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Hizb claims non-Muslims are joining it

rediff.com Foreign Affairs Bureau | September 06, 2003 02:51 IST

Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, has confirmed that hundreds of non-Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir have started joining Muslim 'freedom fighters' in the Kashmir valley, claims The Friday Times.

This confirmation follows a report by the BBC's Urdu service that six non-Muslim Kashmiris have joined the Kashmiri separatist outfit.

'Not only are the Hezb's non-Muslim Kashmiri cadres fighting the Indian forces along with Muslim militants, they are also providing shelter and guidance to the militants and acting as arms couriers,' says the Times.

"Hezb-ul Mujahideen is the true representative of Kashmir's freedom struggle and has morphed into a national organisation. The BBC report simply endorses this fact," Salahuddin told the paper. But "let me clarify that there are not just six non-Muslim Kashmiris. Their strength runs into hundreds. They joined the ranks of Muslim freedom fighters many years ago."

Salahuddin also expressed astonishment at the BBC's disclosure. "I'm really surprised at how they found that out! Hezb men keep their identity strictly secret to protect their families from the atrocities of Indian forces."

While the Indian high commission in Islamabad refused to react to the BBC report, a spokesman said, "Does Salahuddin have any evidence to substantiate the presence of non-Muslim militants in the HM? Ask him to provide us evidence and we will respond accordingly."

To this, Hizb spokesman Salim Hashmi said: "HM's supreme commander is very clear on it, ie, the identity of the non-Muslim freedom fighters cannot be disclosed due to obvious reasons. As far as evidence is concerned, the biggest proof is the martyrdom of Kuldeep Kumar."

Kuldeep Kumar alias Akhtar Ansari was a Hindu Hizb member. He was killed in an encounter with troops of the Rashtriya Rifles in Chatter Gali, Bhaderwah, on March 17. His elder brother is said to be the Hizb's sector commander.

Kumar's parents refused to accept his body. Police later handed it over to local Muslims who buried him with honour. It was for the first time in the 13 year history of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir that a Hindu militant was buried, not cremated, says the paper. 

Kumar, the paper says, was a 'divisional commander', third in position of seniority in the Hizb hierarchy.

After Salahuddin, number two in the Hizb heirarchy is 'operational commander-in-chief' Ghazi Naseeruddin. Then come the eight divisional commanders. The divisional commanders are also members of the 'field command council', a supreme body consisting of top Hizb extremists.

Reacting to the issue of 'evidence' raised by the Indian high commission, Salahuddin said the Kashmiri 'freedom struggle' enjoys the unstinted support and cooperation of the non-Muslim population of the state. "They are enthusiastically joining us and increasing our strength. This development is known to the Indian agencies. That's why they have been attacking non-Muslims and blaming HM for those attacks. They've played Holi with the blood of non-Muslims in Chattisinghpura, Wandhama Ganderbal, Nadimarg and Pulwama."

But the paper also quotes Indian journalist Praveen Swami of Frontline as saying that "to the best of my knowledge, only one such Hindu militant has surfaced in all these years. Certainly there is no record of a Hindu terrorist having been killed or surrendered. I understand he basically became close to the Hizb because of some personal problems, and also the glamour of the whole thing.

"However, Hindus in rural areas of Jammu have a very peculiar relationship with the jihadi groups. Like Muslims, Hindu villagers shelter the jihadis because they have no choice in the matter. Often, they are used to ferry rations and so on, because if the army catches Hindus it treats them better than it does Muslims. Basically, whether Hindu or Muslim, no villager wants trouble with people carrying guns.

"Hindus in Jammu have also been involved in running guns and explosives for the jihadi groups. The background to this is that the Jammu border had a well-entrenched smuggling tradition. In the early 1990s, after gold decontrol and liberalization in India, the traditional goods smuggled had no market any more. The smugglers then turned to heroin, which let the ISI put a lot of pressure on them to run guns along with drugs. In 2001, three Hindu and Sikh smugglers, Kuldeep Kumar, Balkar Singh and Surinder Singh, were arrested for carrying such explosives. Hindus have also routinely been involved in handling hawala funds for the jihadi groups in New Delhi," Swami said

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