Interview of Hashim Qureshi, Chairman JK Democratic Liberation Party with Aditi Bhaduri (Award winning journalist and researcher in India) for ‘The Quint’.
When you see him it’s difficult to believe that this grey-haired polite man has had a checkered, turbulent past. Kashmiri separatist leader Hashim Qureshi has been in and out of Pakistan since he was 16 years-old when he first went to receive arms training to ‘liberate Kashmir’.
“I was part of the J&K National Liberation Front and I got my first training in arms in Pakistan in 1969,” he recalls. That’s when he met Maqbool Butt whom he came to admire deeply.
“After undergoing training for a few months, I crossed back to the Indian side. Then again I crossed over into Pakistan in 1970, received training in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) territory – Balakot, Batakundi, Neelam Valley Ted.”
Indian Airlines Flight Hijack
Armed, trained, financed, in 1971, at the age of 18, Qureshi, together with accomplice Ashraf Qureshi, hijacked an Indian Airlines flight from Srinagar and diverted it to Lahore where he was initially fettled by the Bhutto government. The hijacking led India to ban Pakistani flights over its airspace, crippling Pakistan’s military efforts to tackle the emerging crisis in East Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Qureshi recalls, he made it clear to the authorities that “our demand was liberation for all of Kashmir, even the part under Pakistani control. So we were soon branded as ‘Indian agents’ and thrown into jail.”
Qureshi was incarcerated for nine years in Pakistani jails. Thereafter, he spent several years in PoK till he went into self-imposed exile in the Netherlands. He returned to Srinagar in 2000, where he now lives.
Life in PoK
So what was life like in PoK, which Pakistan calls ‘Azad Kashmir’? Qureshi grimaces. I thought of the video that had recently surfaced, revealing the brutality anti-Pakistani activists face.
“That is nothing new,” he says, recalling that “in PoK I found that the sole aim of all the leaders, politicians was the liberation of Kashmir from India. There was enormous false propaganda, like Kashmiris in the Indian side were not allowed to go to mosque, could not practice their religion, they were only oppressed.”
“The authorities there also propagated that anyone who was not part of the Muslim Conference was not a Muslim. The Muslim Conference’s slogan was “Kashmir Banega Pakistan.”
But that was not all. There was also the question of Gilgit Baltistan (GB). “GB did not even have a proper road,” recalls Qureshi. “A Pakistani officer was posted as the ‘Resident’ there, just like in colonial times. He had control of everything. In order to bring a semblance of autonomy, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto renamed the Resident as ‘Administrator’.”
“Obviously azadi is a sham in Azad Kashmir,” and that made him write his memoirs ‘Unveiling of Truth’. The region’s woes began with the construction of the Mangla dam in 1962 when the river water distribution agreement between India and Pakistan was signed. More than 3-5 lakh people were displaced in Mirpur because of the dam, and they migrated to UK as they did not require visa then. The community has today grown to over 13 lakhs, living there without much integration with the UK mainstream. “They brought mullahs over from Pakistan to guide them in their daily lives; they sent their young daughters and boys back to marry in PoK.”
Bidding Farewell to PoK
Pakistan, Qureshi believes, has been far smarter than India. “Pakistan, unlike India, allowed the people in PoK to have an illusion of independence by retaining the Supreme Court and the posts of prime minister and president, something India did away with. But no prime minister or president can assume office without swearing allegiance to Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Important officials, such as the chief secretary and finance secretary are appointed by Islamabad.”
So while India said that Kashmir was an integral part of India, Pakistan, according to Qureshi, made Kashmir an integral part of Pakistan and yet called it ‘azad’.
What made him leave PoK? “The ISI approached me several times to help it launch militancy on the Indian side of Kashmir till 1985 but I wanted all of Kashmir to be liberated and not to accede to Pakistan.”
When Qureshi visited the UK for two months in 1984, Amanullah Khan and others were plotting murder of Indian diplomat Mhatre in London. “I was against it and returned to Pakistan. When in 1985 I rejected the ISI plan, the agency tried to mess up my life and I took asylum in Holland. In 1993, I visited PoK once more on a Dutch passport but then returned home to Srinagar in 2000.”
Violation of Rights in PoK
The recent outcry in the media over a video showing human rights violation in PoK amuses Qureshi.
“The violence, the repression against those who want to secede from Pakistan and want an independent Kashmir, human rights violation of the local population has been going on for a very long time. It’s just that now the government is paying attention.”
That is part of the disillusionment that made Qureshi eschew violence. That is also why, Qureshi believes, the many disillusioned Kashmiri youth who went to Pakistan to seek arms training soon returned to the valley.
“Now for the first time India is saying that PoK belongs to it and it has to take it back. I wish India had thought about that side and what its people suffer there earlier,” he rues.
An Intra-Kashmir Dialogue
Pakistan government’s advisor Sartaj Aziz recently said there was no armed uprising in Pakistan-held Kashmir. Qureshi explodes: “Pakistan has been planning the armed uprising in Kashmir since 1984, as Operation Topic. India walked into its trap when it rigged the elections in 1987.” But he reminds that in 1947, when the standstill agreement was signed by the Maharaja and it sent in invaders, Kashmiris came out with kitchen knives to fight them because they did not want to be a part of either Pakistan or India.
He is convinced, Pakistan wants to obliterate all memory associated with undivided Kashmir’s history and geography. Proof? The treatment Pakistan recently meted out to Mohammad Sayeed Asad, a PoK social welfare department employee.
Two months ago, Asad was discharged without pay from work. His crime? He had written books on the history and geography of independent Kashmir, published a map of undivided Kashmir and demarcated areas as Indian-occupied, Pakistan-occupied and China-occupied Kashmir.
The Pakistani authorities confiscated all the printed copies of the book, closed down the presses printing the book. “They want to obliterate independent Kashmir’s history. After all even in GB the people want to be independent, one section wants independent Balwaristan, others want to be part of Kashmir.”
The situation is sad, laments Qureshi, and warns there will be no peace in this region without the resolution of the Kashmir problem.
His solution? An “independent”, secular, peaceful Kashmir as a bridge between India and Pakistan. He proposes that the Indian and Pakistani governments start with an intra-Kashmir dialogue where the “views of the people from different regions of the state will be heard and not those of self-appointed leaders.”
For full interview, please visit: Kashmiri Ex-Separatist Qureshi Denounces ‘Self-Appointed Leaders’