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'Nobody can hand me over to India'

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August 08, 2006
The Kashmir issue can never be resolved through talks, believes Syed Salahuddin, leader of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen terrorist group, and chairman of the Jihad Council, an umbrella outfit comprising over a dozen Kashmiri terrorist groups.

Salahuddin -- whose real name is Syed Mohammad Yusuf Shah -- is on a list of people India wants extradited from Pakistan in order to sustain the Indo-Pak peace process.

Born in Soibug village in Budgam district, 15 km from Srinagar [Images], in December 1946, Salahuddin's maternal grandfather Gulla Saheb was a wellknown spiritual figure who took interest in his education and upbringing. His father Ghulam [Images] Rasool Shah was a farmer.

Salahuddin composed poetry in English, became an impressive debater and got a first class in Inter Science (now Class 12), but failed to get admission in a medical college.

He graduated in arts from the SP College and received a master's degree in political science from the University of Kashmir in 1971. A year later, he was appointed Amir-e-Tehsil in Budgam and later the Chief Nazime-Aala of the Tehreek-i-Talabe, the Jammat-e-Islami's students wing.

In 1986, he was appointed district Amir Jammat-e-Islami, Srinagar, and got a ticket for the assembly election in March 1987 as a candidate of the Muslim United Front, which later transformed into the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. Just before the votes were counted, he was arrested along with other MUF campaigners. He was released from prison after nine months. Thereafter, he drifted into militancy and in April 1991, was appointed supreme commander of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen.

In an exclusive interview with Mohammad Shehzad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Salahuddin dares Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf [Images] to extradite him to India.

The Musharraf regime has taken some unbelievable U-turns like ditching the Taliban and throwing Dr A Q Khan into the dustbin. How would you react if it took a U-turn on you?

Pakistan's security, defence and sovereignty is strongly linked with all the freedom fighters of Kashmir.

India's demand that 'Salahuddin' or any other mujahid is handed over to them is absurd because 'Salahuddin' is living on his land, Azad Kashmir, which is a liberated part of Jammu and Kashmir [Images].

Therefore, every Kashmiri has the right to live either in Occupied (what Pakistanis call Jammu and Kashmir) Kashmir or Azad (Pakistan-occupied) Kashmir.

Every Kashmiri can cross the khooni lakeer (the Line of Control). Therefore, it is impossible for the Musharraf regime to take a U-turn on me.

But we thought that a U-turn was not possible on Afghanistan, on A Q Khan. Mullah Zaeef, the former ambassador of the Taliban, was arrested and handed over to the US. If the Musharraf regime was to hand you over to India or the US, what would you do?

Mullah Zaeef was a different case. He was an Afghan national. He was on Pakistan's territory. I am a Kashmiri. Till this moment, the international community acknowledges Azad Kashmir as part of Kashmir. It recognises the legal, diplomatic, political and moral standing of Kashmiris. The Taliban did not enjoy such privilege.

On the Kashmir issue, the Musharraf regime cannot take a u-turn.

Of late you have been accusing the Musharraf regime of taking a U-turn on Kashmir...

That is a different thing. Kashmir is an indigenous movement. Pakistan is a party to it. It is Pakistan's responsibility to provide every kind of support to this movement -- although till to date Pakistan has been giving it diplomatic, moral and political support.

We want Pakistan to initiate military intervention in Kashmir just like India. It is a different issue that Pakistan does not do so. Pakistan is justified to do so. Kashmiris are disgruntled with Pakistan for not initiating military intervention.

You should not be over-optimistic. The Musharraf regime is capable of doing anything...

I have full faith that nobody can take a U-turn on Kashmir. Nobody can hand me over to India.

What gives you this faith?

I have this faith because my living in Azad Kashmir is like living in occupied Kashmir. I am justified in living in Azad Kashmir. No law in the world can make anyone extradite me.

What has your 'jihad' in Kashmir achieved so far?

The Kashmiris have been fighting 750,000 Indian troops for the last 16 years. Despite having state-of-the-art weapons including the atom bomb, the Indians have failed to cause a slightest dent in our movement. Now the Indian generals are telling the Indian leaders that there is no military solution to Kashmir.

India is spending Rs 52 crores per day in Kashmir. Keep in mind that more than 45 crore people live below the poverty line in India.

India's economy is becoming stronger and its reputation is improving. The US is signing a nuclear deal with India. India has become the hub of IT technology. On the other hand, Pakistan's reputation is at its lowest ebb.

I agree that Pakistan's reputation is falling down; that the Indian economy is improving; that the US is signing a nuclear deal with India. But does all this mean that we should give up our stance on Kashmir? We -- the Kashmiris -- have only one option. To do or die!

So you think the Kashmir issue will be resolved only through jihad? All international disputes were resolved through a political process.

India, including the international community that has (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair, (US President George) Bush, (French President Jacques) Chirac and (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel, have wasted the opportunity of political dialogue by not responding to General Musharraf's Confidence Building Measures.

The international community did not support Musharraf. It supported India. The role of the international community is condemnable.

So what will happen now?

We are above 'what will happen!' We will continue to fight the Indians and make sacrifices. Our conviction is we will liberate Kashmir through jihad like Afghanistan.

There are no American dollars behind the Kashmir 'jihad'...

American dollars arrived when jihad gained roots in Afghanistan. Before that, the mujahideen sold their goats to buy weapons. Kashmir will never be resolved through talks.

So what are the options?

Pakistan should provide Kashmiris 'substantial support'.

What do you mean by 'substantial support?'

The entire world knows what 'substantial support' is. It does not require an explanation. It should be in addition to diplomatic, political and moral support -- to make this movement meaningful.

How long will this 'substantial support' resolve the Kashmir issue?

One year, five years, ten years, hundred years... Decades don't matter in freedom movements. They go on for centuries. We are very close to freedom. India has realised that if Kashmir is not resolved soon, the militancy will spiral out of Kashmir and spread to other parts of the country.

Who is financing your movement?

The Kashmiris! There are more than 5 million Kashmiris living around the world. They are supporting our cause.

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