusuf Buch resisted the Indian occupation of Kashmir till his very last breath and never compromised.”
The people of Kashmir will never forget the selfless contribution and the tireless efforts of Ambassador Yusuf Buch. His efforts will remain forever a milestone in the history of the freedom struggle of Kashmir. With the passing of such a noble soul, who was a symbol of humanity and a champion of human rights, it is the end of an era. We will miss him a lot!
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, expressed her deep sadness over Buch’s death, saying that he participated in the resistance and his writings and pronouncements on Kashmir provided intellectual stimulus to the freedom movement. “Few could match his knowledge of Kashmir., its history, culture and evolution of the freedom movement. I had often encouraged him to write his memoirs but he felt his age did not give him the strength to do so,” she added.
Once the funeral ceremony was concluded, then came the issue of Pakistani visas. It was resolved when Sardar Sawar Khan Sahib called Naeem Iqbal Cheema Sahib, Consul General of Pakistan. Although, it was long weekend but Cheema Sahib was kind enough to come to the Consulate to expedite our visas to visit Pakistan. So, we were ready to embark along with Buch Sahib a journey from Manhattan to Muzaffarabad.
The body was flown to Islamabad on May 27 via Emirates Airlines and those who accompanied us included: Akhtar Husain, Dr. Manejeh Yaqub, Sardar Sawar Khan. The body was received at Islamabad International airport by the senior officials of the Azad Kashmir government, including Idrees Abbasi Sahib, Secretary Presidential Affairs, Mansoor Qadir Dar, Secretary Kashmir Liberation Cell and Choudahry Imtiaz Ahmed, Divisional Commissioner, Azad Kashmir.
Akhtar Husain, his nephew narrates this journey from Manhattan to Muzaffarabad in these words:
“It was a short but very memorable trip. We arrived in Islamabad in the early morning time of May 29th, around 1:15 AM. There were arrangements made to escort us through customs, etc. and it was clear that everything had been arranged well in advance. There were a number of important high ranking people in Pakistan government, both at the Federal level and the State level who have helped out, and I could not remember all the names, but suffice it to say that had it not been for Sardar Sawar Khan Sahib and Ghulam Nabi Fai Sahib to inform and arrange everything from before, things would have been far more difficult. The stay at Islamabad was at the Kashmir House, where each of us had a room.
On the same day, May 29, we left by car for Muzaffarabad, which took about four hours. Islamabad has rolling hills, and once the drive starts, the road goes through much higher regions, passing Murree and other resorts along the way, probably reaching altitudes of 10,000 to 12,000 feet. We reached Muzaffarabad around 4 PM, and rested for a while at the Azad Kashmir State Guest House. Around 4:30 PM, we went to the President’s House, where we were first introduced to Raja Farooq Haider Sahib and Syed Fakhar Imam Sahib, and later to Mushahid Hussain Sahib, all high-ranking officials in the Pakistan and Azad Kashmir governments. They all knew Yusuf Mamoo and talked a little of him, and of course asked us some questions, which we answered respectfully.
Akhtar added: “Around 6:30 PM, we were taken in a convoy to the College Grounds where the body had been brought directly from Islamabad airport. The casket was draped in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir flags. There was a crowd of hundreds of people in the grounds. I spoke first, followed by several others, including Fai sahib. Then the Janaza prayer was held, followed by a salute by the Honor Guard. It was with a heavy heart that I said my last goodbye to Mamoo in this world, but at the same time I was very much at peace that Mamoo’s body had been brought all the way here, so close to Srinagar (it is about four hours away by road), and there were no difficult situations encountered anywhere. The burial ground is right next to the College, and we took the casket there. It was buried in the compound of Mirwaiz Maulvi Yusuf Shah Sahib, which is right next to the burial site of K.H. Khurshid sahib, both of whom Mamoo knew very well.”
Akhtar continued: “We arrived in Islamabad in the afternoon, on the 30th of May. We were invited for Iftar / Dinner on all the three days we were there, and were treated royally. On May 29th, Shah Ghulam Qadir Sahib, Acting President invited us to Iftaar / dinner at President House, Muzaffarabad. Raja Farooq Haider Sahib, the Prime Minister was gracious enough to host the delegation for Iftaar / dinner on May 30th. On May 31st, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sahib invited us for Iftar, where Begum Abida Husain, former US Ambassador and wife to Fakhar Imam Sahib, was also present. This was the only time a lady other than Dr. Manejeh Yaqub was at an event. During all these days, I spoke little, but always thanked everyone on behalf of the entire Buch family, and mentioned that we were in different parts of the world, remembering and observing all these events. Our flight back to the US, via Turkish Airlines, was on the night of May 31st. Once again, I gave everyone involved our family’s deepest gratitude to arrange everything so well.”
“I can imagine Yusuf Mamoo now with all the family members in heaven, having an exciting deep level literary conversation with mummy and Amin Mamoo on a topic in Urdu/Persian literature, with Naqashband Mamoo giving his input from time to time,” Akhtar concluded.
Ambassador Yusuf Buch was laid to rest in Muzaffarabad on May 29 in the compound of the mausoleum of Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf, former President of Azad Kashmir.
His funeral prayers were offered at the University College Ground, with Azad Kashmir Acting President Shah Ghulam Qadir, Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, parliamentary Kashmir committee chairman Syed Fakhar Imam, Senator Syed Mushahid Hussain, Chairman, Senate, Foreign Relations Committee and a large number of government officials and common men among the mourners.
Senior Minister, Azad Kashmir Government, Choudhary Tariq Farooq, Pakistan Peoples Party President Latif Akbar, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Khawaja Farooq Ahmed, Sardar Sawar Khan, Former Advisor to the Prime Minister Azad Kashmir, Jamaat-e-Islami Azad Kashmir leader Sheikh Aqeel ur Rehman, Hurriyat Conference leaders, Ghulam Muhammad Safi Sahib, Syed Yusuf Nasim Sahib, and Sheikh Abdul Mateen, JKLF leader, Rafiq Dar, Zahid Amin, Raja Sajjad and others also spoke. High ranking serving and retired civil and military officials, eminent icons from diverse segments of the civil society including lawyers, journalists, members of the business fraternity, social and political activists and others were in attendance.
Renowned Hurriyat leader Ghulam Muhammad Safi led the funeral prayer offered at K H Khursheed Ground of AJK University. A full-dressed AJK police contingent presented salute to the departed soul in acknowledgement of his lifetime meritorious services to the national Kashmir cause.
Later, the burial took place on the compound of mausoleum of Mirwaiz, which is adjacent of the mausoleum of K. H. Khurshid, also a former AJK president.
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