January Issue 2005

By | People | Q & A | Published 18 years ago

“I have never been on Pakistan’s ‘favoured guests’ list”

– Yasin Malik, Chairman, JKLF

My first encounter with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman, Yasin Malik, was in October 2004 in Srinagar, at his residence in Maisuma, teeming with doctors, lawyers, educationists and party workers.

Brooding, silent, distant, he made no bones about the rage he felt at the Pakistani media team’s travel to Jammu and Kashmir on Indian visas. He felt it compromised the status of the disputed state and showed scant regard for the Kashmiri people’s freedom struggle.

We met again in December, this time in Delhi, at a conference of South Asians for Human Rights (SAFHR). He was visiting the capital to organise a photo exhibit of his signature collection campaign through 3000 villages of Jammu and Kashmir to gauge his own strength as a representative of the Kashmiris.

He has collected 1.4 million signatures so far.

Barely surprising, given that he is revered as a folk hero in some parts of J & K.

The only brother of three sisters, Malik, whose father was a government servant in Ladakh, began his quest for freedom in 1984, at age 18, as a student leader. But merciless beatings, intensive interrogations and several jail terms later, which left him deaf in one ear and damaged one of his heart valves, he took up the gun. “I came to the conclusion that there was no space for a non-violent political movement,” he says in his defence.

Incarcerated 200 times — “I’ve served time in every jail in the valley” — his spirit remains unbroken.

“I spent my time in jail catching up on my reading.” Around 2000 books on everything from philosophy, psychology and politics to poetry by personal favourites Rumi, Iqbal and Faiz to biographies of Yasser Arafat, Gandhi, Jinnah and Nelson Mandela, his all-time heroes.

His life has been no less eventful. One time, he jumped from the fourth floor of a building to escape security forces and was left for dead. No stranger to lathis and bullets, another time Yasin was involved in a shoot of another kind: a fashion shoot for a Japanese garments firm.

“I’ve been approached by 10,12 publishing firms to write my autobiography, but I’m not in the mood.” It’s early days still. The freedom struggle is not over — not yet. “If the Indo-Pak peace talks fail, we will continue with the struggle…”

Disdained by the Indian government and sidelined by the Pakistan establishment, Yasin Malik remains his angry, determined self…

Q: Do you expect any positive results from the ongoing Indo-Pakistan peace talks?

A: The talks have generated optimism among the people of India and Pakistan for the first time in 15 years. And the failure of these talks will be the biggest psychological setback for them. However, we believe Kashmiris should have been included in the dialogue process.

Q: If the talks were to fail, what would your next step be?

A: Our next step does not really matter. The liberation movement is a continuous process. We are in the struggle and we will remain in the struggle. But if this initiative can solve the Kashmir problem, it will be good for the people of Pakistan and India, and good for the people of Kashmir.

Q: There has been a very violent element to this struggle which post-September 11 and the war on terrorism, it is generally conjectured, will not be allowed to continue. You will have to agree to a political settlement…

A: Yes, after September 11, we’ve got a new ‘constitution’ from the international community which says: “No violence and a resolution of issues through peaceful means and a negotiated settlement.” So, now the responsibility lies with the international community. It is their moral obligation to help resolve the issue through a proper dialogue.

Q: If the international community were to suggest that the LoC be made a permanent border, would that be acceptable to you?

A: Making the LoC a permanent border means the division of Kashmir. When the Kashmiris themselves want to live together, and for which they have sacrificed one lakh people, what are you offering them in the name of peace? Peace cannot be created in a vacuum. You need to have a solid foundation for it. Now if the status quo is to form the basis of the solution, how will we be able to ensure peace?

Q: But there is no one view on changing the status quo on Kashmir? Some Kashmiris want to accede to Pakistan, others want maximum autonomy within the Indian constitution and still others want independence…

A:The Kashmiri people’s point of view is very clear. Various surveys have been conducted by international media organisations like CNN, BBC, The NewYork Times, AFP, even two prominent Indian magazines India Today and Outlook, and almost all of them came out with a unanimous decision — that more than 85 per cent of the people in Kashmir want total independence.

Q: But the Kashmiri leaders do not speak with one voice. There are several disparate groups professing to be the true representatives of the Kashmiris…

A: I feel this confusion has been deliberately created. So, how does one resolve this confusion in order to gauge who truly represents the people?

In my opinion there should be a clear yardstick — the democratic yardstick. Elections should be held, not to choose members to the assemblies and parliament, but to determine who is the true representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Q: Why is the Kashmiri leadership shy of contesting the parliamentary elections? Once elected, you may choose not to sit in the assemblies, but at least you will have proved your strength.

A: Before you contest an election, you have to take an oath saying that you will maintain the sanctity of the Indian Constitution on the soil of Kashmir and you believe Kashmir is an “integral part” of India. When you are taking such an oath even before contesting the elections, then what are you fighting for?

We are not against the democratic process. I want the Kashmir issue to be resolved through democratic means. Now what problem does India have in holding an election for the sake of electing true [J&K] representatives? If they are sincere in resolving the Kashmir problem then they can discuss the issue with these elected representatives.

Recently, I had addressed a press conference in Jammu, in which I had stated that if Mufti Saeed and Omar Abdullah are the true representatives of the Kashmiris, then let them select any constituency of their choice in the entire Kashmir Valley — there are 54 constituencies — and I will contest them on that constituency. Let somebody like Ved Bhasin, who is a friend of both, conduct the polls.

Q: Would other Kashmiri leaders be willing to do the same?

A: They have not given me their point of view on the subject.

Q: What is your relationship with them?

A: Cordial. Nobody has any differences with me. However, I don’t align myself with any group.

Q: Is there any meeting point with them or not?

A: I tried for nine months to unite both factions of the All-Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC) because I feel unity is good for the Kashmiri people. But I failed. However, I’ve not given up.

Q: Certain quarters are accusing Musharraf of selling out on Kashmir. They allege that he is willing to accept the LoC as a permanent border?

A:My relationship with Pakistan has never been a comfortable one and I have never been on its “favoured guests” list. However, despite my differences, I believe in rationalism. And I say Musharraf’s was a visionary statement. At least, he came up with an alternate solution. So I don’t want to oppose him.

Q: Do you think starting the bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar would help move the peace process forward?

A: The bus service has nothing to do with the solution of the Kashmir issue. It will not be fair to see it as a solution to the conflict that has raged in Kashmir for several years. I think all these issues — human rights violations, the presence of Indian troops on Kashmiri soil, etc — are an off-shoot of the problem. And they will disappear once the dispute is resolved. There have to be final talks that lead straight towards the solution. There have been enough confidence-building measures (CBMS). Now there’s just one CBM left, and that is the solution of the Kashmir problem.

Q: You are not known to be in either India or Pakistan’s good books?

A: I don’t have any personal enmity with either India or Pakistan as such. In fact, I have the maximum number of friends in India, and most of my well-wishers are in Pakistan. But statecraft plays by its own rules. Whoever doesn’t fit in with the interests of the state, is its enemy.

Meeting grounds are created only when realisation develops that solutions have to be found. The Indian government has a track record on Kashmir. They believe in corruption, they want to buy people’s loyalties. That is what they have done since 1947. Sheikh Abdullah, Bakhshi, Mir Qasim, Farooq Abdullah, Mufti and now their offspring. All those that you see in Delhi today, their launching pad was the freedom movement. Then they were purchased. But did buying them make any difference to the situation prevailing in Kashmir? Did it change the thinking pattern of the people? Did it solve the problem? In fact, they are responsible for the violence that you witness in Kashmir today?

So, my advice to the Indian government is, stop this purchasing system. Even if you were to buy Yaseen Malik, it wouldn’t make a difference to the prevailing circumstances. You will have to thrash out a settlement with the Kashmiri people. Kashmiris have always felt a sense of betrayal, of humiliation. Each time they choose someone as their leader, he goes to Delhi and is bought over by the establishment.

Q: How do you view the offspring of leaders like Farooq Abdullah and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed?

A: It is normal behaviour for leaders in Kashmir to hop onto the anti-Indian plank, whenever they are in the opposition. Omar Abdullah, just a year-and-a half ago, spoke about bombings, terrorism, and custodial-killings. Mehbooba Mufti went from house to house, visiting families of martyrs. She said there was ‘daku raj.’ Now she’s been in power for two years, and people are being killed and arrested even today. The honour of Kashmiri women is not safe. They continue to be molested and raped. Even a 10-year-old was not spared. People are still being sent to prison, political activities are banned.

I was in Handwara when the incident of rape of a 10-year-old girl took place. I returned to Srinagar the very next day and went to the UN offices, to present a memorandum. But I was arrested at the gate. I was taken to the police station and around 20 policemen attacked me. So, I am convinced that whoever rules over Kashmir will be a stooge of the Indian establishment, nothing more. He will speak the same language.

Q: Indian government sources maintain that most news emanating from Kashmir is exaggerated.

A:For God’s sake, how can a 10-year-old girl, who doesn’t even know the meaning of sex, be accused of lying? Rape was proven by the medical report that the government itself conducted. And the girl is still in trauma. She’s almost like a dead body.

Another incident took place last year, when I was on my signature campaign, in a village in South Kashmir. Three days prior to our visit, a militant was killed in a nearby village and some military men came looking for his weapon. They had no address. They beat up all the male members of the village and when the women protested, they took some 60 women with them to the army camp. Later, one of the older women told me in private that the women were raped. Now the women have stopped admitting to rape, so as not to ruin their prospects of marriage. Two American journalists accompanying me said, “If we were witness to even five per cent of what happened, we would’ve pulled the trigger.” Life is hell here. And still if they claim it is propaganda, it is shameful for Indian democracy.

Q: Is life in Jammu any better?

A: In Jammu, things are normal in just two districts and in some parts of Udhampur. For the rest, the situation is the same as in other parts of Kashmir.

Q: You accuse the Indian security forces of human rights violations, but you too are accused of ethnic cleansing in the valley, which led to the departure of several Pandit families…

A: I would say it’s mere accusation. The minorities, anywhere in the world, always have a fear in their subconcious. In India, no guns are going off, and yet minorities feel a sense of insecurity. Similar things have been observed in the US. Obviously, when the freedom movement began in the valley, their [the Pandits’] fears increased and the role played by people like Jagmohan [former JK governor], proved to be the last nail in the coffin. However, there are 12,000 Kashmiri Pandits still living in the valley.

Q: Are you denying that the Pandits were maltreated?

A: If you observe it in the context of the Muslims — thousands of them were killed for their political affiliation — then I’m sure it must’ve been the case with Hindus as well. It cannot be ruled out that some people might have taken revenge [for the Muslim killings]. However, I would like to tell you from the core of my heart that the Kashmiri people want the Kashmiri Hindu community back. We feel that we are missing something in our culture.

I personally visited the refugee camps recently. A poor, elderly woman in Udhampur camp was crying and asking me when their bunvaas (exile) would end. So even those living in refugee camps want to return. However, there are some vested interests who are taking undue advantage of this situation, because they want to continue to enjoy the five-star luxuries that their divisive leadership brings. They are creating hatred between the two communities.

That is why we are now approaching people at the grassroots level directly, so that we are able to bridge the communication gap. I cannot say that I will meet with 100 per cent success in assuaging their emotions — after all we are human beings — but, honestly, we want them back and we want them to enjoy equal status. There will be no discrimination at all.

Q: So have you bid goodbye to the politics of violence?

A: Yes, after 1994, I declared a unilateral ceasefire and I’m pursuing a non-violent struggle on the ground. There was a lot of provocation from the Indian state: they killed 600 of my colleagues after the ceasefire; they tried to send me back to underground politics. But we’ve shown a lot of patience.

Q: Do you feel that the emergence of extremist parties like the Hizbul Mujahideen has pushed the JKLF into the background?

A: No, it has not affected our popularity. JKLF is not an organisation. It is a thought, it is the romanticism of the people of Kashmir. JKLF represents people’s culture, their ethos, their sufi thought.

Q: And yet it is being said that militant groups have changed the whole complexion of Kashmiri society from a secular set-up to a fundamentalist one?

A: Kashmir is secular and it will remain secular. I don’t think anybody can change that. Whenever we talk about Kashmiriyat in Kashmir’s history, it is not a political institution, it is a spiritual institution. It has taught the Kashmiris to love human beings, and respect all irrespective of colour, creed or cast.

You can find an example of this from 1947: Partition — when the whole subcontinent was burning. Even in Jammu, where thousands and thousands of Muslims were massacred by Hindu chauvinist forces, it didn’t create a dent in the region’s secular tradition. And it was acknowledged by Mahatama Gandhi who said: “If ever I’ve seen a ray of hope and humanity, I’ve seen it on the soil of Kashmir”.

The highest spiritual shrine of the Hindus is in Amarnath. Incidentally, not a single Hindu lives in its vicinity of 20 kilometres. It was discovered by Muslims and the custodians are Muslims too. Every year, when Hindus come to visit the place, 30 per cent of the charity goes to Muslims for they are the caretakers. Tell me, where in the world would you find something like this?

Q: The Indian government maintains that Kashmiri separatists leaders like you will never allow people to vote in the elections? Isn’t that rather undemocratic?

A: Mufti Saeed himself says that it is a battle of ideas. They go and hold rallies for votes and we hold rallies and say, don’t vote. It’s our democratic right. Who are those people whom we have supposedly barred from voting in the elections?

In fact, Indian and foreign observers who were personally present say that the army dragged people from their homes and took them to the polling booths. They were told that if ink was not found on their thumbs, they would have to face the consequences.

Q: Tomorrow if the Indian government wants to hold talks with Kashmiri separatist groups to resolve the Kashmir dispute, which group would sit in on the discussions as the genuine representative of the Kashmiri people?

A: For that purpose I’ve undertaken a signature campaign for the past 18 months. I’ve been to 3000 villages and obtained some 1.4 million peoples signatures. If India still has any confusion about who represents the Kashmiris, then let them conduct a poll to determine who should represent the Kashmiris. I agree that divisions are a setback for the movement but this does not mean that the liberation movement is by any means illegal. It is a movement for the freedom of the people. The whole Kashmiri nation is attached to this movement. That’s why, I’ll be delighted if the leadership gets united.

Q: Are you talking to the Indian government?

A: No

Q: You met with the Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Delhi. What was discussed in that meeting?

A: The focus of the discussion was that people are not aware of what’s going on. The involvement of the Kashmiri people is very important to the solve this issue.

Q: But you have been sidelined by both the Indian and Pakistan governments. Where does that leave you?

A: The liberation movement is about the people of Kashmir. So, if India or whoever sidelines me, what difference does it make? I’m with the people. I’ll live among the people and I’ll die among them.