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|June 27, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/Hashim Qureshi
Hashim Qureshi will always be known as the man who hijacked an Indian Airlines Fokker Friendship plane from Srinagar to Lahore in 1971 and blew it up after releasing its passengers.
After 30 years in exile in Holland, he returned to Kashmir, having launched his own party, the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party.
With the assembly election scheduled to be held shortly in J&K and the government working overtime to ensure the participation of at least some of the separatists, Qureshi told Basharat Peer, "I am ready to contest the elections."
What is the agenda of your party?
We are struggling for a united pre-1947 independent Jammu & Kashmir. Once that happens, whatever is acceptable to the people will be acceptable to us. Our agenda is that of a secular J&K. We do not believe in the politics of religion or caste.
You hijacked an Indian Airlines plane in 1971 and burnt it in Pakistan. That was the first major act of violence. Now you are talking of a peaceful struggle?
Hijackjing 'Ganga' was a mistake and I paid the price for it. I was imprisoned and tortured in Pakistan. I lived in exile after I was released by Pakistan. But that was my only violent act. I do not believe in violence anymore. Our struggle will be a non-violent one.
Do you have any branches in Pakistan or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir?
We have an alliance of sorts with the All-Party National Alliance in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which is headed by my leader Maqbool Bhat's son Showket Maqbool Bhat. They are working there against Pakistani occupation, we are working here against the Indian occupation of Kashmir. We will combine our struggle at some stage in the future.
What is your support base in Kashmir?
We have opened offices at the district level in all districts in the valley and in the Doda district in Jammu region. Since I have been released from jail only six months earlier, there is a lot to be done yet. But I am trying to educate the people, restore their self-esteem, sense of dignity.
Have you held any public rallies?
No. The people are frightened. Then I do not want to take chances. Any subversive element can attack a rally.
What about your own security?
Nobody is secure in Kashmir. I have received threats. [But] it is not necessary that some militant organisation will have problems with me. Those who could benefit from my death, including the National Conference, could be my murderers. Look at Abdul Gani Lone's death, it benefitted the National Conference.
It is the Kashmiri voices that have a problem. Farooq Abdullah is an Indian, [Syed Ali Shah] Geelani claims to be a Pakistani, and both of them are safe.
So you are hinting at the National Conference having problems with your presence in Kashmiri politics?
The National Conference does not want any political opposition in the valley. They do not want to give anyone space. The NC brings out posters and makes threatening telephone calls in the name of Lashkar-e-Tayiba. I think the roots of militancy lie in this approach and its bad governance.
So do you believe a change of government in Kashmir can bring peace?
If the Kashmir government is given to me or to some other responsible person, 80 per cent of the problem will be solved. For the rest, unless the Kashmir issue is resolved, it will not be over.
So would you contest the election to provide a political alternative?
I am ready to contest elections. Contesting elections is not contracting leprosy. My leader Maqbool Bhat always wanted an independent Kashmir, but he contested elections in PoK and took the oath of allegiance to Pakistan. That was a strategic move. But the government is still not accepting my application for Indian citizenship. I had acquired Dutch citizenship during the exile and want to take up Indian citizenship again.
Are there any other conditions you have?
Yes. The voter lists have not been updated. The names of the younger generation that grew up during these 12 years of turmoil are not on the list. They constitute 30 per cent of the voters. The election is a peace process, so the government should show some gesture and release all the detainees, withdraw cases against people and remove the bunkers. Most importantly, it should remove the National Conference government before the election.
The Hurriyat Conference is boycotting the polls. But the government has been saying the separatists should contest to prove their representative character. Comment.
Elections are a part of our struggle. We can help our suffering people by being in power. Those who are boycotting the elections are deceiving the people of Kashmir. They are letting the wolves rule them. It is important for the separatists to prove their representative character.
There has been speculation about you and Shabir Shah joining hands and forming an alliance to contest the election.
Shabir Shah is a good friend of mine. He recently called a meeting of 70-80 political activists, lawyers, former militants who are interested in the political process. I went to that meeting and we discussed the possibility of forming a united front. I am ready for that. He is yet to take a decision.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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