April 6, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Abdul Majid Dar, Chief Commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen

'We will support any serious attempt to solve the Kashmir issue'

Special Correpondent Josy Joseph speaks to Abdul Majid Dar, Chief Commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen. A Rediff exclusive.

I stood in the early morning chill, at the pre-decided spot in a corner of Srinagar. The city was just waking up, public transport buses stood mute by the corner and there was almost no traffic on the road.

I was there because of a phone call the night before. A contact had informed me that Salar-e-Ala or the Chief Commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Valley's most wanted militant, Abdul Majid Dar had agreed to meet me the following morning.

I had been working through my contacts in the Valley for over two weeks to meet Dar -- the commander of the biggest militant group -- and believed to be among the few saner elements in the armed movement.

A few minutes after I reached the spot, a middle-aged bearded man came by in a rickety scooter, and asked for my identity. The moment I identified myself, he asked me to sit pillion with him. He again stopped his scooter for a moment, and asked me about the contents of my bag. I was asked to leave my camera behind. We then drove off into the winding roads of the city.

After many a turns through roads that seemed to lead to a maze, the scooter stopped in front of a two-storeyed building. I was briskly ushered inside. As I sat down in silence with my hosts, Abdul Majid Dar walked in. Pleasant and smiling, he shook hands and hugged me warmly. The straight hair was combed backwards, exposing his broad temples. I noticed that the appearance of the tall and well built man, had changed a lot from the last time he was seen in public -- when the Hizbul Mujahideen declared the cease-fire of July 2000.

Over a cup of tea -- in a conversation that lasted almost two hours -- we discussed his entry into militancy, his organization, the future of Jammu & Kashmir and some bare truths about militant attacks.

Abdul Majid Dar spoke in Hindi, with a heavy mix of Urdu. Though he laughed occasionally, his voice was devoid of any emotion.

How did you enter militancy?

The movement for the right of self-determination was going on under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah. At that period we were studying in primary school, the atmosphere was one of daily hartals (strikes), demonstrations etc. It had an impact on me. At home we used to hear stories about these processions, demonstrations etc.

I was born in this atmosphere and grew up in these circumstances. So it was obvious that it had an impact on us. As time passed, I also joined the movement, and served it according to my age, and stature.

In 1974-75 when the Indira-Abdullah accord was signed there were protests almost in the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir. I am from Sopore, and till then the National Conference was the most influential party there. But then, the Jamaat-I-Islami came up, with Syed Ali Shah Geelani as its leader. He was also an MLA.

The Jamaat took a stand against the accord, Geelani was personally organizing demonstrations and protests. At that time I ran a dry cleaning shop. I too believed that the accord was cheating us. So, I started supporting Geelani and the Jamaat.

So you became a member of the Jamaat?

Not a member, but I started supporting them and their activities. The protests continued. The Jamaat leadership adopted a democratic line of action against Sheikh Abdullah. The Jamaat participated in the elections, and I supported them. I was actively involved with Geelani's election campaigns. During that time, I even went to jail several times. Sometimes for an entire year.

When did you first go to jail?

I don't remember exactly, but sometime in 1972. At times I was taken to the interrogation centres, and interrogated for months. Sometime we were taken to jails -- Jammu jail, Srinagar central jail. I have breathed that air several times. Sometimes, the Public Safety Act -- the draconian law here -- was used on most of us, including young boys.

Most of the time, the reasons for our detention were very unconvincing, and outrageous. To strengthen the case, we were charged under false cases. We were cruelly treated in lockups. Our freedom was snatched away from us for even the slightest of reasons.

This led to hatred in us, creating an urge to revolt. During that time, we coordinated with friends and several colleagues to take our agitation forward in a democratic manner. The agitation continued like this. Then came the election of 1987. The Muslim United Front had been formed by then.

You weren't a candidate. But you were active?

I was not a candidate but during the election, I played an important role. I was a member of the central committee of the MUF.

...Along with Syed Salahuddin, your present supremo?

No, he was not there. The Amir-e-Jamaat (the chief of Jamaat) Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, among others were members. I was representing a local Sopore based oragnisation.

So you had an active role in the election?

I remained very active in the election. The world knows how blatantly rigged it was... Candidates who were winning were declared defeated, including our Salahuddin saheb. Polling and counting agents were arrested in large numbers, and sent to jail. Such abominable actions took place.

So at that time, I too was targeted by the police, they were on my trail. I went underground for sometime but ultimately, I along with some others, was arrested and sent to Hira Nagar jail. I was there for almost a year. Then a high court appeal was filed against our detention. The court upheld the appeal and quashed the premises on which we were arrested and set us free.

And that was the turning point in your career?

This MUF election completely changed the scenario. I was in jail, but those outside decided to take to armed struggle. Some went to Afghanistan. The security personnel used to enter the homes of many youngsters and treated their mothers, sisters and wives in an uncivil way. There was a friend of ours Abdul Hameed Sheikh, who attained martyrdom. Yaseen Malik etc were with Salahuddin saheb. Sheikh was arrested by the police and they asked him if he was supporting Salahuddin. There were many like him. It emerged then that there was no way out apart from an armed struggle. There was no freedom to speak out.

So the militant movement had started while I was in jail itself. When I came out of jail, I had no other way but to join the militant movement. Because there was no space left for a democratic line of action.

The Government of India and the then state government put an end to all democratic ways of protest. They left no room. In one way, they pushed the entire state, especially the youth into militancy. When I came back, police raids had started and one of the first raids was at my home. It was just six days after my release. Luckily, I was not home. If I had been arrested again, I don't know how many more years would I have spent in jail.

I had gone to some relative's place when the raid took place. The police had broken items at home, my sisters and the children were treated badly. Their suitcases were damaged.

Were you married then?

Yes. I was married much before that. My children, my brother's two sons, they were all ill-treated. The BSF men kicked the two boys with their boots. I had no choice, but join the militant movement. They were searching for me, I had to remain underground. And to remain underground, it was imperative for me to join those who were already underground.

Even then, even after we started militancy, our attempt was to put an end to it, because there were many who joined us who had no idea of what we were fighting for. Or why we had taken up arms, and its impacts. Many among us died.

And there were many who were planted in the movement, who committed human rights violations against ordinary people. Our attempt was to steer the militancy in the right direction, not to commit human right violations, not to mistreat people. There were some who were mistreating people, torturing people. They later, anyway, became Ikhwanis (pro-government militants), it was they that did a maximum of such violations. This was not the aim of the movement.

Which was the group that you joined first? The Hizbul Mujahideen?

No. It was a local outfit. I first joined the Teherki-jihad-Islami. After one year we merged it with the Hizbul Mujahideen.

And you went to Pakistan for training?

No. For the first three years, I remained here. We merged the TJI with the Hizbul Mujahideen later. For the next two years I remained here, organizing the Hizbul cadres. I went to Pakistan in 1993.

Was it for training?

No. I took over the Hizbul Mujahideen group there. It was the decision of the organization.

And when did you return?

I came back for the first time in August 1996.

Have you been here since?

No. In 1997, I went back to Pakistan. I remained there till last year. In May 2000, I came back and took over.

If you had an option would you have avoided an armed struggle?

The question is not about my family, and myself. It concerns the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir. What option can there be?

Tell me, in the late 80s, would you have avoided taking to arms?

At that time there was no concept of militancy in J&K at all. We were searching for a political solution. Even now, we are in favour of a negotiated settlement. The situation was thrust upon us. We -- both myself and Salahuddin -- have been repeating that we are in favour of a negotiated settlement.

What is your reaction to the appointment of KC Pant as the chief negotiator? The government has said that it will not talk to the Hizbul Mujahideen. (The Union Government said Thursday that it is willing to enter into a dialogue with militants 'desirous of peace.')

Let them talk to us or not. That is immaterial. The issue is not that. If there are any serious attempts to solve the issue of Kashmir -- whether the Hizbul is directly involved or not -- we will support it. But it must be a sincere effort.

What are your basic goals?

Our basic goal is that the people should get the right to decide their future.

Plebiscite? That is not a solution, is it?

Let there be tripartite talks, involving Pakistan, India and the Kashmiri people. We are ready to accept any solution acceptable to all the three sides, even if it is something new. There is no hard and fast line for us beyond which we are not ready to go. We say that we don't need to take such a stiff position.

Still, you might have some goals as an organisation?

Our goal is that the people should be given their right to self-determination, a chance to decide their future. It is a direct democratic way, the very fundamental right of the people.

Is that the end? Is plebiscite a means as far as the Kashmiri groups are concerned?

Yes, that is not the end. Now the issue has been complicated. If a particular solution is not acceptable to India, or to Pakistan, or to the international community, then the three parties should sit down and negotiate other possible solutions: a solution that is in the interest of the Kashmiri people.

How many cadres does the Hizbul have now?

Even today, we have the largest number of cadres in Kashmir.

A few thousand?

It is in thousands, there is no doubt about that. They are working everywhere. Active.

What is the percentage of the Kashmiris?

Almost the entire cadre is Kashmiri. May be 3, 4, or 5 per cent could be outsiders.

Are most foreigners Afghans?

Not necessarily. They could come from anywhere. But basically, our cadres are Kashmiri.

How much international support are you getting for your jehad?

As of today, there is no international support. Each one has their own compulsions, their interests. If there was international support the problem would have been solved long back. In reality, it was the international community which made it so difficult for the Kashmiris. The international community has no feelings. At every level, every place they have their own interests, and they work according to that. That dictates their view of the issue.

No concerns at all?

Yes, they don't bother about the oppression that is taking place here, how much blood is being spilled, how many people have died... There is no concern at all. Earlier, during the Cold War, if the Americans said something, the Russians vetoed them. At that time the Russians wanted to keep India within their control, Americans wanted to keep Pakistan in theirs. The Cold War situation left no concern for the Kashmiri problem. But now that the Cold War is over, it is unipolar, and they look at issues with their own interests. Not with a human perspective. There are more than a crore of people here who are trapped. They (the international community) doesn't think how we can be saved.

What kind of support do you draw from the Muslim communities in other countries?

There is a sense of compassion.

And financially?

We don't take anything directly.

How are you funded then?

A lot of people, individually, keep on funding us.

What about Kashmiris outside?

Both, from outside and inside Kashmir. We get money from all over the world.

According to the Indian intelligence you are funded by the ISI?

Ask them, how true that is. I don't know.

Pakistan doesn't give you any money?

I am sitting here. For me, my people give money. I don't take money from Pakistan.

But Pakistan openly says that they are supporting your movement.

The people of Pakistan do give money. They openly collect money. In recent times there has been some controversy after the interior minister opposed the open collection of funds. They wanted to stop it, but people still give.

How many training camps do you have?

This is not a regular army that requires permanent training camps. If you keep a boy with the group for 10 days, he will get trained. It is not such a big thing. There is no need for a big training camp.

How many people approach you every year to join your organisation?

We can get as many people as we need. A lot of youngsters come to us. There is no shortage.

Aren't your old cadres getting bored, tired of having lived a decade of their life underground, and are leaving the movement?

It is not a big issue. Some people do leave, it is human nature. Some get tired and just sit back. Some have been fighting for 10-11 years.

You have people who have been fighting for 10-11 years?

Yes, very much. The first example is here, I am before you. So many youngsters have come to us, we are not able to accommodate them and just keep them in reserve. There is no problem of human material. (One of the few English words used by Dar.)

The present culture is to have fidayeen (suicide) squads. Do you have them?

No. As a policy we have not accepted it.

Are you planning to induct them? Isn't it very effective and high profile to carry out fidayeen attacks?

Yes, it is highly effective, there is no doubt about it. But some of our colleagues don't think this is right. From an Islamic point of view, taking your own life (suicide), is wrong. Some believe it is against our religious beliefs.

So the Hizbul is not planning fidayeen attacks?

No. In fact there is no necessity for us.

Do people come to you, ready to serve as fidayeen?

Yes, several. Some have in fact done that. When they get a chance, they fight very fiercely and give up their lives. But to put your life deliberately in such a situation from where there is no return is not a concept that we have accepted.

There is a feeling that the Hizbul has been lying low in recent times.

I don't know on what basis are you saying this. Please look at the media reports here. Compare the Hizbul Mujahideen and other tanzeems(groups). The Hizbul is much ahead.

Could you tell me some of your recent hits?

One brigadier... colonel etc... recently.

So your cadres attacked Brigadier Bikram Singh's convoy and killed Colonel Jaanu?

Who else? It was in Islamabad (The other name given to Anantnag by locals).

Someone posed as an egg seller and opened fire on the convoy? He too died, isn't it?

Yes. He too died.

The army claims that he was an ex-serviceman from Pakistan?

No, he was not a retired military personnel. He was a local. Besides, we keep on carrying out a lot of action. In fact, the Hizbul has focussed more on mine warfare.

Improvised explosive device etc?

Yes. That is highly effective, and the human loss is very less... minimum.

Where do you get IEDs?

We make it ourselves. Our people have so much expertise. We can do it without anyone's assistance, including Pakistan's.

Including a remote?

Yes. We have trained our boys.

Do you have any foreign trained boys for making IEDs? I mean from western universities etc?

No. But we had a Sudanese boy -- an engineer. His name was Ibne Masood. He achieved martyrdom in Sopore, four-five years back. He was a chemical engineer, and he trained a lot of people.

Where do you get your explosives, chemicals and weapons from?

From the market.

Market where?

Whatever you need, you will get here. Explosives are used in tonnes here, and even if we want to bring them from Pakistan it is impossible. It is not very easy to bring so much weight through such heights. It is 13,000-14,000 feet high, where even oxygen is scarce. So how will one carry so much weight?

So who controls the arms market here?

These are things that I cannot discuss now. I cannot make them public before you, because all our work depends on that.

Here, where scandals like Tehelka exist, it is not very difficult to get explosives, or material for this. Much bigger work gets done here.

So your focus is mostly on IEDs, mines?

Yes, but we also do other work.

Continued: 'We are ready for a cease-fire if the GoI is sincere'
The second part of Josy Joseph's interview with Abdul Majid Dar.


Salah-ud-Din wanted Dar to postpone Hizb ceasefire offer
Hizb hopes talks will resume soon, says Dar
Hizb commander wants talks to continue

Design: Dominic Xavier

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