‘Polls are no substitute to our struggle. Separatists should not contest’

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  • Publish Date: Apr 27 2016 10:39AM
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  • Updated Date: May 3 2016 10:52AM
‘Polls are no substitute to our struggle. Separatists should not contest’

Amanullah Khan, the Pakistan-based supreme leader of the JKLF, reveals in an exclusive interview to Kashmir Ink, how he became the ideologue of the struggle for Independent Kashmir, and what it would take to see the movement through

He is 86 years old, frail and struggling to move around, but Amanullah Khan’s passion hasn’t dimmed. The supreme leader of the JKLF remains as devoted to the cause of Kashmir’s Independence, from both India and Pakistan, as he ever was. He still looks after the party’s daily affairs, working out of the JKLF office in Chandni Chowk, Rawalpindi, where he also lives in a one bed-bedroom flat. He spends most of his time in his office, reading, writing and meeting people. But early this year, he undertook a month-and-a-half-long tour of Gilgit-Baltistan, campaigning against its merger with Pakistan. He has a deep attachment with Gilgit-Baltistan; it’s where he was born, in Astore, on 24 August 1931.

Khan convinced the various political, religious, civil society and student groups not to support the merger as it would undermine Jammu and Kashmir’s disputed nature. His campaign helped spark a hue and cry, forcing the Pakistani government to give up the idea. The tour, however, came at a cost to his health: extended stay at high altitudes further damaged his lungs – three-fourths of his smoking-damaged lungs were removed years ago – giving him acute breathlessness.

Khan was still breathing hard when he sat down for this wide-ranging conversation with Kashmir Ink over a month later. In a slow, laboured voice, he talked about his life and struggles in Kashmir and Pakistan, his early political journey and how he went from being a staunchly pro-Pakistan activist to championing an Independent Kashmir. He insists the idea of Independence hasn›t lost appeal and that continuing the ongoing struggle is the only way forward. He also vehemently opposes the idea of the separatist groups contesting elections and joining the “mainstream” polity.

Excerpts from the interview:

You are regarded as one of the founders of Kashmir’s struggle against the Indian rule? The armed conflict has been going on for 26 years now. What’s your assessment of it?

Thank you. But I wasn’t the only one. We were five of us actually – Shaheed Muhammad Maqbool Bhat from Kupwara, Lt. Abdul Khaliq Ansari from Mirpur, Lt. GM Lone from Srinagar/Karachi, Lt. Mir Abdul Qayoom from Jammu/Karachi and myself. All of us were enthusiastic to work for the liberation of our motherland, the state of Jammu and Kashmir. People like Sheikh Abdullah, Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas and KH Khursheed were also among the founders of the liberation struggle, although Sheikh Abdullah later chose India while as Chaudhry Abbas sided with Pakistan. KH Khursheed seemed pro-Independence but the constitution of his party, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation League, stood for accession to Pakistan.

Reading the very first paragraph of the Indira-Abdullah Accord, I was shocked at Sheikh Abdullah’s about-turn; he was someone who had led this struggle from the front, even offered sacrifices. By siding with India, he greatly harmed the freedom struggle. The post-accord period was quite hard for those who had wowed to carry on. Those who challenged Sheikh Abdullah and stayed in Kashmir faced the wrath of the Indian state while many were compelled to leave the state for Azad Kashmir, Pakistan or elsewhere.

In 1963, we could find only 25 people from across Jammu and Kashmir to form Kashmir Independence Committee, which was launched to challenge the policy of “give and take” on Kashmir that had been adopted by Pakistan’s military ruler Gen. Ayub Khan. But the ongoing phase of the struggle which began in 1987-88 changed the complexion of the freedom movement. A new chapter in the history of Kashmir began when the world witnessed the birth of the biggest revolt ever against Indian rule in 1989-90.

We haven’t yet achieved our goal but this phase of the freedom struggle and the sacrifices given by the common people will not go in vain. You see, as a student of history and politics, I know as do our people that movements like this could stretch into years. But national commitment, conviction, steadfastness to the cause and continued struggle finally prevails and forces the enemy to come to your terms. I can say with conviction that even a staunch Indian Kashmiri like Farooq Abdullah or a staunch Pakistani Kashmir like Chaudhry Abdul Majeed – who degrades himself by saying he is the Mujavir of Benazir Bhutto’s grave – know this to be true. Also, the Kashmir dispute is now being discussed in international fora and the world powers are stressing the need of its early resolution.

But why is the Kashmir dispute still defying resolution? You had once said in an interview with India Today that Kashmir would be free in 20 years.

Frankly, I did not expect India and Pakistan to be so unreasonable and the world community, especially the UN, to be so unconcerned about this issue. Gandhi had once declared, “merilaash par Pakistan banega”, while Quaid-e-Azam had vowed, “Pakistan kay sath Kashmir, East Punjab aur West Bengal bhi hoga”. But both were proved wrong. So too my prediction at the onset of the armed struggle that we could be free in 20 years. But, you see, the national resolve to achieve freedom is still there, and that’s what satisfies me. This resolve will definitely guide our national struggle to its logical conclusion – freedom.

Do you think there is a need to change the strategy, for the separatist political groups as well as the militants?

Yes, of course. The need of the hour is to evolve a common strategy on all important matters, including the policy we must adopt towards our real and apparent enemies. A group representing all the resistance forces, including the militants, has to be formed to redraw the strategy, particularly foreign policy. We have to be as lenient as possible towards the less inimical elements so that we can fight our real enemies properly.

I have always believed that a unified voice would get us closer to our goal, and faster. In my over six-decade-long political career, I have worked on forging unity. And I have succeeded, at least, in creating and maintaining a political atmosphere that’s conducive to our freedom struggle. In 1966, as the secretary general of JKPF, I helped form the Ittehad-e-Salasah, a unified front of three major political parties in Azad Kashmir – Muslim Conference, Liberation League and Plebiscite Front. Later, we formed the Kashmir Liberation Alliance in 1986 and the All Parties Kashmir Committee for Right of Self-Determination in 2008. The Hurriyat Conference was formed in the Indian Held Kashmir in 1993 and our party’s representatives there, after consulting with me, played a pivotal role in its formation.

Has the Hurriyat lived up to its promise as the political representative of Kashmir’s sentiment for Azadi? How do you see its split into various factions?

Unfortunately, they did not live up to the promise. I am pained by its divisions.

Coming back to the question of changing strategy, do you think the Hurriyat and the JKLF should stop boycotting elections and instead take part in them?

No, they should not participate in elections, for three reasons. One, these are not a substitute to our struggle for freedom or the right of self-determination. Two, New Delhi uses the elections to falsely claim that the people of Kashmir are using their vote to show their allegiance to India. Three, India uses these managed elections to confer benefits on its puppets.

You spent much of your early life studying in the valley. Tell us about that time?

My memories of that time are sweet as well as painful. When my father Jumma Khan was on his death bed in Astor, Gilgit, he entrusted me in the custody of my brother-in-law Hashim Ali Khan, who was from Kupwara in the valley and was employed in the education department. In Kupwara, I went to the local primary school. For high school, I went to Handwara. I stood first among Muslims in the matriculation exam and got admission to SP College in Srinagar with the help of Moulana Muhammad Syed Masoodi, who even arranged for me to stay at Mujahid Manzil for nearly six months. I got into political activism right in school. I was a staunch supporter of Pakistan and was chosen general secretary of the Students Union in high school.

I continued my political activities in SP and Amar Singh Colleges, and the politics was mostly anti-India. I remember when the prime minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in Rawalpindi, we held a protest in Srinagar although there was no Indian hand in his death. Incidentally, that proved to be my last protest; the local administration issued an arrest warrant for me, forcing me to leave the state. It’s quite an interesting story actually, how I was able to escape arrest. A few months previously, a Sikh policeman had stolen a watch from my brother-in-law. It was my late father’s. I complained to Maulana Masoodi who asked the constable to return it. But when he came and handed me the watch, I got quite emotional and broke down. And I gave the watch back to the constable as a gift. It was that same Sikh constable who would help me evade arrest. He warned me that a warrant was being issued for me and asked me to go into hiding. I ran away to Jammu, where I joined up with a family that was planning to cross over to Pakistan near Sialkote. It was the family of Moulvi Muhammad Hussain, the father of KH Khursheed, who would later become the president of Azad Kashmir, and they had received special permission from Sheikh Abdullah to go to Pakistan. We crossed over on 4 January, 1952. On the other side, I saw that many other families had also come over.

You are talking about a time when Sheikh Abdullah was at the peak of his power. What was the political situation in Kashmir like?

It was state of total confusion, particularly about the future of Kashmir. The people were opposed to joining India but Sheikh Abdullah was so popular that no political movement could stand before him. If anybody dared challenge him, he crushed them with an iron hand. The relationships between various political forces was not clear enough to understand. Conspiracies were being hatched and executed all the time, but the common masses were completely ignorant of them, largely because they had faith only in Sheikh Abdullah and none else. 

Did you ever participate in his rallies?

I watched many of his rallies, but I didn’t participate in any.

After Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest, you were associated with the Plebiscite Front, right?

Yes. I was elected the first secretary general of the Plebiscite Front in Azad Kashmir in 1964, and the late Abdul Khaliq Ansari from Mirpur was chosen as the president. On the suggestion of a party member from Peshawar who went by the nickname Tangewala and was actually from Trehgam in Kupwara, the oath taking ceremony of the office bearers was held near Sialkote. We took the oath while holding the soil of our motherland near Suchitgarh, a border town between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. That was the most emotional moment of my life. Tears flowing down our faces, everybody resolved to strive for the freedom of our motherland. Everybody who was there that day honored their pledge, but Maqbool Bhat Shaheed bettered us all by making the ultimate sacrifice of his life.

You were once simultaneously tried for being an Indian agent in Pakistan and a Pakistani agent in India.

Yes. The state government in Indian Held Kashmir dubbed us Pakistani agents and issued arrest warrants against Major Amanullah, Muhammad Shafi Bhat, Peerzada Ghulam Mustafa Alvi and myself. Simultaneously, I was accused of being a Indian agent by Pakistan and arrested in Gilgit.

Many of us were also arrested after the Ganga hijacking in 1971 and charged with being Indian agents. However, under pressure from people of Gilgit, who agitated against my arrest and with the help and intervention of a kind administrative officer, I was acquitted. The rest of my colleagues, however, were tried and 13 of them were sentenced to 14 years in prison, only to be released after a year. I have already told you how I evaded my arrest in Srinagar with the help of a Sikh constable. Had I been arrested, I would certainly have been accused of being a Pakistani agent.

I am, in fact, still wanted in India for my party’s activities in Kashmir. I have been falsely charged in my absence with being a Pakistani agent. It would be interesting for you to know that I have been arrested abroad as well. I was arrested in the UK in September 1985 and was in jail for 15 months; in Brussels, I was in jail for two and a half months after being arrested on 18 October 1993 at the behest of India. And in early 1990, I barely escaped arrest in the US when the American government issued a warrant for me. It was a young member of my party in New York who helped me escape. India had falsely told Russia and America that it was I who had ordered the killing of Vice Chancellor Prof Mushir-ul-Haq, who had been kidnapped and later killed by members of the Students Liberation Front in Kashmir. It has long been the case that our partymen, even Maqbool Bhat Shaheed, are called Pakistani agents in India and Indian agents in Pakistan.

In 1993, both Farooq Abdullah and George Fernandes had condemned your arrest in Belgium, where all of you had gone to attend a seminar on Kashmir.

A resolution against my arrest was passed unanimously at the end of conference, and it was signed by every participant, including Farooq Abdullah and Fernandes. The participants not only protested my arrest, they also condemned human rights violations in Kashmir and demanded the withdrawal of both Indian and Pakistani armed forces from the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. The same resolutions were later adopted by European Parliament.

It’s said that Farooq Abdullah was once with the JKLF. Tell us about that seemingly strange association.

He was not with the JKLF, but the Plebiscite Front. He had become its member in the UK in 1974. That same year, he came here on our invitation for a convention. He not only spoke at this convention but at several public events we had arranged, and he talked in support of Independence. I arranged him to meet with Zulfikhar Ali Bhuttoo, the prime minister of Pakistan. I still remember what he said when we, along with Maqbool Bhat, were discussing Kashmir on our way to Muzaffarabad. He said, “I need advisers like you in my part of Jammu and Kashmir”.

And how did you go from being pro-Pakistan to pro-Independence?

I was such a staunch supporter of Pakistan that I even worked for it. On my arrival from Kashmir, I was occupied with my personal problems for the next two years. In 1955, when I was elected secretary general of the Kashmir Students Federation in Karachi, I got the opportunity to study the history of the Kashmir dispute as well as other contemporary freedom struggles. I was in touch with representatives of other freedom struggles across the world and watched them working for their liberation, making strategies and dealings. It helped streamline my own ideology and broaden my vision.

By 1957, my understanding was transformed to the extent that I started considering Independence as a solution to the Kashmir dispute. Around that time, I happened to meet an official of the UN Commission for India and Pakistan in Karachi who very candidly explained how India and Pakistan were making them mandate less on the Kashmir issue. Indeed, right since 1947, whenever something has happened that wasn’t good for Kashmiris but suited India and Pakistan, they have both gone for it. Take the UN resolution of 13 August 1948 that gave Kashmiris the right to opt for Independence. Both India and Pakistan mutually agreed to have it replaced with the resolution of 5 January 1949 that snatched this right and restricted our choice to joining either of the two countries. I consider this a betrayal of a living nation.

Joseph Korbel, the father of former US foreign secretary Madam Albright and the author ofDanger in Kashmir, had tried a lot to get Sheikh Abdullah and Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas to work out a joint strategy but, as he wrote in his book, India never allowed them to meet. Similarly, Quaid-e-Azam and other Pakistani leaders rejected the formula agreed upon by Sheikh Abdullah and Chaudhry Abbas in 1948 which called for reverting Jammu and Kashmir’s position to that of 15 August 1947 and after three years holding a referendum to ask the people whether they wanted to retain this status or join India or Pakistan. The agreement had been agreed when Sheikh Abdullah, as prime minister, visited Chaudhry Abbas in Jammu jail and allowed him to cross over to Pakistan to get it vetted by the Pakistani leadership. The Pakistanis rejected the idea saying India had taken the issue to the United Nations and we must wait for its decision.

By 1961, I was devoted to the idea of an Independent Kashmir. Around this time, I happened to meet like-minded Kashmiris like GM Lone, then a member of Azad Kashmir State Council.Then began the unending journey from Kashmir Independence Committee to the JKPF and finally to the JKLF in 1977. Now, I consider full Independence as the only just, viable, honorable and permanent solution of the Kashmir dispute.