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Syed Salahuddin, Syed Yousaf Shah

The most wanted man in India

By Hamid Mir

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Kashmir, India--Syed Salahuddin, alias Syed Yousaf Shah was declared one of the 20 most wanted people by the Indian government in 2002. According to a list provided to Pakistan and Interpol by the Indian Home Ministry, the name of the politician-turned-militant leader was on the top of that list. Spokesman for Indian Foreign Ministry Navtej Sarna formally demanded of Pakistan on July 22, 2006 that Syed Salahuddin should be arrested and handed over to India. Syed Salahuddin did his masters in Political Science at Srinagar University in 1971. He wrote many English poems in his University days. He joined Jamat-e-Islami after his education and contested the state election in 1987. He abandoned politics after losing the election and joined the military. He was one of the founding members of Hizbul Mujaheddin in 1989. Currently he is the Supreme Commander of Hizbul Mujahedin and United Jihad Council, an umbrella organization of 19 militant groups fighting in Kashmir against the Indian Army. Hamid Mir of Geo TV interviewed Syed Salahuddin in the mountains of Kashmir. Here are the details.

Syed Salahuddin, Hamid MirQ: What is your reaction to the recent proposals given by the President Musharaf for joint control of India and Pakistan on Kashmir, self governance? Musharraf also said that he can give up his claim for Kashmir if India accedes to his proposals.

A: Unfortunately India has never demonstrated sincerity in resolving the Kashmir dispute through peaceful means. We have no doubts on the sincerity of President Musharraf, who is adamant to solve this issue but his recent proposals are a big shift in the Kashmir policy of Pakistan. These proposals are also a shift from the views of the people of Kashmir who have demanded liberation and self determination, and they want a solution according to the UN resolutions. This kind of flexible approach or shift in the policy of Pakistan has always been viewed as weakness by India. Even now India is not ready to consider Kashmir as a dispute. Since the time Pakistan has initiated to solve this issue through unilateral ceasefire and different CBM's ,all these measures have not led to the deterioration in the atrocities committed by the Indian security forces in Kashmir, rather this has exacerbated day by day. I think that these unilateral proposals presented simultaneously by Musharraf are losing their importance because there is no positive response from Manmohan Singh.

Q: Recently Indian PM Manmohan Singh has welcomed Musharaf's proposals, and he said in Amritsar that there can be a new peace treaty between India and Pakistan. If there is any such treaty in the future then how will you respond to it?

A: There have been 131 rounds of talks between India and Pakistan in the past like the Simla, Tashqand and Lahore declaration but we had zero outcome out of them. Unless you are going to discuss the core issue of Kashmir, any treaty will be futile because the same issue has caused three wars between these two countries and the threat of a fourth war is again hanging on our heads. A 0.7 ?  million strong Indian Army is deployed on the innocent people of Kashmir which is affecting the lives of the Kashmiris in a very destructive manner. So in such circumstances any new peace treaty between India and Pakistan will be fruitless if it is not about the resolution of the basic dispute which is Kashmir. I think an expected new treaty between Musharraf and Manmohan Singh in the year 2007 will not be about Kashmir so it will not change the ground reality. That is why we will not change our policy. We will keep fighting.

Q: Do you have any proposals in your mind for peace in the region?

A: I can propose that India should accept Kashmir as a tripartite issue to solve this issue because it was also accepted by the UN and according to the UN it has three parties, i.e. India, Pakistan and Kashmiris. Kashmiris should be given the right of self determination, which was also mentioned in the Havana declaration only recently.

Q: Suppose that India is ready for tripartite talks, then who is going to represent Kashmiris in the first round of tripartite talks?

A: Let me say that those who ask for the right of self determination for the Kashmiris will go for the representation in the talks. In the first round, UN resolution should be implemented and then under this resolution whatever mechanism is adopted that will be acceptable to us. It is the matter of millions of people's destiny which cannot be decided by the talks of only a few personalities, such as Mir Waiz or any other person. Kashmir is not a border dispute which can be resolved by Musharraf talking to Manmohan Singh, Kashmirs have to be included in the talks. Some of the Kashmiri leaders tried to solve this issue through bilateral talks which is again negating the tripartite level.

Q: Are you pointing towards Mir Waiz Omer Farooq and Yasin Malik who had direct talks with Indian government in the recent past?

 A: Yes, with all due respect I must say that these people are not serving any interest of their people by talking directly to India. They say that India does not consider it as a tripartite issue so they turned it to a trilateral issue. I must say that tripartite gives equal rights to the Kashmiris along with India and Pakistan .Trilateral is a useless exercise which will yield no fruit in the future. India is only trying to divide Kashmiris by talking to some people belonging to our region; those who started talks with India got nothing.

Q: Can Hizb ul Mujahidin announce a ceasefire if India agrees on tripartite talks?

A: Ceasefire is outdated now and it has been misused in the past. After the passage of many years, I still think that India is neither serious nor sincere to solve this issue through talks so ceasefire is out of question now. Hizbul Mujahedin once declared ceasefire in 2000 when there were rumors that the issue was going to be resolved soon by talks, but nothing happened .We are no more ready to announce any ceasefire keeping in mind the past track record of India. We cannot forget that India tried to use that ceasefire for creating differences among our own ranks and also between Pakistan and Kashmiris. First of all, India must show its sincerity by accepting Kashmir as disputed. Secondly, by releasing our prisoners, thirdly by withdrawing its forces to the position of 1989 and it must stop its human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, and then our response will be positive.

Q: Your policy seems to be keeping talks and militancy side by side, apparently no chance of cease fire in the future?

A: Yes no ceasefire. Talks can be started without a ceasefire. The same tactics were also adopted in Afghanistan and Vietnam and I am not saying any new thing. I am confined to this point on the basis of India's past record.

Q: Some leaders of the Hurriyat Conference are saying that the people of Kashmir are now tired of militancy and it should be abandoned now. Can you tell me how long you can sustain militancy?

A: I want to reply with due respect that Kashmiris are not tired. Actually these leaders are tired. The Mujahedin have been fighting Indian forces for almost 17 years. How can we sustain the region without the support of the people? The people's support and love for us can be gauged from the fact that our fellow fighters enjoy a lot of popularity in the whole of Kashmir. Whenever one of our fighters is martyred, thousands of Kashmiris gather in around the funeral and chant slogans to show their support for our cause. I totally refute the statement of those who say that the Kashmiris are tired.

Q: You are being accused by some Indian leaders for human rights violations; they have accused you of attacking civilians in Jammu and Kashmir?

 A: We have made a code of conduct for the United Jihad Council and whoever violates this conduct is severely punished .Some of the people have been given the death sentence as a consequence of violating this code of conduct. If we find someone working as an informer for the enemy's forces, then we take him into our custody and interrogate him. If he is found innocent, then we set him free. Our code of conduct bars us from conducting any activity in civilian areas.

Q: Can you give me any example of punishment for attacking civilians?

A: Yes I can speak for my organization. We gave the death sentence to two Hizb fighters, namely Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Hassan Khan because it was proved that they violated the code of conduct. In another case one Hizb fighter injured someone; we gave the same kind of injury to our man. That is why people are happy with us.

Q: After 9/11 it was believed that it was the end of Jihad. The Line of Control was heavily fenced by India after a ceasefire between two countries. Many Jihadi outfits were banned in Pakistan. Your offices in Pakistani cities were closed but you are still fighting, who is providing you money, weapons and other logistics?

 A: It is written in the Holy Quran and Allah proclaims that whoever follows my path I open new ways of success to him. I have experienced many times in my life and particularly after 9/11 that Allah opened new ways for us because our belief in Allah was not weakened, so it was a blessing in disguise for us. The post 9/11 scenario gave impetus to our movement of self dependence .There is no doubt that LoC is fenced now but the geography of Kashmir is yet not changed. There are still mountains and forests in Kashmir. I must say that the surface of Jammu Kashmir is 110% suitable for militant's activities and we are quite capable enough to fight with 0.7 million Indian forces; even 100 militants can fight with the whole Indian Army present in Kashmir .After 17 years of this militancy I can say that we are fully equipped with modern weapons. After 9/11 we have successfully targeted our enemy with time bombs and remote bombs which is a proof of our usage of modern technological methods. We have mobile training camps in the forests; we have enough instructors and we are not short of fighters. But there is another issue, this is the responsibility of any good command to adopt a strategy where there is less activity with more quality. Our strategy is that the casualties of our militants should be less and the losses of enemy should be more, and I am sure that we are moving towards success with the passage of time. We are no more running after the number of our operations. We want less causalties with more destruction for the enemy.

Q: After 9/11 there was another impression that all the militants are anti - West and anti - USA. Are you only fighting against India or you are also fighting against the West too?

A: Kashmiris are very emotional people and when they see innocent people dying in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine then they come out to protest against it. Actually the name of al Qaeda was introduced by America after 9/11 otherwise it was not popular among the Muslims. According to my knowledge there was an office in Jalalabad named Maktab Alkhidmat which was the office of the militants .I never heard of Al Qaeda during the Afghan Jihad, but now al Qaeda is a ground reality. It has become a symbol of resistance against the tyrant regimes, but we have had no introduction or maintain any links with al Qaeda. As far as we, Kashmiris are concerned we are only confined to Kashmir. Indians have always tried to establish our links with Al Qaeda and Taliban but I think its not in our interest to side with al Qaeda because we are not fighting only for the Muslim Kashmiris, we are fighting for all the Kashmiris, including non-Muslims. Bhagat Singh is a national hero of India who bombed the Indian parliament in 1930 and killed British police officials. Famous Indian writer Kaldip Nayer wrote a book on Bhagat Singh which was inaugurated by Vajpaee. If a militant like Bhagat Singh is a freedom fighter for them, then we also have the right to follow the same path for achieving our goals. Today the Indian government is no different from the British Raj of 1930. Indian government cannot destroy our movement by branding us with the Taliban and al Qaeda, Taliban and al Qaeda emerged in the nineties and we started our struggle more than a century ago.

Q: Some people involved in the 7/7 bombing in London belonged to the Kashmiri creed. In fact, they had links in Azad Kashmir. Do you have any linkage with the Kashmiris settled in the West and especially in the UK?

A: Belonging to the Kashmiri creed and linking with the Kashmiris is a different matter. There are so many people working in the USA at sensitive places who are also Kashmiris, but it is not necessary that they all are linked to us. I repeat that we are disappointed with the West, but we are fighting only--and only against Indian occupation in Kashmir. I have been contacted many times by different Western governments in the past and I also made it clear to them that we are confined to Kashmir only.

Q: If you are not fighting outside Kashmir then why is your name among the most wanted people of India, many times Indians have made accusations that you or your outfit was involved in violence outside Kashmir?

A: Many times we have told this to India that they are fighting against militants who are well equipped. When militants attack Indian forces and kill their soldiers, then these forces in spite of taking revenge from us take revenge by raping our families and damaging our properties, then this sort of revenge of India precipitates into retaliation. The irony is that when there is a bomb blast in India, all the International community raises an uproar against it, but when Indian forces kill innocent people in Kashmir and rape our sisters and mothers then there is no such reaction from the International community. We have made it clear to the Indian forces that their revenge should only be limited to us and they should not harm our families but when they damage our properties and kill our family members then we have to retaliate in the manner we don't want to. I warn that we can also hit any soft target in India any time but we have not yet started that revenge because we are fighting against the Indian state not against people of India. We have full sympathy with the people of India. There are 400 million people living below the poverty line in India and we don't bear them any animosity. All the charges about our involvement outside India are false. Indians accused Afzal Guro for participating in the attack on Indian parliament in December 2001. He was given the death sentence by Indian courts, but now Indian human right activists have rejected charges against him and he was declared innocent. Famous Indian writer Arundati Roy in one of her writings proved that Indian intelligence agencies were actually involved in attacks against their own people just to give us a bad name.

Q: You have participated in elections held in Srinagar in 1987 but after the rigging in the elections you have carried the gun. Where do you see yourself after 20 years, can you back to elections sometime?

A: I contested elections of the United Muslim Front against the then Education Minister who hijacked the results of the elections. That time we all believed that we cannot promote our movement through the democratic way. Then I was arrested. It made me realize that slaves don't have votes. To break the shackles of slavery we carried the weapons. After 17 years I say that our success was more than our expectations. These 0.7 ? million forces were not able to hamper our movement and according to rough estimates, 200 Indian soldiers have committed suicide and most of the forces are under tremendous psychological pressure. Most of the army personnel have told Indian leadership that it's difficult to stop militancy on Kashmir's soil. Election is no solution. First right of self- determination and then a fair and free election is.

Q: Is it right that Hindu youngsters are also joining Hizb ul Mujahidin?

A: In Jammu sectors many Hindus are martyred during the fight for Hizb ul Mujahidin. These people have realized that Indians are ruthlessly killing children and women on the basis of taking revenge from the militants. We believe in a pluralistic society where we are not only fighting for the Muslims but also for all the people living in Kashmir irrespective of their religions. The non Muslims in our movement know that we are fighting not only for the Muslims but for everyone living on Jammu Kashmir soil. Our struggle is much older than Pakistan. There are many stories behind the story of our struggle. In 1819 a Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered Kashmir, but his disorganized empire fell to the British in 1846 when they took control of Punjab. Kashmir was then sold to the self-entitled Maharajah (Indian King) Ghulab Singh of Jammu for 7.5 million rupees (app. US$166) under the Treaty of Amritsar. Ghulab Singh also brought Ladakh, Zanskar, Gilgit and Baltistan under his control. A succession of Maharajahs followed, marked by several uprisings by the Kashmiri people, of whom a large percentage was now Muslim. In 1889, Maharajah Pratap Singh lost the administrative authority of Kashmir due to worsening management of the frontier region. The British restored full powers to the Dogra rule only in 1921. Dogras were a minority but they were a ruling Muslim majority in Kashmir. They announced succession with India in 1947 against the wishes of Kashmiris. The British government at that time played a very bad role. Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of 1947. Even today there is no legal succession document and that is why India lost its case in the United Nations. We have a strong case with strong local support and that is why many Hindus are with us.

Q: Would you like to tell me any names of your Hindu fighters?

A: A resident of Prem Nagar Kuldip Kumar alias Kamran was recently martyred in Jammu region. He was our area commander. Now Kashmiri Sikhs and Christians are also joining our ranks.

Q: Do you think that the International community will respond and Kashmir will be solved like East Timor?

A: It's like the same when someone has occupied your home and is destroying your property and degrading your family members .Then you are having two options: either you vacate your home or shout for help to the people around you to rescue you. From 24th October 1947 till now this is the record of the people of Kashmir that they have never accepted the illegal occupation of the Indian forces. Before 1989 our ancestors were fighting without any sophisticated weapons but after 1989, when we saw that India was not listening to our legitimate voice then we carried the weapons as the last resort. In the wake of Indian aggression we are not going to drop our guns. I would like to convey my message to all people watching and listening to me that if India does not accept the right of the Kashmiris then we are not going to stop our movement .If any time India is serious to solve this issue through practical mechanism and accepts the right of Kashmiris then we don't have any interest in fighting and we can stop it.

Q: What is the practical mechanism?

A: Accepting the right of self-determination.

Q: Many people are saying that for 20 years Syed Salahuddin has been fighting with weapons, now he should revert back to the politics and walking on the way to peace by participating in elections.

A: If my participation in politics can restore peace, then why I would not go for it? But I don't think that politics and elections can restore peace. Politics is there and elections are taking place regularly but the core issue that is Kashmir must be addressed first. The people who are considering this tripartite level as a trilateral issue then they are being deceived by India because this core issue has never been discussed on the table.

Side issues such as Baglihar dam, Chinab, Wullar Barrage, Indus Treaty, and demilitarization in Siachen are frequently discussed. Ground reality is that India is not ready to accept Kashmir as a core issue .While addressing side issues is a tactic of India to hinder our movement, and I want to say that our movement will be continued with the sacrifices of our Mujahedin. And let me tell you that I tried to raise my voice through the ballot, when the ballot was rigged, then I was forced to speak through the language of the bullet.

Q: Is it right that you are disappointed in Pakistan or with the Musharraf regime?

A: I have not been disappointed in Pakistan or its government. There can be difference of opinion particularly on this core issue which has cost the lives of 0.5 million Muslims. I have the right to express my difference of opinion but there are no differences. Kashmiris have never been disappointed with Pakistan because Pakistan is the main party to this core issue. Our territory is linked to the surface of Pakistan .Millions of Kashmiris are living in Pakistan and their sons have the full right to fight for their rights against the Indian Army. Nobody can stop us. This is our right.

Q: Have you ever got apprehensions that Pakistan can hand you over to India?

A: I never have such fear because I firmly believe that Pakistanis and its leadership will never hand me over to India. The second thing is that I am the son of the soil and I have my right of movement on both sides of Kashmir so I can't be handed over to the enemy. I am on my soil.

Q: You said that you are on your soil; do you think that you are not damaging the interest of this soil?

A: No, because my stay and movement has been accepted by the International community and the place I am living at is a part of my country.

Hamid Mir is the Executive Editor of Geo TV in Islamabad and he has also interviewed Osama bin Laden, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, General Pervaiz Musharraf, Hamid Karzai, L K Advani and other international leaders. He can be reached at: hamid.mir@geo.tv

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