`We have every reason to want peace'

Published : Jan 30, 2004 00:00 IST

Interview with Syed Nazir Ahmad Kashani.

REPUTED, fairly or otherwise, to be among the most closed and secretive political organisations in Jammu and Kashmir, the Jamaat-e-Islami now finds itself at the centre of events - sandwiched between hardliners, who want the organisation to support Islamists rejecting dialogue with India, and its rank-and-file, who want to come out of the decade-old cycle of violence in the creation of which they had a considerable role to play. The Hizbul Mujahideen, which drew most of its cadre from the Jamaat-e-Islami, has exerted enormous pressure on the organisation's leadership to back rejectionist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Jamaat-e-Islami's Amir, Syed Nazir Ahmad Kashani, is however deeply reluctant to embroil himself in ongoing political events, which he believes have made it impossible for the organisation to discharge the religio-political agenda that it has been implementing overground.

In this rare interview he gave Praveen Swami, Kashani discusses the ongoing peace process and the friction within his organisation. Excerpts:

Both Qazi Husain Ahmad of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, and the Hizbul Mujahideen leadership there, have been quite critical of the India-Pakistan peace process. What is your position on the dialogue that is soon to begin?

If both these countries are coming closer, it is a matter of great happiness to the people of both countries. It is a good thing if peace is brought about. If the issues between both countries, including Kashmir, are resolved bearing in mind the interests of the people, both countries will progress.

Both countries have committed themselves to dialogue on all issues in the past, without noticeable results. What reasons do you have to be optimistic that things will be different this time?

I cannot talk about what I have not seen. This time around, that a beginning has been made despite the overall atmosphere is very good. Both countries have said they will work sincerely for the resolution of all issues, including Kashmir, and I pray to Allah to enable both countries to come closer and resolve their differences.

Do you believe that it is necessary, as some have argued, for representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to be involved in the dialogue?

Naturally, as the dialogue progresses, India and Pakistan will have to ask the people of Jammu and Kashmir what they want.

How, in your view, will it be decided who represents the people of Jammu and Kashmir? Which faction of the APHC will it be? Who is to decide who has legitimacy?

Time will settle this question. The Kashmiris will also work for unity, and will make someone their representative. This will definitely happen. After all, it is the responsibility of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to choose a representative.

Parallel negotiations are also to begin between Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, and the Abbas Ansari-led faction of the APHC. Do you see some hope in this?

To talk with just one faction is, to my mind, a waste of time. On top of it all, it also creates suspicions. One party or the other is bound to suspect the intentions of the parties who are engaged in dialogue. Whatever is agreed on by the parties engaged in the dialogue will attract the suspicions of those left out. If all the factions talk as a united front, that would be far better.

A few days ago, the Jamaat-e-Islami had announced that it would maintain equidistance from both the APHC factions, at least for the time being. Now, the head of the political wing, Ashraf Sehrai, has announced yet again his support for Syed Ali Shah Geelani. What is the real Jamaat-e-Islami line?

I spoke to Sehrai earlier, and he assured me that he had not given any support to Geelani. He told me his comments in Sopore had been misreported, and we have issued a clarification to the media. Our position is that the problem in Jammu and Kashmir concerns all of its people, not just one faction. To that end, we would like unity between the various groups, and will work for it.

There seems to be a difference of opinion within the Jamaat-e-Islami on this question. You removed Sehrai as Deputy Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami after he supported Geelani, and then reinstated him as head of the political wing. Why did this happen?

I am empowered to appoint a Deputy Amir, and to remove him. Sehrai was appointed at a time when I needed help with organisational work. This help was no longer needed, and Sehrai was removed.

Then why appoint him as head of the political wing?

He has to do some work, after all. We need someone to look after our political work, and to issue statements from time to time. One person cannot look after all the organisation's work.

Your predecessor G.M. Bhat had said that the time for guns had gone, and that for dialogue had arrived. Is this the position of the Jamaat-e-Islami?

The problem with journalists is that they only come to the Jamaat-e-Islami to discuss the problem in Kashmir. Before this problem arose, none of you used to come to the Jamaat, and have never tried to find out what its real purpose is. Now, the Jamaat-e-Islami believes that Islam is the last faith of Allah, that it provides a comprehensive way of life for all irrespective of their nationality or race. The primary purpose of the Jamaat-e-Islami is to invite all to the true faith, so that there is peace on earth and all strife ends. For 50 years, we have gone about this task, for which we were placed on this earth. Now, unlike political parties who will cease to exist if the problem in Kashmir ends, we have every reason to want peace. Today, I cannot come before you with my message. There is a wall between us. It is my responsibility to take the message of Islam to all, and for that I need the walls to break down. Whether you accept my message or not is, of course, your choice. Islam forbids me from compelling anyone to accept my faith.

Is that a yes? Do you want dialogue?

As I have told you, my purpose is to spread the message. To that end, the Jamaat-e-Islami is committed to using legitimate, overground (sic) means.

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