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PAKISTAN - On A Razor's Edge, March 2004


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "On a Razor's Edge"

VOICES IN THE WHIRLWIND
Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

INTERVIEW WITH SHARMEEN OBAID
The Brink of Peace

ESSENTIAL BACKGROUNDERS FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
Reporting on the Nuclear Scandal

FACTS & STATS
Background, Government, Issues

LINKS & RESOURCES
India/Pakistan Relations, Islamic Fundamentalism, Media Resources

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VOICES FROM THE WHIRLWIND: Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

"Shahzad": An Underground Militant

"Shahzad" This interview with a clandestine Kashmiri jihadi based in Pakistan describes the passionate battle between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Please tell us your name.

Shahzad.

Mr. Shahzad, how old were you when you decided to go to Kashmir?

In 1965, my elders migrated from Kashmir to Lahore. I was very young at the time when I bore witness to the frequently committed acts of violence against Muslims in Kashmir. ... The schools, where the children were meant to receive their education, where they were meant to receive guidance, they have burned to the ground ... they have burnt villages upon villages. The [Indian] army breaks into the homes of the people. They capture the Muslim women and take them back to their camps. There was a frustration: why? Why are the Muslims of Kashmir subjected to such brutality? And what is their crime that such mountains of torture are brought down upon them?

Why have we left [Kashmir]? Because the Indians have committed such brutalities on us. And even to this day, the helpless Muslims who dare to live there are being tortured by India. ... If India wants to resolve the issue of Kashmir, they should come and hold talks with the Kashmiri people and release the 60,000 Muslims, which include women and children ... that they have enslaved in their jails.

What is terrorism? We are not terrorists. We are fighting a war for freedom in Kashmir. Go and ask any Hindu residing in Jammu [the northernmost state in India and the only one with a Muslim majority] and they will verify our behavior. Ask any Hindu woman or any Hindu pundit, if any Kashmiri mujahadeen has even looked at their women with evil intent. Or have any of their children or elderly or women been tortured by us? Tell them to try and prove these crimes on us. Such things have never happened. Many times when we walk past the fields, Hindu women work in them. We simply walk right past them.

In contrast are these Indian army men. What do they do? They drag women out of their homes and force themselves upon them. They are the ones who drink alcohol, they are the ones who commit atrocities. On one side is their culture. And on the other side is our culture ... . We are residents of that land, it is our home, we will help them. And we shall keep on doing so until the Indian Army is removed from there.

They have ruined our fields. The very land of Kashmir is stained with blood. At one time, people from other parts of the world used to visit, to witness its greenery, to witness its joy, because Kashmir was known as Paradise on Earth. Today, they have transformed that same Kashmir into Hell.

Can you describe how you got your training?

Actually, from my childhood I was very fond of martial arts. So I learned martial arts from various clubs.

After that when I used to see on TV the violence that Kashmir was subjected to, I couldn't contain myself from helping the women of Kashmir. I left everything and headed to Muzaffarabad [capital city of the Pakistan-administered area of Kashmir]. There I met some other friends and told them that I wanted to go to Kashmir.

There were some immigrants, who had migrated from Kashmir, who had formed an organization, a group. I got in contact with them ... and they took me to the other side of Line of Control [a ceasefire boundary established in 1948 that divides Kashmir into a Pakistan-administered area and an India-administered area]. I went and lived there.

Were you ever arrested in Pakistan or in India?

No, such an event never occurred. We used to go to the other side of the Line of Control. ... The Bakarwals [a predominantly Muslim, nomadic ethnic group in Kashmir] who used to herd goats, through them we used to enter the area. The border is vast, it is not small at all.

How many people have you seen fighting for Kashmir over there?

Every child of Kashmir is fighting for Kashmir's freedom. It is not about the number of people over there ... two, four, five, 10, a thousand. The entire Kashmir and their upcoming generations will also be fighting for the freedom of Kashmir.

Because someone's brother has been martyred in front of his eyes, someone's mother has been martyred. A small child who sees the Indian army killing his mother with a burst of bullets, right before his eyes, then what do you think will happen when he grows up? Do you think he'll have love for them? Hate will be nurtured in his heart, from his childhood when his mother was murdered, and as an adult he will avenge the death of his mother.

Where are the Kashmiri mujahadeens acquiring their weapons?

Weapons? OK, I will tell you that too. The soldiers of the Indian army sell us the weapons. They sell them to us because they have been there for ages and have not seen their homes.

So what these army men do is that they approach us and say, "Brother, please purchase these weapons from me and give me just enough money that I can escape with my life and go be with my family."

They are so fed up with it. This is the condition of the Indian army.

Which is the biggest battle you have participated in so far, if you could tell me? You don't have to mention the name of the place, but could you tell us about it?

Once in Kashmir, [the Indians] got hold of a Kashmiri Muslim and thought that he was one of the mujahadeen. By mistake he went into their camp. They grabbed him and put some water on to boil. There was a drum in which they boiled the water, and they put him into [it] and then lit a fire under the drum. This torture we witnessed. And to take revenge for that brother, we took action on the post. And those of them who burned him and martyred him, we took actions on them and caused them a lot of damage.

Most of the boys who go to Kashmir, are they of a young age or are they adults?

From Pakistan, very few people volunteer. For the most part, it is Kashmiris themselves who are struggling for Kashmir. ... Children of all ages are fighting there ... every elder, every child and every woman of Kashmir are all fighting the war for freedom.

Do you think that Kashmir will ever become [Pakistan's]?

Kashmiris will never want to be a part of the Hindus ... . Kashmir belongs to Muslims. Muslims live there. There is recital for Azan there [a call to prayers delivered on loudspeaker for the public to hear], there are prayers there. The way of life is Muslim by practice.

[Kashmiris] want to be with Pakistan. Whenever they go there, they only chant one slogan: "Long live Pakistan." They pray for Pakistan constantly. They have love for Pakistan, and they want their interaction to be with Pakistan. They desire to go to Pakistan. They long to see Pakistan.

Presently, President Musharraf is establishing peace with India. Buses and train routes have been opened, and people are traveling back and forth.

It is a very good step by Mr. Musharraf, and peace should be created. When have we said that we demand violence or mass murders? We also forward the message of peace to India.

"Talks"? What kind of "talks"? It is a good effort by Pakistan and a good intention. However, the problem lies in the issue of Kashmir. Mr. Musharraf is saying, "Peace. Peace." Mr. Musharraf and the government talk about peace, but in Kashmir whatever the Indians are doing, that is not peace -- it is mass murder.

It is a scheme against Kashmiris. We are extending our hands in support of talks, but the Muslims who live in Kashmir should be consulted too ... . The entire valley is filled with blood and approximately 80,000 martyrs. How will that loss be avenged? The Kashmiris are demanding their freedom while the army is constantly subjecting them to cruelty. How will that cruelty end? Talks can only take place under the condition that Kashmiris are given their rights.

So --

The army men should be expelled from that area. They should leave and go live with their children. Why do they bring their cruelty upon us? Why do they bother us?

That means that peace with India shouldn't be established before the Kashmir issue achieves a resolution?

The problem is this: It is good that Pakistan is conducting these talks and Pakistan wants this issue to be resolved. But it is the Indians who do not want to resolve this issue. If India wanted this problem to be solved, then what was the necessity for setting barbed wire over there?

If they wanted, they would immediately say, "Fine, we recognize the Kashmir problem and are ready for talks," and then they would remove their army. After that the Kashmiri leaders, who have been imprisoned in their jails, would be released. And then we would have been convinced that talks would be fruitful.

How much did the Pakistan army used to support Kashmiri mujahadeen?

What connection does the Pakistan army have with us? We have no relation with the Pakistan army.

Have they never aided you in any way?

They are aiding us, in front of you, when they are telling the Indians to stop the violence and resolve the issue of Kashmir according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people. That is their aid. What more could they do?

Have you received any form of logistical assistance from them or the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's military intelligence agency]?

What does the ISI have to do with us? We are fighting our own war ... . The reason we support Pakistan is because they are our Muslim brethren and they harbor compassion for us.

Our religion, our Islam, is one. This is why we love them. We have in our hearts deep love for them. Whenever, by the will of Allah, Kashmir gains freedom, we will show support for Pakistan.

You claim that the war is being fought in the Valley of Kashmir, but even inside Pakistan a lot of jihadi factions have cropped up, and several bomb blasts have been reported.

These blasts which are being observed in Pakistan are the responsibility of RAW [the Research and Analysis Wing, India's primary intelligence agency and a counterpart to Pakistan's military intelligence agency]. Kashmiri mujahadeens have no connection with these events.

As far as the various other jihadi organizations that have emerged, then it is because of the compassion of the Pakistani people which is with us Kashmiri. If you say that there are offices or training centers of jihadi groups operating in Pakistan, then it is untrue. There are no training centers as such in Pakistan.

The recent attacks on President Musharraf's life, they are not efforts of a jihadi group?

There are two groups involved in those attacks: One is RAW and the other is the Israeli agency Mossad, or whatever the name is. They are the ones who are responsible for attacks on Musharraf. Because they are some of [the] agencies which do not want the Kashmir problem to reach a resolution.

And it is my opinion that Mr. Musharraf is our Muslim brother and he will never betray the trust that the Kashmiris have vested in him. He is a patriot, a Pakistani, and will never betray the blood which has been spilled in Kashmir.

Have you ever performed any activity on Indian soil?

This is it! This is exactly what India wants you to think. The recent Delhi event [On December 13, 2001, the parliament in Delhi was attacked by gunmen who tried to drive their car into the parliament. India accused Pakistani Kashmiri militants of planning the attack] was a part of their elaborate propaganda against us. Our Islam does not permit us to accomplish such carnage, and we are only struggling for Kashmir, struggling for freedom. The Indian public ... we are human and so are they. We eat and so do they. It is absolutely not our purpose that we harm them with any action. Whatever calamity has occurred in Delhi is the work of Indians themselves. And it is just a façade to show to the international community, claiming that the Kashmiri mujahadeens are committing terrorism.

When the immigrants from Kashmir come over here or someone voluntarily wants to go join the fight, are they sent to war unprepared or are they subjected to some form of training?

Yes, they are taught; wheat is supplied to them. If they don't have clothes to wear, then they are provided. Financial aid is given.

But ... how are they educated in warfare?

Let me tell you, when someone resolves to fight in a war ... now look at these suicide attacks in Israel -- are they from trained people? Who can train them? The fight for freedom is fought with passion. It is not necessary that a man is trained for two years and then he enters the battlefield. If someone's brother has been martyred in front of him, then do you think that first he'll go and get training for two years?

Now imagine if you're sitting at home and robbers break into your house. They enter your home. They start beating up your mother and your brothers and sisters in front of you. And there is a Mauser [rifle] in front of you. The rage you feel at the time ... . You don't know how to fire a Mauser, but you'll at least use it to intimidate them ... . No training is required for it.

Training is already done. Every child of Kashmir knows how to scale mountains. We herd our goats on top of mountains. We carry 20-, 30-kilo loads on our backs ... . Our training is habitual.

You mentioned that the Indian army checkpoints are at every 100 meters. How difficult is it to cross these obstacles?

We are familiar with the localities. We know where to tread and where to avoid. But how is a stranger to the land able to identify where to go and where not to go? It is such an extensive border, surrounded by jungle; only those who are the natives of that area have any way of knowing the paths.

So we are aware of where their posts are, and from where we can cross and which destination to reach. We are familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the place. When the army personnel come and leave, their entire day's schedule, we are aware of everything. We are the habitants of the land. It is our home. How can we not know who is coming or leaving?

How many Indian informers must be roaming around in Kashmir?

There are people from Shiv Sena [a hard-line Hindu political party in India that opposes granting independence to Kashmir], Indian army, border security force. I don't know how many breeds of people there are.

When the war in Afghanistan broke out, do you know of anyone from Kashmir who participated in it --

No.

-- or are you only concerned for Kashmir?

What business do Kashmiris have with Afghanistan? We have compassion for them, but to climb ... thousands of feet of towering mountains, walking for 80 miles and then crossing such a difficult terrain to enter Afghanistan ... . It doesn't make sense to go over there.

Then this is a wrongful propaganda that Kashmiri jihadis are trekking everywhere?

It's just stating that Muslims are terrorists. I would say that there isn't a more pacifist nation than Muslims in the world. Islam has always condemned terrorism. Islam is a religion of peace; it teaches peace.

Did you ever used to dream of becoming someone else when you grew up, like a doctor? Ever given the future any thought, what to do when this is all over?

Of course. Whenever you receive an education in a school or a college, you think about a future career. You think, "I have a mother, she's old; I have a father, he's old. When I grow up I will support them. I will become a doctor, or give my CSS [Central Superior Service, a national exam issued in Pakistan to fill civil service posts], or complete my M.B.B.S. [a medical degree issued in South Asian countries], or earn a law degree and become a lawyer." These are everyone's dreams.

But when my father no longer exists, my mother no longer exists, my brothers and sisters have been killed -- then tell me, what path will we choose? Where we used to study has been burned. The lake from which we used to drink is now filled with blood. Thorns were laid in our path. How were we going to study? How were we to do our CSS? How were we to become a doctor? How were we to do our Ph.D. and pay honor to our country's name or to our parents' name? What sort of work were we to perform when all members of our family have been martyred?

Was your family victim of a direct attack?

I do have some relatives. There were direct attacks. Whoever has a family residing anywhere in Kashmir, they are our brethren. They are our blood. They are our associates. Our every drop of blood is for the Kashmiris. Their pain and suffering is ours.

May I ask one more question? Are your parents happy that you are fighting the war?

Of course. Why wouldn't they be happy? When a brother, mother and members of the family have been martyred -- why wouldn't they be happy when someone goes to avenge their deaths?

If Kashmir achieves freedom then will you go back to Kashmir or stay here [in Pakistan]?

I will definitely return back. What do I have to gain from living here? I will return home. ... There is so much pollution over here, from cars and rickshaws. Over there, by the grace of Allah, the fruits of our land are so magnificent. How much could I tell you. Our very hearts weep. We long for the day that the Valley of Kashmir gains freedom, and we return back to our country. We are waiting for that time.

Ahmed Rashid: Critical Journalist
Jugnu Mohsin: Newspaper Editor
• "Shahzad": An Underground Militant
Lieutenant General Hamid Gul: Defender of Islam
General Mirza Aslam Beg: Former Army Foe of Musharraf
Sherry Rehman: Opposition Parliamentarian
Sami ul-Haq: Powerful Religious Leader

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