Photo: Faisal Khan
Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai, chairman of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, the main constituent of Syed Ali Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference, is counted among the uncompromising faces in the resistance camp of Kashmir. After differences with his parent organisation Jama’at-e-Islami, Sehrai, 78, detached from it in 2003 and joined Geelani, his lifelong friend, to take his resistance politics to a different level. In an interview with Kashmir Narrator’s Managing Editor Tariq Ali Mir, Sehrai spoke on various issues including the NIA crackdown on the azadi camp and his son becoming a militant. Excerpts:
The resistance groups appear to have run out of steam since the NIA crackdown began in July 2017. It’s believed that many leaders have intentionally curtailed their activities lest they be jailed by the NIA. How true is it?
I am not privy to such information. But, of course, there are shortcomings in the resistance camp. NIA has not only overawed leaders, people are also awe-struck. We have failed to counter their lies…whether it’s the arrest of Asiya Andrabi and her two associates, and their subsequent shifting to a Delhi jail, the fact remains that these (NIA raids) were not taken seriously when they first started last year. However, I would say that I do not have access to the resistance body that takes decisions in this respect.
You’ve purportedly said that Jama’at-e-Islami had erred by participating in elections. Can you elaborate?
I still hold the same opinion. They (Jama’at) do not accept that it was a mistake, though. I have even told Geelani Sahab about it. He also did not agree with me. But I believe it was a mistake. In 1987, we had taken a bold decision [of not contesting elections]. But some leaders, I mean Jamaat’s top cadre, did not support it…it would have been better had they appreciated our step…We as a nation tend to forget the mistakes of our leaders. Take for example Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. He kept on making mistakes, and people kept on forgetting them. He erred in 1938, ‘47 and ‘74. The irony is that Kashmiris welcomed him at Lal Chowk soon after the ‘74 accord with Indira Gandhi that virtually buried the 22-year-old plebiscite movement. Such is our nature. We forget the mistakes of our leaders and move on. Add to this the grand victory of Sheikh Abdullah in ‘77 elections when people again voted their tormentor.
Having said so, a leader should not be killed. But he should be made accountable for his mistakes, which unfortunately, we do not. How can you dismantle the present [resistance] leadership? History will take its own course. Today, there are no takers of Sheikh Abdullah and his grave needs to be protected. Similarly, the graves of present resistance leaders shall need protection if they deviate from the struggle for right to self-determination. Let us see how history will treat them.
There were rumours recently that Junaid was trapped in a cordon in south Kashmir. I had made up my mind to prepare myself to receive his body. It would, however, be a lie to say that as a father I would not get affected
Did you give your opinion against poll participation back in ‘87?
It is a long story…I have always spoken (the truth) whenever I had to. Back then, I told the then Jama’at chief Saad Sahib, whose personality was full of awe and would always convince us with Quranic references whenever we would differ with him, that we should not contest elections. But in this case (of contesting ‘87 elections), he did not cite a single verse from the Qur’an to support his view. On the contrary, he rebuked me while saying whether I have taken oath to always disagree with him. I politely replied that ‘you are my ameer, but that does not mean you can stop me from putting forth my point of view.’ He remained quite after that. But from another corner, a man stood up and uttered: ‘I shall cut your legs to pieces had you been of a good physical built up.’ Then I quietly left the meeting at midnight.
These are tragic episodes of our history. Why do you want me to narrate it now? (Another tragic episode) is the division of Jama’at into two. It should not have happened. Despite giving tremendous sacrifices we could not respect them. Now we are at each other’s throats.
Has any Indian official tried to approach you with offer of talks since you assumed the charge of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat?
Never. They will not approach me.
Because I am not a big leader. They approach big leaders only.
What if they approach you for talks?
That time I will make it public. I am of the opinion that if I hold a charge in the azadi movement, which is for the sake of Islam and not for secularism or any other ism, and I am not able to benefit it, the people have every right to replace me.
Your youngest son, Junaid Khan, recently joined the militant ranks. Why would not you ask him to return home?
I am neither Sheikh (Mohammad Abdullah) nor Bakshi (Ghulam Mohammad) who sold their ‘iman’ (faith) for safeguarding the future and interests of their families. Why would I ask my son to surrender? He is an educated man and holds MBA degree. The truth is that he could not reconcile with the oppression Kashmiris are facing on daily basis and hence took the extreme step. Whenever I was placed under house arrest, Junaid would tell his mother to stop offering water to cops who detained me in my home. ‘Why would we honour those who kill our people,’ he would tell his mother. He had a first-hand experience of oppression after an IPS officer thrashed him and abused his mother and sister when a non-local man damaged his car.
In 1987, we had taken a bold decision [of not contesting elections]. But some leaders, I mean Jamaat’s top cadre, did not support it…it would have been better had they appreciated our step
Was then his decision to join militancy an impulsive reaction?
No, it was certainly not a reactionary decision. He believes that India is occupying Kashmir and that it’s our duty to fight against the Indian oppression. And he chose his time and place.
Are you mentally prepared to receive his dead body?
Absolutely. There were rumours recently that Junaid was trapped in a cordon in south Kashmir. I had made up my mind to prepare myself to receive his body. It would, however, be a lie to say that as a father I would not get affected. Our children are our livers and we feel pain when they get hurt. But at the same time I feel devastated when my own people, my colleagues in pro-freedom camp, ask me to tell Junaid to surrender before the State. When Junaid went underground, an Islamist leader suggested to me that I should appeal him to return home. His words hit me like bullets, but I stood calm. I feel helpless when ‘Tehreeki’ people utter such words.
How do you see Pakistan’s current Kashmir policy?
They do not have time to discuss Kashmir. Only those who realise the true value of Pakistan will be of any help to Kashmir. When they do not appreciate and understand that creation of Pakistan was a blessing, how can they talk about Kashmir? See their election campaigning these days. Do they talk about Kashmir? Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Kashmir Committee chants ‘Jai Hind’ during his visits to India. What can be expected from such people?
My message to Pakistani leaders is that they need to follow Islam in its letter and spirit and realise that Pakistan was a gift to them from Allah. And this gift was presented to Muslims only after making huge sacrifices. Only two states were created in the name of Islam in the Islamic history so far: one is the Medinian state by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself and the other one is Pakistan state. But unfortunately, Pakistani leaders have failed to remain firm on the ideology of creation of Pakistan. They discuss liberalism and secularism, and not Islam.
Have you ever been to Pakistan?
No. In 1993, I made intention to perform Hajj. Though a temporary passport was issued for the pilgrimage, we were stopped at New Delhi airport. An official curtly told me that I had been placed on the exit control list and then tore apart the passport. Such was their rudeness.
Then in 2003, when the Hurriyat split, Jama’at asked me to go to Pakistan with a Hurriyat delegation. They wanted me to fill up the passport form. When the nationality column in the passport application was discussed, I told them that I would not write “Indian” as my nationality. I told them if the form is accepted with the nationality as “Kashmiri Muslim” submit it.
What are the various challenges before the resistance leadership?
Status quo on Kashmir is the mother of all challenges. And we have been fighting against it since ‘47 with bare hands. Today, our one more generation is sacrificing their academic degrees and worldly luxuries to fight the status quo with weapons.
In my opinion, another challenge before us is how to remain firm on ideological basis. This we have failed to do till this day as a whole, both leaders as well as followers. We do not have a stable character as a nation. If we only had a character just like Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had, things would have been different…both the public and private life of leaders need to be according to Islamic principles.
If my character is pure and clean, NIA cannot threaten me with summons and raids. When I know that I have a lawful income, no matter what accusations are levelled against me, I will pronounce to the entire world with conviction that I am clean. When you do not have a moral supremacy over your foe, you tend to fail.
When were you arrested for the first time?
I was arrested in 1965 for the first time for 20 months. My first warrant was issued during Mou-e-Muqadas movement. Except for Udhampur jail, I have been detained at all state prisons.
Since when were you associated with the Jama’at?
Since day one. My two elder brothers were already ‘Rukuns’ and I was inducted in the Jama’at at a very young age. Initially I worked with Geelani Sahib in Baramulla district.
–This interview appeared in August 2018 issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy of the magazine, contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 7298102560