Yusuf Naqash, Human Rights Cell, Hurriyat Conference (Kashmir)
Yoginder Sikand, October 21, 2007
Mohammad Yousuf Naqash is the Chairman of the Islamic Political Party and heads the Human Rights' Division of the All-Parties' Hurriyat Conference of Jammu and Kashmir (Umar Farooq Group). In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about what he feels is a possible solution to the conflict over Kashmir.
Q: How did you get involved in the Kashmiri struggle?
A: I began as a member of the Students' Liberation Front, the students' wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. In 1990, shortly after the armed struggle was launched in Kashmir, I was arrested and kept in prison for more than four years. I was subjected to much torture in the interrogation camps. My teeth were broken and I was subjected to electrical shocks. That was how political prisoners were treated.
In 1992, the then President of the Students' Liberation Front launched a new organization, the Kashmir Liberation Council, whose first chief patron was Maulana Abbas Ansari, a veteran Hurriyat leader. I joined it while still in jail. Later, its name was changed to Kashmir Mass Movement and I became its Vice-President. I wrote its Constitution. But, shortly after, I left the group as Bilal Beg, who had then crossed over to Pakistan, forced changes in the Constitution. I opposed and publicly criticized this decision and left the party. After this, I set up the Kashmir political Party, which, in 2001, was re-named as the Islamic Political Party.
Q: Does that name change constitute any major shift in your own ideological position?
A: Not at all. In the aftermath of the events of 9/11, many groups with Islamic names decided to change their names, feeling that since the West was seeking to wrongly equate Islam with terrorism, an Islamic label might be a handicap for them. I, however, did precisely the opposite. As a Muslim, I felt it my duty to project a true image of Islam, and so decided to give my party this new name, so that others would know that Islam, as we understand it, does not advocate killing innocent people, as some people wrongly do in the name of Islam. I thought that if by changing the name of my party I can transform the minds of even five people to convince them that a genuine Islamic party is not an extremist hate-spewing party I would have served my faith in a modest way.
Let me cite a small incident to point out the symbolic importance of the name change. I was invited by the India Peace Centre in Nagpur to participate in a in a three-day conference. When some of the participants heard the name of my party, they accused me of being 'anti-secular' and of being a 'fundamentalist'. They said that they could not dialogue with me at all. But when I explained to them what my own understanding of Islam was, which I believe to be the real picture of Islam, as against the version pedaled by certain extremists, they changed their minds and we became good friends. Some of them later even came to stay with me and my family in Srinagar.
Q: So, from your understanding of Islam, how do you see the ongoing conflict in Kashmir?
A: One thing is clear and that is that guns cannot solve the issue. The Kashmiris were forced to take up the gun because they were consistently denied their political rights. Otherwise, Kashmiris are not a martial race. One positive fall-out of this was that the Kashmir issue was internationalized as a result. But now that this has happened, there is no need for the gun because the worst sufferers of it are the Kashmiri people. The only way to solve the conflict is through dialogue, through political means. The Islamic Political Party and the Hurriyat Conference have been stressing this all along. But the vested interests want to prolong the conflict and our suffering for their own purposes.
India keeps saying that Kashmir is non-negotiable, so how can serious dialogue happen? India and Pakistan have been insisting it is a bilateral issue, but we insist it is a trilateral issue, involving not just India and Pakistan, but, above all, the people of Jammu Kashmir as well. It cannot be solved without taking the peoples' wishes into account. But now even Pakistan has changed its stance and, in effect, is saying what India is also saying, although in a different way. India says we won't engage in a serious dialogue with the representatives of Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan is making the same point by arguing that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral problem, which means that it, too, is seeking to marginalize or rule out the role of the representatives of Jammu Kashmir in settling the issue.
Q: But how does one determine the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir? The Hurriyat Conference claims to be the sole representative of the people of the state, but surely this is far-fetched. Most Hindus in Jammu, Buddhists in Leh and Shias in Kargil would not go along with the Hurriyat Conference, I suppose.
A: If the Governments of Pakistan and India have a problem with our claim of being the representative of the people of Jammu Kashmir, let them allow for genuine elections to be held in the entire state, under UN supervision if need be, not for forming a government, but to elect representatives of the people who can then dialogue with India and Pakistan about the issue of Jammu Kashmir.
Q: So, you claim that your group of the Hurriyat Conference is the representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But what about the other faction of the Hurriyat Conference, headed by Sayyed Ali Gilani?
A: Gilani Sahib's party has only a few people in it, mainly those who were earlier with the Jamaat-e Islami or its likes. His party has a very small following. If thirty or forty thousand people come for his rallies, it does not mean that he represents the people of Jammu Kashmir or even of the Kashmir valley. You see even after more than five decades since it was set up, the Jamaat-e Islami does not enjoy mass support in the sub-continent and has failed to form a government be it in Pakistan or in Jammu and Kashmir. When Gilani Sahib believes in a hard-hitting and unrealistic approach, how can he have mass support? Do a survey and you can find out whom the people support—us or Gilani Sahib's group.
Q: But Gilani Sahib has consistently been advocating the right to self-determination for the people of Kashmir, as indeed your group has been, so why the difference?
A: Gilani Sahib for long has been advocating Kashmir's accession to Pakistan and opposed the third option—of independence. But independence from both India and Pakistan is actually what most Kashmiris want. He has been talking about how the UN resolutions provide for only two options –joining India or Pakistan. So, it is not clear as to me what he means when he talks about the right to self-determination. And now, recently, he's been saying that if the majority of the people of Jammu Kashmir want to be independent, neither joining India nor Pakistan, then he won't oppose that. If he's so anti-India, why did he go on record as to say that if most Kashmiris want to be with India, he won't oppose them? Then why were 100,000 Kashmiris killed? Isn't this against our struggle for freedom and political sovereignty?
We demand that both countries leave us. But things are not so easy, of course. Today, we have a unipolar world, and America has emerged as the greatest source of terror. America finds that its strategic and economic interests with India are far more important than with Pakistan, and so it is unlikely to pressurize India to budge from its position on Kashmir. And to make matters worse, America has supporting, in different ways, extremist elements in our part of the world, be it Osama bin Laden and his ilk or the RSS, who are totally opposed to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue through dialogue.
Q: Do you think that the people of Jammu and Kashmir really wish to be ruled under a Taliban-style 'Islamic' state, as some Islamist and radical Hindu groups and sections of the media make it out to be?
A: Never, they would never like to live under a Taliban-type dispensation. This I can say for sure. I think there is a lot of confusion as to what precisely is an 'Islamic polity'. We ourselves have been responsible, to a great extent, for this. Some of us have misinterpreted and misrepresented Islam deliberately to suit our own vested interests and have engaged in killing innocent people, which is also what the Indian Army has done. These people and groups wrongly claimed that they were doing this for Islam, for jihad. But the Quran says very clearly that if you kill a single innocent person—and here it does not matter what her or his religion is—it is such a heinous crime that it is like killing the whole of humanity. Because of these people who have misinterpreted Islam, the very notion of an 'Islamic state', and indeed, Islam itself, are now seen in very negative terms by many non-Muslims.
So, we in the Islamic Political Party are for a polity that protects, rather than, as some extremists advocate, persecutes its non-Muslim citizens. We follow the Prophet's practice in this regard, not the claim of any self-appointed spokesman of Islam. When Imam Ali was engaged in a battle, he drew his sword to strike an enemy, but just then the man spat on him. At once Imam Ali withdrew his sword. The man was surprised. He asked him why he had done so, and Imam Ali answered that all this while he was engaged in battle for the cause of God, but now that the man had spat on him it had become a personal issue, and to kill someone for a personal issue is a big sin. So, those people who claim to be engaged in jihad but kill innocent people for their own vested interests are actually working against Islam, not for it, despite what they might claim.
The 'Islamic polity' that we speak about is one that not just protects composite culture, but actually promotes it. In this we seek to follow in the path of the Prophet, who, in the Treaty of Medina, allowed the non-Muslim communities who signed it the freedom of religion. It signified the principle of peaceful coexistence. The Prophet said that if your enemy comes to you and asks for forgiveness, you should forgive him and, beyond that, help protect his life. Islam teaches us that captives in war cannot be killed without solid proof, and this proof cannot be extorted through torture. Thus, we are completely opposed to those who believe that non-Muslims should be persecuted or forced to accept Islam, because the Quran very clearly says that there is no compulsion in religion. The polity that such people want to establish cannot be said to be Islamic. And the same critique can be made of the agendas of similar Christian, Jewish and Hindu groups, who are misusing religion for their own political ends, thereby hurtling the world towards chaos.
Q: But to come back to my question, do you think the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would like to live in an officially 'Islamic state'?
A: As I said, many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, have a wrong understanding of what an ideal 'Islamic state' is, and for this some self-styled Islamists, who misinterpret Islam, are also to blame. If in a free Jammu Kashmir the vast majority wants to establish a genuine 'Islamic state', based on the right understanding of Islam as I have explained above, we will respect that choice. If, on the other hand, the majority chooses a secular, democratic state, we will accept that, too, because, as the Quran says, there is no compulsion in religion and we cannot transgress that principle.
Q: Some Islamist ideologues claim that the Kashmir conflict is not a political one, but, rather, a war between Islam and 'disbelief', between Muslims and Hindus. How do you see this argument?
A: This is not correct. The Kashmir issue is a political issue. If it had been a religious issue, then our Hurriyat Conference would not be talking about the right to self-determination of all the people of Jammu Kashmir, including the state's Hindus, Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists. Instead, we would have talked only in terms of the rights of the Muslims, which is not the case. We believe that the Kashmir issue should be solved in accordance with the will of the people of the state, and these include the various non-Muslim communities also living here. We do not say that it should be solved only in accordance with the state's Muslims. We say that the Hindus and Buddhists and the other non-Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir have the same rights as do the state's Muslims.
So, to repeat, the conflict is not religious. It is entirely political. The UN resolutions clearly specify that it is a political issue, that our struggle is one of political self-determination. The non-Muslims of Jammu Kashmir are our brothers. The Muslims and non-Muslims of Pakistan are brothers. The Hindus and Muslims of India are brothers. So, we say, let the three countries and their peoples, whatever their religion, live together, in freedom and peace.
In fact, I'll say that the Kashmir issue is even beyond being a mere political one, and that it is at root a humanitarian issue, because it involves denial to the people of Jammu Kashmir of their basic human right to self-determination and freedom.
Q: But do you think that today the third option, an independent Jammu and Kashmir, would be allowed for by India and Pakistan?
A: If, due to internal or international compulsions, Pakistan and India cannot agree on independence of Jammu and Kashmir , let there be a solution on the lines of the European Union, wherein the whole state enjoys complete politico-economic sovereignty, borders become irrelevant and there is free movement of people and goods.
Q: Some Islamist ideologues present all non-Muslims as 'enemies of Islam' and, on that basis, rule out any dialogue between them. How do you look at this?
A: This is totally anti-Quranic. Islam does not teach this at all. The Quran describes God as the Rab il alamin ('the Lord of the Worlds'), not the Rab- ul-Muslimin ('the Lord of the Muslims'). The Prophet Muhammad was rahmat al-il alamin ('mercy to the worlds'), not rahmat al-il muslimin ('mercy to the Muslims'). To think that all non-Muslims are hostile to Islam and Muslims and so are enemies is completely wrong and can only further increase conflicts and divisions between Muslims and others, which is something that goes against the spirit of the Quran.
Q: Some Islamists argue that Islam condemns nationalism. They claim that the only identity one must have is that of being a Muslim. They say that all the Muslims of the world should form one political entity. Using this argument, they condemn those who call for an independent Jammu and Kashmir, arguing, instead, that Kashmir should join Pakistan, because it is also a Muslim state. How do you, as an advocate of Kashmir's independence, consider this argument?
A: I do not agree at all, and most of the Muslims of Jammu Kashmir share my opinion, I can assure you. We were an independent state before 1947, before our politico-territorial subjugation, and we want that status to be restored. Al-Juwani, a noted medieval Islamic scholar wrote a book wherein he acknowledges the possibility of two heads or even more for the community of Muslims at the same time, with each head having a separate territorial jurisdiction provided the doctrine of the Sovereignty of Allah, the Prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad and the vicegerency of Man is strictly and seriously adhered to because this forms the basis of the Islamic polity.
Q: What do you feel about how Indian human rights groups have related to the Kashmiri cause?
A: There are several Indian human rights groups that have supported us, and several Indian leftists have consistently defended our demand for the right to self-determination. We cannot forget their support.
Q: Why is it that voices such as yours are rarely, if ever, heard in the Indian media when it comes to Kashmir? Why is it that, instead, radicals who spew hatred in the name of religion hog the media's attention?
A: Large sections of the Indian media work in tandem with the Indian establishment. They both seem to have a vested interest in portraying the Kashmiri struggle in a particular light—as a 'terrorist or so-called 'Islamic fundamentalist' insurrection. In this way, they want to de-legitimize our struggle in the eyes of the world. They want to use this misplaced image to scare the people of India and tell them they are under threat from Kashmiris. They want Indians, and the whole world, to believe their lie that the Kashmiris are blood-thirsty 'terrorists' and are fanatically against the Hindus. That is why some radical ideologues who spew hatred in the name of religion, but actually, thereby go against the very spirit of religion, are given such importance in the media.
The media is not really interested in voices such as ours, people who are moderate. That's why we get little media attention. For instance, the human rights' desk of the Hurriyat Conference, which I am in-charge of, regularly sends its press releases out to various Indian media channels but most often these are ignored. When some tourists from India were killed in Srinagar in a bomb blast, we strongly condemned the attack and commiserated with the relatives of the victims, but the media ignored this. Last year we passed a resolution to the effect that we strongly condemn violations of human rights in Kashmir, no matter who is responsible, but this, too, the media largely ignored.
I think it is obvious why the media is giving so much publicity to those who are spreading poison, and ignoring the genuine voices of the Kashmiri people struggling for self-determination.