‘Separatists are active at the behest of an entity that has occupied part of Kashmir’s territory’
Jammu Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party (JKDLP) Chairman Hashim Qureshi is infamous for the 1971 Ganga hijacking — just 17 years old then, he took over an Indian Airlines flight bound for Jammu and forced the crew to land in Lahore instead. But even though he is still under trial for that, the separatist is looking forward rather than back. He spoke with Aditya Rangroo about the ideological bankruptcy of the present leaders of the separatist movement.
What inspires you to strive for an independent Jammu & Kashmir and what is the ideology of your Jammu Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party (JKDLP)?
Our party’s concept of independence of the original state of Jammu & Kashmir is not based either on hatred or on antagonism towards India or Pakistan. Sixty-seven years of estrangement between the two, interspersed with three wars and now the raging proxy war, all rooted in the Kashmir dispute, have impoverished the people of the sub-continent in general and of the state in particular. In addition, the two countries spend trillions of dollars in stockpiling weapons at the cost of 200 crore people of the region.
What effect would independence have on the dispute?
Independent Kashmir will not only eliminate hatred and animosity between the two neighbouring countries, it will not only end the arms race, but, more important, it will also liberate 200 crore people from economic and social strangulation.
How does that way of thinking translate into specifics?
Our party does not recognise the UN Security Council Resolutions on J&K as valid. The reason is that the contracting parties made Kashmir a bilateral issue; they do not take the people of the state on board. Moreover, the resolutions give no third option to the people of the state. It is a deal foisted by the UN on two warring countries.
You have been in the separatist movement for more than four decades. Are the current “mainstream” separatists still heading in the direction you and others envisioned in the beginning?
The separatist movement began in J&K in 1953 and remained in place till 1974. During this period, it was spearheaded by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. After assuming power for the second time in 1975, he said that he (meaning his party) had wasted 22 years. Evidently, he was craving political power and concluded an accord with Indira Gandhi, the PM of India, on the latter’s terms. While out of power, he was boycotting participation in elections but people like Abdul Ghani Lone and Ali Shah Geelani were fighting elections and winning. They were not leading any separatist movement.
When did Pakistan become a major actor in the drama?
In 1987, the Congress and NC rigged elections. Now separatists are fighting against India at the behest of the ISI, which had already drawn up the blueprint of Operation Topic. The NC and Congress, due to rigging in 1987, gave rise to the sidelined politicians in the Assembly election in the form of separatists.
In 1985-86, I was the Chairman of the JKLF in PoK and Pakistan. The ISI tried to convince me about armed insurgency in Kashmir. I refused to become the angel of death for the innocent and poor Kashmiri youth in whose hands the ISI planned to put arms, and had to run away for my life and seek asylum in Holland.
How did the ISI gain such sway, if the primary goal of the movement was independence?
After the death of Sheikh Abdullah in 1982, there appeared a vacuum of sorts in Kashmiri politics. Every minion of a politician in Kashmir began to think he was another Sheikh Abdullah. Separatists in Kashmir are fighting the battle of the ISI and not their own.
What’s the role of Pakistan today?
Geelani & Co are not fighting a national liberation war; they are fighting Pakistan’s battle in Kashmir. Their politics is event-oriented, meaning that they are looking for an event here or there, particularly related to the police, security forces or the Indian Army. Then they instigate the people over these incidents and thus remain in the public gaze. They have no comprehensive plan of how to secede from India and join Pakistan or how to build institutions for an independent State of Jammu and Kashmir. Incidentally, corrupt rulers of J&K give them indirect support.
You have rejected ISI support. But many speculate that the broader separatist movement has strong backing from the ISI. How do you see the ISI’s influence on the separatist agenda developing in the future?
The ISI sponsored armed insurgency in Kashmir in 1988. I rejected it because the purpose of the sponsors of armed insurgency was to demolish the secular structure of Kashmir. For ages, people of different faiths lived in communal harmony in Kashmir. I am fiercely devoted to my motherland and the people of Kashmir. How could I work against the interests of my compatriots?
How did that decision impact your life?
I left the comfort and tranquility of life in Europe and came back to my homeland. I have faced many hardships on my return. I had to spend one year in jail. It is the 15th year of my case pending in a court of law in Kashmir. My plea that I cannot be tried again under the double jeopardy clause has so far fallen on deaf ears. Yet, in a similar case, when Indian citizen Satnam Singh hijacked an Indian plane to Pakistan, the court dismissed the case against him under double jeopardy when he returned to India in February 2000, because he had already been punished in Pakistan. I fail to understand why the Indian judiciary is applying different yardsticks in my case.
What limitations do you face due to your case not being resolved?
I cannot travel abroad without the permission of the court. No fewer than 14 judges have changed since the case against me was filed in a court of law here. Is this freedom of the judiciary? I often ask why the judiciary treats offenders like this. Are Indian authorities indirectly supporting separatism? People say some of the separatists are on the payroll of Indian agencies.
Many believe the separatists do not want a resolution, because their political power and financial well-being depend on the conflict. What do you think of those allegations?
Separatists are active at the behest of an entity that has occupied part of Kashmir’s territory. The two occupying countries are engaged in a proxy war in Kashmir. Both have hired agents in Kashmir. Obviously, the hired agents have no qualms of conscience and that is the reason why they are the most corrupt politicians one can imagine. They have no cause and no commitment. It is true that, through their clandestine role, they have found their identity. Otherwise they are nondescript persons. Pakistani TV profiles them in larger-than-life size. How many of them are on the payroll of the ISI is anybody’s guess. Therefore, why should not the Pakistani media give them wide publicity?
How is the separatist movement going to benefit local Kashmiris when it comes to economic development?
Separatists have a one-track agenda of forcing J&K into chaos and turmoil. They are wedded to the agenda of disruption in Kashmir. They are fighting Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir. All of their energy is focused on disruption of peace in Kashmir. Security forces and local rulers, when acting inconsiderately, give them the occasion to pursue their agenda of disruption through calls for hartals and protest rallies. If a policy with a human face is pursued, as was done by Atal Behari Vajpayee, it could make a big difference. The separatists would be cut to size.
What is the vision for Jammu region as a part of independent Kashmir?
We nationalists in both parts of the state believe that Maharaja Gulab Singh is the father of the state, extending from Lakhanpur to Damchok in Ladakh. We are for empowering the regions and sub-regions so that they are themselves handling income and expenditure and planning and investment. We even want that power should filter down to local bodies. This is our interpretation of devolution of power in J&K state. The Jammu region and its sub-regions will enjoy a full measure of autonomy. No region or sub-region will have any complaint of discrimination because the very cause of discrimination will be eliminated.
How do you see Masarat Alam’s anti-India sloganeering and support for the Pakistani administration? Isn’t he choosing to ignore the ignominy that the “Azad Kashmir” population has been subjected to by the Pakistani administration?
Masarat was unknown until 2010. He has been released on the basis of Indian law. The Governor of the state ordered his release. The BJP and the Indian media gave the incident extraordinary publicity. If Masarat had spent millions of dollars, he would not have got the media hype which he got through the Indian media. When they projected him as an associate of Hafiz Saeed, the euphoric youth in Kashmir felt the impulse to jump on his bandwagon.
How do you see the new leadership of Kashmir, the BJP-PDP coalition? What is the JKDLP message to these two coalition partners with regard to the Kashmir discourse?
Pakistan did not want a coalition government to be formed in the state. They were for the alienation of Jammu. I published an article in those days arguing that if any coalition government other than that of PDP and BJP was formed, it would spell disaster. It would serve as fuel for separatism. If the BJP had made a coalition with the NC or Congress, that would have been disastrous. The PDP-BJP coalition is helpful for strengthening secularism and territorial integrity of the state. But they have the Common Minimum Programme and if it fails to solve the problems of the people, the coalition cannot survive.
Considering the growing terrorism and threat from Pakistan and China to the Valley, is there any alternative to AFSPA?
AFSPA is a psychological issue for the people in the Valley. Regrettably, there are black sheep in the rank and file of the security forces who break the law. We have seen killings in Ganderbal, Hawal, Bijbehara and we have also seen the loss of 127 lives in 2010. No law allows shooting at a stone-pelting youth and that too above the legs. People hate AFSPA. No country likes to curb terrorism by resorting to inhuman methods. It is a dangerous law. By withdrawing AFSPA and PSA, the government can considerably reduce the propaganda force of Pakistan.
How do you see the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits? Do you believe they have a say in the preservation of Kashmiriyat in the Valley?
Without Kashmiri Pandits, we Kashmiris are incomplete. They have made glorious contributions in bringing education to the masses in Kashmir. My teachers were Kashmiri Pandits. In two articles that are available on my blog (www.hashimqureshi-jkdlp.blogsport.in) I give a formula for their return and rehabilitation on a just, viable and humanitarian basis.
Can you briefly outline your thoughts?
Pandits, when back in the Valley, cannot be comfortable in isolated townships. There will be many problems like security, socialisation, inter-community interaction and, above all, restoration of mutual confidence. Separate townships will be a temptation for the militants. Life lived under a fear psychosis is no life. Separate townships means keeping them in prisons. That is foolishness. Brisk interaction is needed to remove the clouds of hatred.
What do you think is a permanent solution to the Kashmir conflict?
The responsibility lies with India, Pakistan and the world leadership. This is no unipolar world today. One cannot close one’s eyes to Pakistan playing a role in Kashmir. India will not give and Pakistan cannot take. Thus, Kashmir remains a flashpoint in the sub-continent. Let all stakeholders sit round a table and focus on making Kashmir a neutral zone like Switzerland. India, Pakistan and China, the three claimants to the territory, must, under the aegis of the UN, guarantee the neutrality of Jammu and Kashmir. This conflict has made the entire region hostage to many negative developments including wars, conspiracies and economic disabilities.