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"We don't believe in Kashmiriyat, we believe in liberation"
Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin is a man under pressure from both sides. His predicament compels him to be seen as more hardline than the J&K wing of the Hizbul; he is nonetheless the most hated man for groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba who think he has betrayed the Kashmiri cause. Ghulam Hasnain caught up with Salahuddin in Islamabad, all fire and brimstone amid a foundering peace process. Excerpts:
What do you think the Hurriyat's Pakistan visit will yield?
If the Hurriyat has succeeded in breaking any ice with India, then it is good that they come here. Otherwise, what is the use of coming to Pakistan? What is the fun of coming to Pakistan without having achieved any breakthrough in India? There should be only three reasons why the Hurriyat should visit Pakistan. To talk, to tell us about the latest situation in Kashmir and in India, and to tell us what other support they need from us.
The Hurriyat leadership seems split between pro-Pakistan and anti-Pakistan factions. What do you think will be its impact?
You should ask the Hurriyat leaders about this. Anyhow, we don't think this (talk of division) is true. We want freedom. And when people over there say Pakistan or accession to Pakistan, they also mean freedom. Everyone is for the freedom of Kashmiri people, whether you describe them as pro-Pakistan or anti-Pakistan. As long as they are for a free Kashmir, it's fine with us.
Why does this perception arise that the Hurriyat team will bring with it a New Delhi agenda? Was the Hurriyat perceived as pro-Delhi when Geelani was the chairman?
You ask them. The Hurriyat's main objective is the liberation of Kashmir. You cannot say they are pro-India or pro-Pakistan. They are pro-Kashmir. If there is such a perception, then Hurriyat leaders should be asked about that.
Will you still talk if Geelani isn't part of the Hurriyat team?
We believe the entire Hurriyat leadership should come to Pakistan. All seven should come. Otherwise, it will seem to be an Indian selection. Moreover, we still don't know what the purpose of the Hurriyat's visit is—they haven't conveyed anything to us. Let them come. We will welcome them. As far as the nature of the dialogue with the Hurriyat is concerned, it will be decided by the United Jehad Council.
Some Hurriyat leaders are perturbed about the involvement of groups espousing pan-Islamic causes. Do you think this undermines the Kashmiriyat concept?
First, we don't believe in Kashmiriyat. We believe in the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation. The militants are helping our cause. They are our friends. And we welcome anyone who helps our cause. And it is only because of militancy that India has been forced to talk about Kashmir.
There has been a massive turnout for the panchayat elections in parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Do you think then that the Hurriyat is losing ground, and the militancy its attraction?
The high turnout is a lie. It's a drama. There were no independent observers. There is so much concentration of Indian troops that one could expect anything over there. If there was a massive turnout, why doesn't India give a free hand to Kashmiris to decide their own fate? Why is it afraid of UN resolutions?
What is the minimum and maximum positions you have on the Kashmir issue?
We want a free Kashmir. A sovereign Kashmir. A Kashmir free from the clutches of India.It should be Kashmiris who should decide their fate. Anything less than this is not acceptable to us. Freedom is freedom. It can't be minimum or maximum. However, for us the minimum is the UN resolutions and the maximum is a sovereign and independent Kashmir.
There was an attack on chief minister Farooq Abdullah recently. Militant activities, too, continue. Don't you think this will undermine the peace process?
India has yet to show its sincerity. You cannot trust Vajpayee or any other Brahmin. In the past, they have broken 150 promises. There cannot be a peace process in the present situation. And the peace process cannot begin until India declares Kashmir as a disputed territory, brings its troops deployment to the 1989 level and releases all the Kashmiri freedom fighters languishing (in jails) across India. Till then we won't stop. There is still time for India to save face in Kashmir. In case India does not withdraw its troops from Kashmir and continues to indulge in atrocities, the whole of India will come under attack. It will spill over from Kashmir to the rest of India.
Do leaders like you feel sandwiched between Pakistan and India?
Whether in India or Pakistan, we are free to take our decisions. Nobody dictates to us because our objective is one. That is to get freedom for the Kashmiris.
In an interview to The Stimson Center, Washington, (Hizbul's J&K unit chief) Abdul Majid Dar said he wasn't averse to participating in a free and fair election. Do you subscribe to this view?
Majid Dar has denied this later. For us,any election under Indian domination is not acceptable. We don't want to live under Indian domination. That is clear. Any Kashmir without India, and only that, is acceptable. How could you then have free and fair elections? We don't want India in Kashmir or any dictated, controlled or censored form of freedom. When we say free, we mean free. For us to accept any conditional freedom is like "someone who divorces his wife but does not allow her to marry anyone else."
Delhi has rejected the tripartite concept. What do you plan to do now?
We will force India to change. Our struggle is for freedom. Our struggle is not for tripartite talks. Our struggle is for freedom. We will continue our jehad and we will force India to quit. In the past, both India and Pakistan tried among themselves to sort out the Kashmir issue. But Pakistan's initiative to invite the aphc for talks is a major development. Admitting the Kashmiri factor in any dialogue is a major thing. For Pakistan, it's a big sacrifice. We have decided to take this war out of Kashmir to the rest of India. We are convinced that India is surrounded. It's fighting the last battle. India will no longer resist it. It cannot sustain the Kashmir war.