For dialogue and armed struggle, together

Published : Jun 06, 2003 00:00 IST



Interview with Syed Salahuddin, Hizbul Mujahideen leader.

Syed Salahuddin is one of the founders and the "supreme commander'' of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest indigenous Kashmiri group. It was recently included by the United States State Department in the list of "Other Terrorist Groups", although it has not been outlawed as in the case of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e Mohammad.

Salahuddin, whose real name is Mohammad Yusuf Shah, was born in December 1946 at Soibug village of Budgam district. His maternal grandfather Gulla Saheb was a spiritual figure and his father Ghulam Rasool Shah was a farmer. His grandfather took great interest in Salahuddin's education and predicted his rise. From Grade 9 to Grade 11, Salahuddin studied at the Government Higher Secondary School, Budgam, where he was considered a good student. He composed poetry in English, became an impressive debater and secured a first class in Grade 12. But he could not get admission to a medical college as he had hoped to do.

He graduated (in humanities) from S.P. College and majored in political science from the University of Kashmir in 1971. In 1972, he was appointed Amir-e-Tehsil in Budgam and later the chief Nazim-e-Aala of the Jamaat-e-Islami's student wing. In 1986, he was appointed district Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami's Srinagar chapter.

In March 1987, he was nominated to contest the State Assembly elections by the Muslim United Front, which later became the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. But he was arrested along with his MUF campaigners and polling agent just before the counting of votes. He was released only after nine months of torture and humiliation. The aggressive behaviour of the National Conference-Congress coalition is still believed to be the turning point in Kashmir's political history and the main reason behind the current armed struggle in Kashmir. In April 1991, Shah became Mujahid Syed Salahuddin and was appointed the Hezb Amir, a position he still holds. He is also the chairman of Jehad Council, a conglomeration of 13 Kashmiri Mujahideen groups.

On May 13, Mohammad Shehzad met Salahuddin at the Hizbul Mujahideen's media office in Rawalpindi. Excerpts from an interview:

Do you think militancy is the only solution to the Kashmir issue?

You cannot enslave anyone against his or her will. Freedom is a basic human right. Militancy is not the solution. We still believe that the solution to the Kashmir issue lies on the table. But due to India's obduracy it never comes to the table.

Kashmiris are the most peace-loving people. There was a time when they did not know what a gun was. From 1947 till now, India has witnessed 37,000 incidents of communal violence. Not a single incident of such nature has ever taken place in Jammu and Kashmir. The denial of the right to freedom has forced Kashmiris to embrace militancy. From 1947 to 1989 our struggle remained peaceful. We seized arms after our peaceful movement failed. We want peace but India will have to admit that Kashmir is a disputed territory.

What are your thoughts on the recent India-Pakistan peace initiatives?

The Hurriyat Conference must be a part of this process. I am 110 per cent confident that the Government of Pakistan can handle the Kashmir issue in the best manner.

How do the militants see such initiatives?

For them, these have no importance. They are freedom fighters. When they are convinced that India has acknowledged Kashmir to be a disputed territory and that there is no need to fight, they will stop the armed struggle. But India will have to admit that Kashmir is a disputed territory and reduce the troop strength to the 1989 level. It will have to abandon the "catch-and-kill" tactics.

Should a big power be part of this process?

Why not, if they could use their clout positively? The international community should realise that the biggest threat to world peace is the Kashmir issue. Therefore it must be resolved according to the wishes of the Kashmiris.

If you were requested by General Musharraf to announce a ceasefire for the sake of the dialogue, will you do that?

Why is a "ceasefire" necessary? Can't the two - dialogue and armed struggle - go together? It has happened in Vietnam and Alger.

How do you look at Gen. Musharraf's slogan, "Pakistan First"?

Pakistan is not Pakistan without Kashmir.

Did Musharraf's words to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, that terrorist camps in Azad Kashmir [Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir] "would be gone tomorrow", constitute an admission that such camps do exist, and that he can open or close them at will?

He said that there were no camps in any area of Azad Kashmir [PoK]. It is a way of expression. It could mislead the listener. All the camps are in the Indian-administered Kashmir. Kashmiri youth are being trained there. Amidst thick forests and mountains, the Mujahideen are running hundreds of mobile training camps. I ask, what is the Border Security Force doing? What is the Indian Army doing?

What are your comments on the U.S.' latest policies around the world?

Whatever the U.S. is doing will only encourage a guerilla war against its oppression.

According to some critics, your "bleed India" policy through an armed movement has failed to bleed India. Its economy is growing.

The former USSR never admitted that its economy was suffering or that it was bleeding. But it collapsed all of a sudden. We came to know how much it had bled after its disintegration. We will learn the same realities about India when it breaks.

How do you look at Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's government in Jammu and Kashmir? Is it better than Farooq Abdullah's government?

Sayeed's government too is a puppet regime just like Abdullah's. It makes no difference to us. In fact, there is a military regime in Jammu and Kashmir in the name of the so-called civilian government.

The Jamaat-e-Islami in India and Indian Muslims do not share your vision of jehad in Kashmir.

Indian Muslims are surrounded by a plethora of problems. They have been the victims of communal violence since 1947. Their sympathies are with Kashmiris. They are not in a position to take up arms and wage jehad.

According to the religious scholar Dr. Asrar Ahmed, jehad in Kashmir is a jehad for freedom, not for God.

No jehad can be a jehad if it is not dedicated to God. We firmly believe that jehad in Kashmir is jehad for God. Because 85 to 90 per cent of the population of Kashmir is Muslim. They want to maintain their Muslim identity. The "slavery" under India is the biggest hurdle to this achievement. They are fighting against Hindu culture and civilisation.

So you are talking about the Two-Nation Theory?

The Kashmir issue is premised on the Two-Nation Theory.

Who is eligible to represent Kashmiris in tripartite talks?

There are several people inside and outside Kashmir. Syed Ali Shah Geelani is one of them. Dr. Ayub Thakur is another, who is outside Kashmir. There is no dearth of leaders.

So why don't you all become one entity instead of waging jehad separately?

We do that under the Muttehida Jehad Council. Take it this way: they all are like various regiments of one army.

The Hizbul Mujahideen was not declared a terrorist outfit right after September 11 as in the case of other militant groups, for example, the Jaish, the Lashkar, and so on. What has it done that has prompted the U.S. to put it in the list of "Other Terrorist Groups''?

A strong pro-India lobby works in the U.S. As a result of its lobbying, the U.S. has ignored the ground realities and taken this step to please India. The U.S. has no proof against us. After September 11, it has become the U.S. policy that no Muslim should have arms in his or her hands, even for lawful purposes. This is illogical.

Do you think the Indian Army will be able to suppress your freedom movement?

Freedom movements cannot be suppressed through killings or ethnic cleansing. However, nations die by surrendering and giving up.

What is your philosophy regarding suicide attacks?

Such suicide attacks should be undertaken that are capable of inflicting the enemy a colossal loss. The life of a mujahid is very precious. It should not be put to stake for a petty gains.

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