He continues to support the Taliban, who he says were "such good people". He was close to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Many members of his organisation, the Jamaat-e-Ullema Islam, which runs about 1,500 seminaries across Pakistan, have been recruited by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
No surprise then that the visit of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman to New Delhi evoked collective disbelief. Studiedly moderate during his visit, Fazl-ur-Rahman called for dialogue between India and Pakistan, and for a negotiated settlement of the dispute in Jammu and Kashmir. None of this was, of course, exceptional but the fact that a senior Islamist politician was making these calls led to enormous speculation about his motives, and the possible behind-the-scenes role of the governments of both India and Pakistan in the visit. In this exclusive interview he gave Praveen Swami and Purnima Tripathi, Fazl-ur-Rahman discussed some of the issues raised during his visit. Excerpts:
How would you describe your overall experience in India?
We have received a positive response everywhere. People want peace. We are hopeful that the initiative I have taken will now be carried forward. Peace and friendship between the two countries is the need of the hour. The Prime Minister of India took the initiative by extending the hand of friendship in his Srinagar address. Now, it is the duty of all of us to take that initiative forward. God willing, long-lasting peace would soon prevail in the subcontinent.
There are a lot of theories about why you are in India now, pushing for a dialogue. Some analysts argue that you are seeking to project a moderate image to gain international acceptability; others say that you are acting in concert with Prime Minister Vajpayee; still others that the Pakistan government is under pressure from the United States, and has therefore sent you here. What is the truth?
The truth is what you see. I am here because I wish to be here. There is no question of my acting under pressure from anyone. We have withstood pressure in the past; it means nothing to us. Remember, we have a long history in India; we fought against the British together before Partition.Do you have a concrete road map for peace?
I have no road map; nor do I have a solution I wish to push. We have to view each juncture dispassionately, and focus on the present. Prime Minister Vajpayee went to Pakistan to seek peace; unfortunately, the road twisted towards a dead-end. Now, he is again making efforts. He is talking of a comprehensive dialogue, where all issues can be discussed. We welcome it, and the Government of Pakistan welcomes it. I am optimistic that we are heading in the right direction now, and that there will be no hairpin bends where the bus drives off the road.
You have spoken of the acceptability of the Shimla Agreement, and of accepting the Line of Control (LoC) as international boundary. Will these be acceptable to the Government of Pakistan?
First of all, I never said anything about the Line of Control being acceptable to me. The Indian media have been very unfair on this issue. What I actually said was that any solution acceptable to both India and Pakistan was acceptable to me. It is quite obvious that the LoC will not be acceptable to Pakistan. Secondly, the Shimla Agreement asks that both India and Pakistan negotiate their differences. This I wholly endorse. But since then we have had summits at Lahore and Agra. We need to move ahead from there, and look at what is possible now.
So would you say a summit-level meeting is required now?
There are many issues to be sorted out. No summit will be useful unless the spadework has been done. Let the bureaucrats work out what has to be discussed, and how far we can progress right now. Then, the dialogue can move to a political level, and so on.
The Pakistan government has been quite sceptical about the future of bilateral dialogue. Why are you calling for one now?
After the fall of Baghdad, circumstances have changed. The world has changed, and is full of perils for countries like India and Pakistan. Your Prime Minister recognises this irrefutable fact. Now, India has historically rejected third-party mediation on our conflict; Pakistan has for many years called for it. But the events in Iraq should make us think very hard on this question.
Does that mean you want the Government of Pakistan to reconsider its stand?
Obviously. If I think something is good, I would like to bring others around to my point of view as well.
Can a dialogue commence before the violence in Jammu and Kashmir ends? Even the Jamaat-e-Islami's Syed Ali Shah Geelani recently said that the time for guns has gone.
No one picks up a gun and starts shooting for the fun of it. People who use guns have grievances. Those grievances have to be addressed. That is the reason why we must talk. God willing, there would soon be peace in Kashmir. The two governments now want peace, people want peace. Things are changing for the better. Parliamentarians from both countries are visiting, the Lahore bus has resumed [operations], there are talks of flights being resumed too. All this will create the right environment for India and Pakistan to sit down and talk.
But the two did sit down and talk in Agra. Why did that not work?
Why should we keep harping on Agra? Why think of failures? There is the Shimla Agreement, which is a good basis for starting dialogue. Agra failed because there was not enough homework. Any summit-level talk should be preceded by secretary-level talks and the two governments seem to agree on this. How and when that should begin is for the governments to decide. But a good groundwork would ensure that summit-level talks yield positive results.
Not everyone with guns seems very happy about the idea of dialogue. The Lashkar-e-Toiba continues to insist jehad is the only way forward.
We are the representatives of the people of Pakistan, not the Lashkar-e-Toiba. We have been given the right to speak on this issue by the people.
You have in the past been quite moderate on Jammu and Kashmir, compared to other Islamist politicians. Do you still feel the struggle there is simply a dispute over land, unlike in Afghanistan where you had said religious principles necessitated a jehad?
You are trying to provoke me into saying something I do not want to say. The truth is, a dispute is a dispute. It does not matter if it is one type of dispute or another type of dispute. It must still be resolved. That is why we must have a dialogue.
One further question on jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. The Muslim community in India has had to face the consequences of this jehad, and many Muslim commentators have been quite critical of what Islamist groups are doing there. Your hosts here would also be sensitive to the issue. Is this not another reason for violence to end?
Look, we should not conflate issues. We should not look for solutions to the question of Palestine in Afghanistan; nor the solution to Afghanistan in Pakistan; nor the problems of Indian Muslims in Kashmir. All these problems are unique, and have their own dynamics.
Your party has been engaged in a long-running feud with General Pervez Musharraf on the Legal Framework Order, and have been calling for him either to step down as President or as head of the armed forces. Are you still open to compromise on this issue, or does a long struggle lie ahead?
While all issues are open to dialogue and compromise, we have taken a constitutional position on the Legal Framework Order. We cannot compromise on principles, of course, but there is room for compromise on details. Dialogue is under way on the issue, and will continue. Before you ask any more questions on this, though, I want to say I have not come here to discuss Pakistan, or to be drawn into criticism of its government. These issues will be top-most on my mind the minute I cross the Wagah border. If you want to discuss them, come and visit me in Pakistan.