“Kashmir has always been a secular place”

Aasha Khosa | December 24, 2014


Hashim Qureshi, militant-turned-peacenik
Hashim Qureshi, militant-turned-peacenik

What change you have seen in Kashmir during the last 14 years?
The biggest change is that the Kashmiri people have realised that the gun is their enemy. It is clear now that they are not cut out for the gun culture and violence. The fact is that the Indian army and security forces have seized nearly 95,000 guns and ammunition from militant organisations. This is a huge quantity that many national armies may not have. When such a huge arsenal could not help the Kashmiri fighters, we should accept that people in Kashmir are mentally and culturally not prepared for violence. Besides, the presence of even a single gun in the valley is a reason enough for the Indian government to continue the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act [AFSPA] in Kashmir – so [that] the gun is out of the scene and also the minds of the people.

Does it mean the overwhelming sentiment for secession from India is over for the Kashmiri people?

One should see what happens when a militant is killed in Kashmir. Thousands of people join his funeral procession. Some of them don’t even know him or his family. Now, what does one make of this outpouring of grief and support? But the fact is that militancy is no longer a mass movement. Now you have only few, but more ideologically committed, militants – mostly well educated and from well-heeled families.

Does religion bind people with militants and the secessionist cause even today?

Kashmir has always been a secular place. How many Kashmiris do you see in Al Qaeda or ISIS [the Islamic State]? But, yes, Pakistan has used the people in the name of religion. Today, nearly 95 percent of recruits in Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are Pakistanis. There are some smart brains working in Pakistan – they know that it is difficult to fight a conventional war against India. So they are using Lashkar as their frontline against India. Pakistan is using terror and religion intelligently. I have cut my teeth in the extremist ideology, but 35 years later I too accept the fact that all wars end at the negotiating table.

What angers the youth of Kashmir today?
There is huge unrest among the youth. The reasons are clear: some 8-9 lakh of them are jobless. There is hardly any industry or big business in Kashmir to offer jobs and livelihood to them. What do they do if not resort to stone-pelting? Today, the youth is wondering why Kashmir is not developed; why for 60 years nobody had thought of widening the arterial Jammu-Srinagar national highway to keep Kashmir connected to the rest of the country all year. Kashmir has very little electricity despite having so much water that can produce enough power to supply to entire India. The youth are thinking on these lines and are agitated.

Are peaceniks like you relevant in today’s Kashmir?

I was jailed in Pakistan for 14 years for hijacking the Indian Airlines flight to Lahore. After my release, I left for the Netherlands where I studied world history. I realised that learning about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King makes one a perfect human being. Look at the world history – only those who worked for peace or welfare of humanity are revered even centuries after they are gone. Yes, people do remember Chengiz Khan, but only as a perpetrator of terror. One has to make a choice as to how one wants to be remembered.

An independent Kashmir is no option under the UN resolution, but moderates like you still hope for one.

India and Pakistan will have to understand that creating an independent Kashmir or the one with loose borders is the only viable solution to this complex problem. My fear is Pakistan will very soon try to divert terrorists from Waziristan, where its army is fighting a tough battle under international pressure, to Kashmir. They will be thousands of live human bombs who will unleash terror there. India has to look at
that in order to expedite a resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Kashmiri people were never consulted by India or Pakistan when they were fighting over Kashmir in the UN in 1947. Pakistan had paid money to the tribal raiders to attack Kashmir while the Indian army saved Kashmir from plunder and loot. Kashmiris welcomed the army and also raised slogans like “hamlavaar khabardaar, hum Kashmiri hein Tayyar” (Attackers, be warned, we the Kashmiris are ready to take on you) against the Pakistani intruders.

What has changed in Kashmir since for people to seek the army out?
It is a sense of injustice. Security forces are misusing their sweeping powers to randomly arrest people, particularly those coming from abroad. People with genuine documents are arrested. As against this, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s son recently returned after spending 14 years in Pakistan. He was not even touched.

What should be a major confidence-building measure for Kashmir from the Modi government?
Recent developments, like the army punishing its men for fake encounters, are a happy change. We need to build upon them. A reconciliation commission needs to be set up which should, first of all, probe into the reality of about 10,000 claimed disappearances during the years of insurgency. I know all these may not be people who are killed in fake encounters. Many have crossed over to Pakistan and settled in Rawalpindi, a good number of them have been killed by their guides while taking them across the border, and some might have died while crossing the border. But the truth must come out. This will be the biggest confidence-building measure from the centre to people of Kashmir.

Pakistan will not change its anti-India mindset. So what can India do?

My wife is a Pakistani and I have lived in that country for long. So I can sense the winds of change blowing over that country too. I remember in the 1970s, a Hindu was seen to be someone with horns in Pakistan. But today that perception has changed with the advent of satellite television. Even in India a channel like Zindagi which airs Pakistani soaps is received very well. The changing perceptions of people will force the two countries to resolve outstanding issues.

The interview appeared in December 16-31, 2014, issue

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