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The Rediff Interview/Maulana Fazlur Rehman
July 18, 2003
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan senator and leader of the hardline Jamait Ulema-e-Islam, surprised the Indian media when he said the Simla Agreement of 1972 could be the guiding principle for resolving the Kashmir problem.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in New Delhi, Rehman, who is in India on an invitation extended by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind denied he had spawned the Taliban in Afghanistan or had links with the banned terrorist outfit, the Harkat-ul Ansar.
If you had received two votes more, you could have been prime minister of Pakistan instead of Mir Zaffarullah Jamali. Do you regret missing the opportunity?
(Laughs) No, I do not regret losing to Jamali. In fact, when he was elected prime minister of Pakistan, I was the first to go across and congratulate him. I assured him of the full support of my party.
The moment you crossed over to India, you visited the Golden Temple. What was the purpose of your visit?
Do not read any meaning into my visit to the Golden Temple. It was merely a goodwill visit. I met the religious leaders there. We did not discuss anything.
Instead of coming to Delhi, you first went to Deoband [in Uttar Pradesh, where one of India's most famous Islamic seminaries is located]. Don't you think that was unusual?
Nothing unusual as far as I am concerned. I am not saying anything beyond that.
You are known for your hardline views on Afghanistan and led demonstrations against President Pervez Musharraf when he offered to support America in Afghanistan?
We are against American expansionism. We are against the use of power against the innocent people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Though the United States has been saying that Al Qaeda was behind the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001, the investigations are far from complete. No evidence has emerged that links Al Qaeda with the terrorist attacks in the US. Then why was a nation so heavily punished and bombarded by the Americans? They have taken over that country. They have installed their own man, Hamid Karzai, as president of Afghanistan.
The same thing happened in the case of Iraq. The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] says that it has no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and yet the Americans and British bombarded that country and took it over. India and Pakistan should work together to put an end to this American expansionism. Who knows where they would come next.
You are credited for founding the Taliban movement?
I deny this charge. This is a creation of the media and I have nothing to do with the Taliban. The Taliban were those who brought peace to Afghanistan and now the people of Afghanistan are asking where have those who brought peace in the state gone?
Do you have a formula for solving the Kashmir problem?
I am not speaking for those who are in power in Pakistan. So I leave it for them to sort out this matter with their Indian counterparts and solve it by sitting on the negotiating table.
Where has all the venom that you spewed against India gone?
The world has changed and we have to change too. Let us talk of peace and co-existence rather than of things in the past that are no longer relevant.
Why this sudden change?
This change is not sudden and it has come over the years. India and Pakistan must realize that if they keep on fighting like this, the Americans would benefit from our fights.
How can we solve the Kashmir issue? India insists Pakistan must stop cross-border terrorism and Pakistan is unwilling to do that.
Let me clarify that on this point I am with the Pakistan government. What you call cross-border terrorism is a freedom movement in our eyes. The people of Kashmir and the Mujahideen who are fighting want their right to live. I personally believe that the Simla Agreement provides us with the best framework to resolve the Kashmir problem.
Why do you think the Agra peace summit failed?
The Agra summit between Prime Minister [A B] Vajpayee and President Musharraf might have been inconclusive but it has not failed. The recent initiative taken by Prime Minister Vajpayee will pave the way to complete the process of talks and what could not be achieved in the Agra summit might now be possible.
So you feel the Simla Agreement could be the basis for finding a solution to the Kashmir problem?
I am convinced the Simla Agreement is the only framework of its kind through which the Kashmir problem that has been nagging both the countries can be sorted out. There should be no preconditions for starting a dialogue. India says remove the Mujahideen and Pakistan says the Indian Army should be removed. If one of the two takes place, then the Kashmir problem would automatically get solved.
Is it true that as political advisor of the Harkat-ul Ansar, you had offered to mediate to free the five foreigners kidnapped from Pahalgam in 1995?
I have nothing to do with Harkat-ul Ansar. I have never been its political advisor. I never offered to mediate between the kidnappers and Indian security forces. This is all a false and malicious propaganda and a creation of the media. The Jamait Ulema-e-Islam has never been associated with any jihadi organization at any point of time.
The situation in 1995 was different from one that exists today. Today we are all talking peace. Let us forget the past and talk peace so that the air of peace blows across the Indian continent.
What is the difference between your visit to India in 1995 and this visit?
The only difference is that this visit has come after eight years. I do not know why you are coming back to my visit in 1995.
Why is Islamic fundamentalism growing around the world?
Islam does not preach violence. Fundamentalism could breed in any part of the world. In India you have Hindu fundamentalists like the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. You have fundamentalists amongst Christians and Jews and so on.
You have not condemned the violence in Kashmir.
I do not support violence. Violence will end if the Kashmir problem is sorted out once and for all. Since the governments do not attend to the problems of the people soon and tend to prolong their miseries, there comes a stage when people get sick and tired of assurances and take things into their own hands. They pick up arms and that is why violence begins. The culture of violence would end if governments discharge their responsibilities.
Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images