ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should not get carried away by the upcoming photo opportunity with the Indian premier in New York; instead, he should press for meaningful talks on the core Kashmir issue which is the mother of all disputes between the two countries, Kashmiri Hizbul Mujahideen Chief Syed Salahuddin said on Friday.
“Please be brave as you are the leader of a strong nuclear power and don’t talk to India apologetically from a position of self-imposed weakness as Pakistan will get nothing out of it,” Salahuddin cautioned Premier Nawaz Sharif in an exclusive interview with The Nation from an undisclosed location.
Salahuddin, is a migrant from Kashmir valley. Sharif, the third-time premier of Pakistan, is also a Kashmiri whose forefathers migrated to Punjab even before the creation of Pakistan.
“Please don’t be too optimistic about India. Talk to the Indians from a position of strength, and they will come to your terms and some mutually acceptable middle ground,” the top Kashmiri militant commander declared. At the same time, he stressed that Pakistan should provide military, political and moral support to Kashmiris without any fear of international pressure as it was a legitimate struggle.
Salahuddin, however, dispelled the impression that Kashmiri militant organisations wanted to derail the Pakistan-India peace process. “Let me be very clear. We are not against peace talks with India, but they should be result-oriented and Kashmir-centric,” he declared. He added, “We will support the peace talks subject to the condition that Kashmiris, India and Pakistan should sit on one table.”
Salahuddin has been heading for many years Muttahida Jihad Council (MJC), an umbrella organisation of all Kashmiri groups who seek freedom through armed struggle against India.
Many would find it surprising that Salahuddin, a politician-turned militant commander, contested the Kashmir Assembly election in 1987 from Amirakadal constituency in Srinagar as a Muslim United Front candidate, but a massive rigging prompted him to look for other options as he was arrested and jailed for two years.
A strong critic of Pervez Musharraf, Salahuddin feels he alone did a major damage to the Kashmiri struggle by presenting a meaningless dialogue formula to India on Kashmir.
Although he will not spell out specifically, the Hizbul Mujahideen leader wanted to make the world realise that Kashmiri freedom struggle should not be labelled as a pan-Islamic or an Al-Qaeda-pattern movement.
“We don’t want the world to see us as hardline militants or terrorists; we are freedom fighters who want to liberate their homeland from the brutal clutches of India. The world should acknowledge our pains, sufferings and sacrifices,” he stressed.
Pinning little hopes on the ongoing back channel or formal talks between India and Pakistan, Salahuddin said India was feeling the heat of uncontrollable public opinion against it inside Kashmir amidst some international focus coupled with military actions by freedom fighters, so it was again playing the negotiation card with Pakistan. Around 155 rounds of bilateral talks were held between India and Pakistan, but the Kashmir issue never became part of the real negotiations, Salahuddin said. “I can challenge Pakistani leadership doesn’t raise Kashmir seriously with India in bilateral talks,” he claimed. For 31 years, he complained, no Pakistani representative raised the Kashmir issue in the United Nations Security Council. “Our diplomatic missions failed to raise the issue with force at the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the UN foras”.
“The Indians magnify their military might and use delaying tactics when they see they can’t keep Kashmir forever. Their unrealistic behaviour is a major impediment in the way of talks on the issue. If India doesn’t consider Kashmir as a disputed territory, then what are we negotiating? Our leadership should first force the Indian leadership to take into account the ground realities,” the Kashmiri militant commander stressed. Kashmir, he maintained, was a tri-partite issue, but India was trying to portray it as a border dispute between the two countries, and end its status as an international dispute was still unresolved by the United Nations.
“It is neither a border dispute between India and Pakistan, nor an internal security problem of India. It is the matter of future of over 130 million Kashmiris and cannot be resolved by the two governments,” he said.
The Kashmiri militant commander defended the armed struggle against Indian forces and cross-border movement along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Born in 1946 in central Kashmir’s Soibugh village, Salahuddin studied political science at Kashmir University, Srinagar, where he joined Jamaat e Islami and became its Srinagar district president. He delivered Friday sermons at a mosque outside the Civil Secretariat Srinagar and had a large following.
“Kashmiris migrated to Pakistan in 1947, in 1965 and in 1990s due to Indian atrocities. They have houses, lands, businesses, relatives and near and dear ones in Indian side of the valley. Does it make them aliens and foreigners? Am I not a Kashmiri? So Lashkar-e-Taiba and militant people belong to migrated families and have a legitimate right to wage struggle against Indian occupation,” he contended.
Salahuddin hinted at a major change in the strategy of Kashmiri militants, which caused border tension between the two countries. Attacks on Indian border posts and cantonments would continue, he vowed. “We don’t operate in cities, urban areas and towns as we don’t want the civilians to suffer. We attack border posts, supply lines and cantonments,” he concluded.