Pakistan our supporter, not our master: Ahsan Dar
From teaching children to hold pencil and pen in their hands to helping youth operate an AK 47, Master Ahsan Dar talks his journey from a teacher to the founder of Kashmir’s biggest indigenous militant outfit, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Dar unwinds in an in-depth interview, his first since 1999, with Rising Kashmir Op-ed Editor, Daanish Bin Nabi. Excerpts
The US has designated HM as a “foreign terrorist organisation”. How do you see this development?
Designating HM as a “foreign terrorist organisation” is not going to have any impact because public support is the most important aspect of our movement. And HM has the public support. Look at south Kashmir. When did Kashmir dispute get full international support? If we have a look at history, the USA has never supported the Kashmir cause. The US has always used Pakistan for its own benefits. Had Pakistan been a Christian country, every country would have helped it. Remember East Timor, South Sudan, and Balkans. All these countries got full support.
Tell us how Ahsan Dar became Master Ahsan Dar?
Everyone calls me Master because I used to teach between 1982 and 1988. I was posted at various schools across Jammu Kashmir like Khor, Frisal, Doda, Chadoora, Banihal. All these schools were run by Falah-e-Aam Trust, an education system of Jamaat-e-Islami. My last posting was at Middle School Khor, Pattan.
Why did you leave teaching?
I had to after I was arrested on September 28, 1988 from my school at Khor, Pattan. At that time, I had already crossed the Line of Control (LoC) twice. I had crossed over the first time in September 1986 and second time in May 1988. J&K Police arrested me and detained me first at Rajbagh Police Station and then shifted me to Kupwara Police Station. On December 26, 1988 I was shifted to Central Jail Srinagar. In between, I was also kept at Red 16 Torture Center where I was brutally tortured and my private parts seared with stove. Our policy was clear and we took responsibility of our every activity. However, despite being honest in our statements, they kept torturing us for no reason.
Were you involved in 1987 polls?
I don’t know anything about the 1987 election because at that time, I was posted at Banihal.
How was Hizb-ul-Mujahideen formed?
I was a member of Ansar-ul-Islam outfit, an organisation headed by Hilal Mir alias Nasir-ul-Islam. Although, we did not carry any big attacks on the India forces, all of us were arrested in 1988. In November 1988, we made a failed attempt in escaping from Red 16.
Finally, on April 4, 1989, when I was shifted from Central Jail to SMHS Hospital for treatment, I successfully escaped from Police. But by this time, our all the boys and sympathizers were put behind bars or had crossed over to Muzaffarabad. I soon met Muhammad Ashraf Dar, Abdul Waheed Sheikh and Abdul Rasheed Chatala alias Captain Rasheed from Karnah for trying to chalk out our future strategy. Then in July 1989, when I returned from Pakistan, I met Syed Ali Geelani at his residence in Dooru, Sopore. This meeting was attended by Altaf Ahmad Shah of Seelo Sopore, Farooq Ahmad Qureshi, Sheikh Abdul Waheed, Muhammad Ashraf Dar and a few more people. Geelani Sahab told us, “Yours is the only way to achieve our goal.”
Then in August 1989, Nasir-ul-Islam was released. General Abdullah and Nasir-ul-Islam came to meet me at one of our hideouts. I remember, Nasir said, “You people are doing good work but the entire credit goes to Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front as no one recognizes you.” He advised all of us to have an organization and own all the anti-India actions. I told him that we had Ansar-ul-Islam outfit, which we could revive.
However, Nasir sahab did not agree to it. It was Nasir sahab who suggested the name Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. I told him to first hold consultations with JKLF and we met the JKLF leadership at Dr. Ghulam Qadir Sofi alias Abu Turab’s house in Rawalpora. However, the meeting was not fruitful and ended in a failure.
The atmosphere is not right to spell the beans about that meeting.
How then was HM formed?
When we came out of this meeting we decided to launch an outfit. As suggested by Nasir, we named it Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. It was at the home of a retired government teacher, Ghulam Mohiuddin Dar at Hanjibugh Magam that we formed HM. I announced myself as the chief and Sheikh Abdullah Waheed sahab as my deputy without consulting anyone. There was no one’s hand in the making or the launching of HM.
At that time, I was on my own and had only four young boys who had just returned after getting arms training from across. On September 15, 1989, we officially launched HM.
However, no local dailies accepted our first press release which we had sent to them on that evening. All newspapers told us that they only recognise JKLF. Only Alsafa published our first press notes. On September 16, 1989, Alsafa wrote, “Haal hi jail se faraar Master Ahsan Dar ne apni tanzeem banayi” (Recently, escaped Master Ahsan Dar launches his outfit). By December 1989, I was successful in making HM a grass root militant group in the Valley.
In a recently released book, you have mentioned to the author that Geelani, Sehrai and Syed Salahuddin appointed you as Operations Head of HM and that the outfit was floated with the consent of all three?
No, it is not true. I never said such a thing to the author. HM is entirely my creation. I consulted no one. At that time, Syed Salahuddin was in jail. How could he or Geelani sahab or Sehrai sahab appoint me as the head or launched an organisation. They neither knew nor had any role in launching HM.
And what role did the Pakistani establishment play?
By December 1988, Abdullah Bangroo returned to the Valley after receiving arms training. The Pakistani establishment sent the youth under different organisations names like K2 and Al Badar but I took them all in HM. Till March 1990, Pakistan did not accept HM.
Pakistani establishment had no role in forming HM. Forget about funding or helping us, Pakistan initially did not accept HM.
I sent youth in droves to the other side to get arms training in the name of HM. During those days, every group that crossed over to the other side belonged to HM. I actually forced Pakistan to accept HM.
But why didn’t Pakistan accept it initially?
They had already supported one group (JKLF). They did not want to have another group operating in Kashmir. It is a misconception that Pakistan created HM when it always supported JKLF. It was I who forced Pakistan, its Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to own HM.
Afterwards, I sent Ghulam Muhammad Safi, Muhammad Maqbool Pandit, Ali Muhammad Dar alias Shaheed Burhan-ud-Din in March 1990 to Pakistan. Then with the help of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami they were successful in persuading Government of Pakistan to own and help HM. It was Safi, a Kashmiri, who opened the first basecamp of HM at Muzaffarabad to train local Kashmiri boys.
After HM was launched, did Pakistan abandon JKLF due to their pro-Independence and secular ideology?
The assertion that they supported HM because of pro-Pakistan ideology is rubbish. They only recognised JKLF not the HM. All of us were trained under the banner of JKLF although we had no links with JKLF at that time. I had no links with Pakistan or ISI when I launched HM. It was only after I got in touch with them and started sending youth there that they started supporting us.
Why did you force Pakistan to accept HM over JKLF?
We Kashmiris were giving our blood. Why would we do things at their (Pakistan) behest? Why would I kill myself at the behest of Pakistan? It was our indigenous movement. We were giving our blood. Why would they dictate terms to us? Pakistan was our supporter not our master. Only I know how I dealt with and managed Pakistan.
What did you stand for?
Even now, I swear by Pakistan. I am a Pakistani by heart and soul. I want Kashmir to become a part of Pakistan. But that merger should happen at our own terms not theirs.
Was it you who forced the reluctant Jamaat-e-Islami to support militancy?
Yes, it is true. I dragged Jamaat to support militancy in early 1990s because they owned every good action claiming that they had mentored these youth but at the same time denied everything, dissociating itself from any action that went wrong. So I announced that HM was the military wing of Jamaat.
But Syed Ali Geelani has said it was he who announced HM as the armed wing of Jamaat?
Geelani sahab is right in a sense. In Khora, Pattan at Hajji Ghulam Muhammad Ganai’s house, we had called a meeting in February 1990 about how HM should operate. Top Jamaat leaders, Geelani Sahab, Mir Asadullah Murran, Wali Muhammad Shah, Nasir-ul-Islam and Habibullah Wani, all attended the meeting. Kashmir used to witness mass rallies during those days.
In the meeting, we discussed the issue of flags as two flags - one of Jamaat and the other black and white - used to dominate rallies during those days. The Jamaat was of an opinion that HM should have its own flag and should not allow use of Jamaat flags.
But Geelani sahab objected to it and asked all the present there to make it clear whether HM is Jamaat’s armed wing or not? Nobody said anything to him. So, in a way Geelani sahab is right in saying that he first declared HM as the armed wing of Jamaat.
What was Syed Salahuddin’s role in HM?
He did not play any role initially. I saw him for the first time at the home of Hajji Muhammad Ramzan Pandit at Khor, Pattan in February 1990. He was accompanied by some people from Khanmoh and wanted to send some youth for arms training. Salahuddin had approached me through Pandit as he did not know me personally. And when he did not know me personally, how could he have done anything for HM?
Why did you leave HM in 1993? Was there a rift between you and HM’s top brass?
I left HM in 1992 not 1993. There was no top brass. HM was only Master Ahsan Dar and I was answerable to no one. From the time HM was launched till I was the HM chief, I fully own whatever happened without any regrets. Right from the beginning, I am an ideological Jamaati.
Actually, difference grew between Jamaat and me and not between HM and me. I left HM due to the difference with the Jamaat as Jamaat took few anti-movement steps.
What was HM’s strength when you headed it?
When I left HM in November 1992, I had 6300 active youth with weapons operating across Kashmir valley and Chenab valley. In addition, there were many more youth getting training arms across on the other side.
Did you surrender?
I was arrested in December 1993 when I was returning from Pakistan and released on September 1, 1999. I did not give up and was active until 2008 when I was arrested again and released in 2012. My health has deteriorated now which has kept me away from militant and political activities.
Where were you detained?
I was detained at Papa 2 torture center for a year-and-a-half. It was known as the place of death. For almost a year they only beat me for not saying ‘Jai Hind’. I never said it. Commandant Saithi, Commandant Rajinder Mani, Deputy Commandant Vikas Chandra and Deputy Commandant M L Garg were posted there. Every day, they would arrest around a hundred persons and release most of them after beating them up. It was snowing heavily one fine morning. They had arrested scores of youth, stripped them naked and were beating them in front of me. The BSF men who used to operate Papa 2 while beating these boys told them to abuse me, my sister, my mother, and my entire family. The boys were ruthlessly beaten and all starting abusing me. Seeing this, the incharge BSF officer broke into an instant laughter and he told me, “Look at your Fauj (Army).” I responded saying, “You will get its answer.”
In the evening, the would release these youth after torturing them but not before forcing them to raise the slogans ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ and ‘Pakistan Murdabad’.
That evening when these boys were leaving the torture camp, all of a sudden electricity was snapped and instead of saying ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ and ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ they raised ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Hindustan Murdabad’ slogans.
I was washing my face outside at that time and told the officer incharge, ‘Yeh swerey ki galiyon ka jawab hai.’
Do you regret picking up the gun?
No, why should I. Every Kashmiri is resisting India in his or her own way and so was I.
What are your views about Ikhwan?
I was in jail during their reign of terror.
When are you releasing your book ‘Crisis in Command’?
The book is complete and ready for the print but I am not going to publish it in my lifetime. The release of the book has to wait.
How do you see the present HM?
HM is our party, the party of the people of Kashmir. Every Kashmiri should support it.
How do you see the killing of Burhan Wani?
His martyrdom has only rekindled our movement and faith in our just struggle.
And how do you see Zakir Musa?
I have never seen or met him. But those people who say Zakir is a sellout are wrong because when a militant knows he has to die and meet Allah, he can never betray his cause or the people. As far as his ideology is concerned that is upto to him to decide. If he says he does not want accession with Pakistan, then who am I to stop him.
How do you see militancy’s future in Kashmir?
Militancy in Kashmir will never die till Kashmir dispute is solved.
Is gun the only solution?
If you take the gun out of Kashmir, India will eliminate all those parties and people who are associated with anti-India activities in Kashmir. Gun is not the solution but part of the solution.