Kashmir's most-wanted terrorist and the man who keeps the Valley on the boil, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, vowed on Saturday to block any peaceful political resolution to the Kashmir conflict. He threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers, who would turn the Valley into "a graveyard for Indian forces", and to take his struggle outside Kashmir.
Dismissing talks as futile, Salahuddin, 69, insisted that there was no solution to Kashmir except militancy. "The Kashmiri leadership, people and mujahideen should know there is no formal, peaceful way." There wasn't any option but to "launch a target-oriented armed struggle", he told TOI in an exclusive interview at his office in Baila Noor Shah area of Muzaffarabad. Capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Muzaffarabad is located on the banks of the Jhelum and Neelum rivers, 22km east of the Line of Control (LoC) and 125km from Islamabad.
His remarks came a day ahead of the visit of a delegation of major political parties led by home minister Rajnath Singh to J&K as part of the effort to de-escalate tensions.
Salahuddin, who heads the United Jihad Council, a Pakistan-backed alliance of anti-Indian Kashmiri militant groups, said the movement in Kashmir had entered a critical phase after Hizbul commander Burhan Wani's killing.
For nearly two months, since the killing of Burhan Wani , curfew has not been lifted in the region. The entire region has been turned into a concentration camp," he said. "These sacrifices will not go in vain. The more they resort to use of force, the more they strengthen the movement of separatists and freedom fighters."
Talks, he said, could not be held without India's acceptance and recognition of Kashmir as a dispute. "If you do not accept it as an issue, then what is the need for dialogue," he asked. "We will have to display our might," he threatened. He warned Hizbul's "struggle" wouldn't remain confined to Kashmir but "take the entire region into its fold". Salahuddin and his Hizb have been a crucial factor in J&K militancy. Unlike the terrorists who belong to Pakistan and are deployed by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul draws its ranks from among the youth in the valley — which helps Pakistan argue that the secessionist movement is an indigenous fight for self-determination.
Although he is past his prime and at risk of being eclipsed by a new generation of jihadis, Salahuddin made it clear that he had not lost his penchant for using violence. Justifying the use of suicide bombers, the mastermind of several terror attacks in Kashmir, said, "If soldiers from Andhra Pradesh, Madras, Assam, Nagaland, Haryana, Bihar and Delhi violate the sanctity of our houses, we are compelled and justified to carry out a suicide attack."
Rubbishing the electoral process in Kashmir as an eyewash, Salahuddin claimed that the entire region stood with the separatist leadership. "The main reason that compelled me to take up weapons was the bogus, rigged and planted elections in J&K," said Salahuddin, also known as Mohammad Yusuf Shah of Budgam.
Although he now heaps scorn on any political rapprochement, the terror chief had unsuccessfully contested the 1987 J&K assembly elections as a candidate of the Muslim United Front, an outfit sponsored by Jamaat-e-Islami He appeared to be the favourite for the seat but lost in circumstances which sparked allegations of vote fraud and aggravated the alienation.
He later fled to Pakistan and into the welcoming arms of the military-ISI establishment and emerged as Syed Salahuddin. Pakistan acknowledged his importance by getting him appointed as UJC chief. During the Vajpayee government, in 2000, he was speculated to be ready to come to the negotiation table. But while a section of Hizb did come forward for talks with New Delhi, Salahuddin stayed away allegedly because of pressure from Pakistan.