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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Circa 2001: When Musharraf let Indian journos meet Salahuddin after Agra debacle

Beyond the News.

opinion Updated: Jul 16, 2017 21:06 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, addresses his supporters in Muzaffarabad capital of Pakistan's administered Kashmir.
Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, addresses his supporters in Muzaffarabad capital of Pakistan's administered Kashmir. (PTI File Photo)

Syed Salahuddin is a thickset, soft-spoken man with whom a clutch of Indian journalists were allowed a surprise meeting in 2001 by then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

The real purpose for which we were granted visas, was to attend a press conference Musharraf held in Islamabad after his failed Agra Summit with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He had wanted to speak to the media before leaving a distraught man, for home. But the hosts denied him permission, learning from the sorry experience of an earlier off-camera meeting with top editors that his spin doctors had recorded and released to an Indian television channel.

So Musharraf chose to have a section of the Indian media over in the Pakistani capital to vent spleen. The interaction evidently had three objectives: present Pakistan’s version of what transpired at Agra; show the Indian Premier as being held hostage by LK Advani and other party hawks; put the focus on what Islamabad called the “core dispute” over Kashmir.

The meeting we had with Salahuddin was part of the third objective of hyping up Kashmir. The self-styled chief of the United Jehad Council met us at a non-descript place where he arrived in the company of armed commandoes.

Two dungaree-clad gunmen with semi-automatic weapons stood at attention behind him all through the hour-long chat. Their stern, Schwarzenegger looks led me to believe that they were stoned on cannabis.

The bearded militant in his trademark golf cap seldom digressed from his brief: self-determination for Kashmiris; “human rights” violations in the Valley and “farcical elections” New Delhi flaunted as an expression of people’s will.

In fact, during a recent visit to Kashmir, I heard several references to Salahuddin in the context of the “blatantly rigged” 1987 polls. The widely held view in the Valley is that he won the election from Srinagar’s Amirakadal on the Muslim United Front ticket; his National Conference rival “unfairly” declared the winner.

Be that as it may, the 1989 general elections that followed the 1987 assembly polls marked the beginning of the Kashmir insurgency. Salahuddin told us as much during the interaction, turning wistful at one stage to say, but for the mandate rigged in NC’s favour, he could’ve been a minister in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Salahuddin was a good man. He was defeated through misuse of official machinery,” insisted an elderly social worker I met in South Kashmir’s Pulwama town that’s the hub of new-age militancy. He joined the Hizbul Mujahideen sometimes in the late eighties, driven largely by the 1987 betrayal of the popular mandate and his early association with the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami.

The 2002 elections that put electoral democracy on the right course in Kashmir came a year after the failed Agra Summit. Held under the Vajpayee regime, they were internationally hailed as fair, some even calling it a “victory of the ballet over the bullet.”

Fifteen years down the line, the Valley’s again staring into an abyss of despair and distrust. For Salahuddin’s designation as a global terrorist to have any meaning, Islamabad has to be made accountable for its support and hospitality of cross border terror gangs. The onus for the other imperative is on New Delhi. It must give Kashmir a sense of belonging to check insurgency’s new face that has no fond memories of its childhood.

First Published: Jun 28, 2017 08:45 IST