Shabir Shah, known as Nelson Mandela of Kashmir, in the context solution to Kashmir imbroglio underlines the need for his parallel separatist cadres to get united and also echoes his call for trilateral talks, removal of AFSPA, PSA and demilitarization.
Shabir Shah, the chief of the Jammu Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, has spent most of his life in the struggle for freedom, including 27 long years in prison, and earned himself a prominent place in the pantheon of the pro-freedom leadership and the sobriquet the ‘Prisoner of Conscience’. His politics has antagonized not only India but, because he declined to join the Hurriyat Conference as it wouldn’t adopt his more liberal agenda, quite a few separatist leaders as well. Shah, however, believes it would be difficult to take forward the struggle for freedom without the reunification of the Hurriyat. In this freewheeling interview with Kashmir Scan Managing Editor Ajaz Rashid, Shah speaks about his politics and the current situation in Kashmir.
Q: Is Kashmir’s freedom struggle ailing since over the past few years, the Hurriyat’s sway seems to be on the wane?
We are fighting a war against the Indian government and this war is not just two decades old. In fact, this struggle for freedom has been going on for the past 65 years. But it got a momentum in the 90s and people began trusting us as their representatives. The reason the Hurriyat is losing its grip on people is that we could not make Hurriyat Conference an institution. The Hurriyat has to reach to the grassroots level to address the daily problems of our people. But unfortunately it has failed to do so and due to this the people are losing their trust in us. More than five lakh people have sacrificed their lives and people will not let anybody play with their sacrifices. The basic need is that Hurriyat should be institutionalized. There should be division of work and exchange of ideas. I am sure by institutionalizing the Hurriyat, it would be possible to frame things perfectly and automatically we could regain the trust of the masses in Kashmir. The Indian media is one more reason why we are losing grip in Kashmir. We all know that we have so many electronic and print media organizations which are biased and are working for the Indian agencies. They not only misrepresented us but also misrepresented our freedom struggle and sacrifices before the world. There was a time when people across the world were condemning the atrocities done by the Indian government against Kashmiris but the biased Indian media damaged our movement. Reunification of the Hurriyat is my dream and I am sparing no effort in working for it and one day, I hope, I will succeed. But there are people, including the Indian government, who do not want this reunification as they are scared of a stronger Hurriyat. That is why I have been frequently jailed for my efforts.
Q: At one point in 2008, prominent separatists, including you, got together to work out some alternative to freedom. You even made a statement that freedom from India is not possible so let us work out a workable solution to the problem. What happened to that plan?
This is absolutely incorrect. Somebody has misquoted me. I am the person who has spent 27 years in jail for the sake of Azadi. I never advocated anything less than Azadi. Less than Azadi was even offered by then Prime Minister P V Narsima Rao, who said the Centre was ready for talks on anything less than Independence. We are not against negotiation or dialogue but first of all the Centre should make the situation conducive for talks and we should feel that it is serious about meaningful talks. For this, the Centre should arrange a trilateral dialogue between India, Pakistan and Kashmir because only after the participation of these three parties, meaningful and result-oriented dialogue is possible. Also before a dialogue, the Centre must demilitarise J&K and withdraw draconian laws like Armed Force Special Power Act and the Public Safety Act and all people imprisoned under the PSA should be released. Talks can never be possible if the Indian government and its agencies continue human rights violations and killing innocent people in fake encounters.
Q: What did the uprisings of 2008 and 2010 give to the separatist movement?
The massive agitations in 2008 and 2010 revolutionized our freedom struggle. These agitations, in which hundreds of innocent people sacrificed their lives, played a great role and gave a rebirth to our movement. It was after this that that all the world bodies accepted Kashmir as disputed and advocated for the solution of the Kashmir dispute. We should not bother about the people who termed these agitiations futile and said we got nothing out of it. No doubt some mistakes were made during that period but it was only because all Hurriyat leaders were put behind bars.
Q: You have been working for a united Hurriyat. Is it achievable considering the two factions have drifted apart to a point where it has become almost impossible for them to re-unite?
It is not impossible but, of course, a bit difficult. In 2008, we had a six-hour long meeting of Geelani Sahab, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Masarat Alam Bhat and others to reunite Hurriyat. There were some reservations with Geelani Sahab which needed to be sort out but soon after that, because of our frequent arrests, the effort went nowhere.
Q: Is any Hurrriyat leader even interested in unity?
From their recent statements it can be deduced that there is lot of misunderstanding between the two factions of the Hurriyat. But I suggest to them to sort it out. We should not fight each other on portfolios and if we have reservations then we should talk about it. There are people in Hurriyat who want reunification but no doubt there are some invisible hands who are against it. Geelani Sahab has had some reservations but they should understand that we are representing the freedom struggle, not a personal mission and for this we need to reunify and institutionalise the Hurriyat Conference in which small factions will be merged for the good of the freedom movement.
Q: You were the first pro-freedom leader to start a dialogue with New Delhi but in recent years you seem to have grown wary of any engagement with the Centre. Why?
I was never invited for formal talks by Delhi. Whatever talks I had were informal talks. I got a formal letter from Atal Bihari Vajpai for dialogue. I responded that some conditions, which included trilateral talks, removal of AFSPA, PSA and demilitarization, must be fulfilled before talks are held.
Q: Under what conditions will you talk to New Delhi again?
Delhi must understand and accept Kashmir as disputed. We will talk only for the solution of the Kashmir problem. If the Centre wants to talk about funds, governance or law and order, then here they have the so called chief minister and other ministers. We will only talk about the Kashmir issue. India must understand that it is the Kashmir issue which is the main cause of uncertainty and war-like situation in South Asia. I assure that the solution of the Kashmir issue will bring peace in Asia, especially between India and Pakistan.
Q: What is your suggestion for Geelani and Mirwaiz?
We are strong when we are together and we all must understand this. I would like to suggest to both leaders that they sort out their reservations through talks, otherwise these differences would prove detrimental to the freedom movement.
Q: You were accused in the murder case of Sheikh Aziz. What is your take on this allegation?
This allegation was nothing more than a well planned conspiracy hatched by the Indian agencies and their paid agents. It was not for the first time that Indian agencies had conspired against me. They had tried to trap me earlier as well but by the grace of God they couldn’t succeed. Besides me, some other innocent people were tagged as Lashkar militants and arrested but later they were released because there was no evidence against them.
Q: Who do you think is behind the attempts to set ablaze various shrines in Kashmir?
Frustrated by our movement and agitations, the government is trying to divert attention from our struggle for freedom and trying to set ablaze various shrines and mosques in Kashmir is a part of it. So, this is a conspiracy of the Indian government to divert attention from our freedom movement.
Q: What is the role of the gun in the struggle for freedom?
I did not pick up the gun myself but that doesn’t mean I am against it. We are fighting a political struggle and our Mujahidin are fighting an armed struggle but we are all fighting for the same cause and the same goal. I credit these armed men for doing more than what Bhagat Singh did for India. Militants have not chosen the gun for the sake of it but due to their helplessness. They too want to solve the Kashmir dispute. The gun is sort of retaliation against the human rights violations by the Indian forces and the killing and jailing of the innocent people of Kashmir
Q: Many say Kashmiris are yet to find a perfect leader. Do you agree with this?
“Voice of people is the voice of God”. I don’t know what other leaders are thinking but my personal view is that Kashmir is in need of a dynamic leader. No doubt we have leaders but there are some loopholes which need to be redressed.
Q: Do you think threatening or killing Panchayat representatives is right?
It has been said that elections have nothing to do with the Kashmir dispute but I think the problem is created by the Indian government itself as they propagate these elections as against the people of Kashmir. By manipulating the elections, they show the world that these are elected governments and people are no longer interested in freedom or in the right to self determination. I think this is the reason that pro-freedom leaders are appealing for boycott of all elections in Kashmir.
Q: What are you going to tell the Pakistani government when you will visit Islamabad in December?
Pakistan is the only Muslim country that supports Kashmir morally, diplomatically and politically. Like we Kashmiris, Pakistan too wants a solution to the Kashmir dispute. So, on our visit to Pakistan, we would only talk about issues of Kashmir. But I have suggested to the Hurriyat to defer the Pakistan visit till their elections, which are to be held in couple of months, are over. It would be better to hold dialogue with the new government.
Q: Many alleged that the Hurriyat leaders are enjoying luxuries outside the state. Is that correct?
There could be some reality in this if people are saying so but I request all Kashmiris to expose these people who are not committed to the freedom struggle. We are representing the sacrifices of lakhs of our people and we have to be ready to sacrifice our lives too for the freedom of Kashmir. There is no room for cheating and everybody, whether he is a commoner or a leader, is accountable to the people.