August 14, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Javed Shah

'Why should we talk to Pakistan?'

Javed Shah of the National Conference, once a top militant, was one of the first leaders in Jammu and Kashmir to criticise the bomb blast in Srinagar, in which 12 people, including photojournalist Pradeep Bhatia, were killed and 35 injured.

Shah, who is also chairman of the pro-government National Security Organisation, said before the car bomb exploded in Srinagar, ''The only way we can win the proxy war against Pakistan is to deal with militancy with an iron hand.''

A former policeman-turned-militant-turned-politician, Shah, a member of the J&K legislative council, is one of the most heavily guarded politicians in the state after Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.

In an exclusive interview to Onkar Singh, Shah speaks of the days when he headed various militant groups and exposed Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence. He also talks of how young people are brain-washed and trained to wage war against their country.

How long will militancy continue in Jammu and Kashmir?

It will continue as long as we are not sincere about resolving the problem. When talks between the Government of India and the Hizbul Mujahideen began, neither side was sincere.

First, the Hizb offered to talk and the government welcomed the gesture.

Then, the Hizb said it wanted to talk outside the Constitution. The government agreed. Then came the demand for Pakistan's involvement in the talks, which was promptly rejected.

If the two were sincere from the beginning, the talks would not have broken down.

When did you join the militant movement and what training did you receive in Pakistan?

The gun culture began in the state in 1988. I left the Jammu and Kashmir police to join the militants. I joined the Tehrike Jehadi Islami, which later merged with the Hizbul Mujahideen

Then, I formed the Al-Jehad and Al Fateh. I went to Pakistan two to three times. I crossed the border in 1989, 1991 and 1993.

Pakistan showed us how to use arms and how to attack.

Where did they train you?

I had my first training at Attock in Punjab. Later, training camps were shifted to Gilgit, Jangal Mangal and Mansar.

The first time I went to Pakistan, I spent three months training there.

In 1991, I spent two months and in 1993, I spent more than six months.

My first visit was meant for basic arms training. I went there on my second visit as a deputy supreme commander. In 1993, I went as supreme commander.

What made you change your mind and return to the mainstream?

The times were such that all, right from the peon to the chief secretary of the state, were sympathetic towards militants. Barring those who had migrated, almost everyone was involved in militancy. I was one of them.

But then I saw the real side of the so-called jehad [holy war]. What surprised most of us was that top leaders who persuaded us to join the 'war' did not send their children. When we realised this, we thought this was not a jehad, but business in the name of militancy that the top political leaders of the state and the government of Pakistan started in the name of fighting for the independence for Kashmir.

I wondered if Pakistan, after even 50 years of Independence could not declare itself as an Islamic state, how can Kashmir become an Islamic state. When I realised these hard realities of life I decided that it was better to return to the mainstream rather than live a miserable life in the high mountains and deep in the jungles.

What did Pakistan tell you when you crossed over for the first time?

They questioned all of us who had crossed over.

They would brainwash fresh recruits. They would teach them about Islam and jehad. They would ensure against training those sent by Indian intelligence agencies.

We were shown how the assemble arms and dismantle them.

Once you were through with this, they would tell you how to make bombs and lay mines. I came back in 1990. By then the TJI had merged with the Hizb. Members of this group started exerting pressure on other militant outfits, started killing their cadres and snatching their weapons. When I opposed this, my child was kidnapped.

What did the ISI tell you during the training?

They always told us that we should go in first and prepare the ground for them to attack. We were told to blow up bridges and damage roads. They told us to attack pro-Indians.

Who is responsible for bloodshed in the state?

Pakistan is responsible for the bloodbath going on for more than a decade. To some extent political leaders with vested interest are also responsible for the chaos, as they brought the army from the border into our houses.

You have seen life in Pakistan and India. Would you still like to go with Pakistan, as its leaders have been claiming?

How can Pakistan ever think of this? If the Pakistani leadership was so good, why did Bangladesh break away? They say that since we are Muslims we should go to them, as Pakistan is a Muslim state. If that is the case, why do they kill Muslims in mosques? Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is so bad that even if militancy continues for some time, they cannot match the development and quality of life Kashmiris live in India.

Our future with India is bright. Kashmiri Muslims are different because they have been living in harmony with Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and Buddhists. Most groups have taken money from people in the name of merging with Pakistan. Their main fear is that if they emerge publicly, the people of Kashmir are going to ask them to return their money.

The movement has slipped from the hands of Kashmiri militant outfits. Foreigners have taken over the movement. Foreigners languishing in Pakistani jails have got into militancy. Now looters and dacoits have joined militancy. They are looting poor people. They are killing innocent people.

Once, a servant became a militant and returned to loot the same house. He also abducted his former master's daughter, for marriage.

Unfortunately, the government has not been able to project such incidents at international fora.

If the government exposes this, people in India and the world over will know the truth about the Mujahideen.

The Hizbul command insisted the government make Pakistan party to the talks. Is that possible?

No. Why should we talk to Pakistan? Let Pakistan talk to the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and we Kashmiris will talk to India. If they are living in Pakistan, they should remain there and not come here for talks. Even those in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir do not want to live with Pakistan. Pakistan should stop abetting terrorism in India and stop funding militants.

Since 1947, so many elections have been held in Jammu and Kashmir, but the Jamaat-e-Islami has never won? In 1972, when the National Conference did not contest the elections, Jamaat leaders thought it was their chance to win the elections, but they did not win more than five seats.

Are the people of the state fed up with the militancy and do they want to live a normal and peaceful life?

The people want an early end to misery. They want the good old days. They want development. They want tourism. They want a better standard of living. The Centre must spell out its Kashmir policy. The problem is that all those who do not know anything about Kashmir are advising the government. Such things don't work.

Whatever money is released by the central government goes into fighting insurgency. Where are the funds for development? If the Centre grants us funds, Jammu and Kashmir can provide electricity to the entire country.

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