This is Hizbul chief''s home and we hope his men will listen to him
26 July 2000
SOIBUG: In the grubby run-down village of Soibug, 30 km from Srinagar, stands a house in ruins, its windowpanes shattered, walls caved in. This is where Syed Salahudin used to live. And the only place where the impact of the ceasefire move is evident is thevillage Army camp, only a hundred yards away from here. A few Rashtriya Rifles jawans are cracking jokes with local bus passengers just outside the camp. The sentry is also in a relaxed mood. Perhaps for the first time in this otherwise Hizb bastion, the soldiers have their fingers not on the trigger. ''Ceasefire yahan sai hi chalu hai (The ceasefire has been initiated from here),'' said a jawan. ''It is Salahudin''s home and we hope his men will listen to him here''. Salahudin, Kashmir''s equivalent of Velupillai Prabhakaran and the head of the most feared local militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen, may have overnight generated semblance of hope for peace in Kashmir but his brothers find it tough to answer villagers''s questions. Nobody knows what exactly is happening. There''s confusion in his village where 13 active Hizbul militants, including two top commanders, still play hide-and-seek with the security forces. Salahudin''s entire family migrated a few years ago to Srinagar to avoid ''harassment by the Army and counter-insurgent Ikhwanis''. The families of his two elder brothers returned but Salahudin''s wife and seven children are away most of the time. At Salahudin''s house, it is business as usual. ''I have not seen himsince 1994. I have not even heard from him all these years. I don''t knowmuch about this ceasefire,'' said his brother, Ghulam Nabi Shah, 65, who now takes care of his share of paddy fields and orchids. ''But I know for sure that my brother is sincere and committed to the cause. He will never do anything which will harm the movement. I am proud of him,'' he said. Shah said he was also arrested and beaten up several times during these years. The family admitted he would frequently visit home even after going underground. ''He would always be accompanied by dozens of his armed men, who would encircle the entire mohalla,'' he said. ''Later when the forces stepped up pressure and our houses came under surveillance, he too went underground.'' Like his dramatic move of unilateral ceasefire, Syed Salahudin''s journey to the top slot of Hizbul Mujahideen, feared for its ruthlessness and rigidity, is also unusual. Salahudin, whose real name is Mohammad Yousuf Shah, was not a direct recruit to militancy. He was not even lured by the rebel image. A post-graduate in political science from Kashmir University and an Islamic scholar, 55-year-old Mohammad Yousuf Shah was an active politician before taking to militancy. He contested Assembly elections in 1987 from Amirakadal constituency inSrinagar against the National Conference on a Muslim United Front (MUF)ticket. He lost the elections amid allegations of large-scale rigging bythe National Conference, and was even tortured and jailed for voicing protest. Several future militant commanders were running his election campaign. ''He was in jail when militancy erupted here. But soon after his release, he followed suit,'' said his nephew, Nazir Ahmad Shah. Salahudin started his career as a teacher of a Jamat-e-Islami-run school inNawabazar, Srinagar. He became the ''rukun'' ( basic member) of Jamat and was soon inducted into the organisation set-up. He was nominated as ''amir tehsil'' (tehsil head), Budgam. Being one among the best orators and religious scholars among the Jamat''s youth cadre, he was made nazim-e-aala (chief organiser) of the organisation''s student wing. And finally, the Jamat-e-Islami put him as their district chief for Srinagarbefore the 1987 Assembly elections, which later proved a turning point inthe Jamat''s political stance. After the unexpected defeat in 1987 assembly polls, Salahudin - likehis party - lost faith in elections as well as mainstream politics. Mohammad Yousuf Shah the politician died - only to be re-born as the supreme commander of Hizbul, Syed Salahudin. There''s confusion everywhere in his village where 13 active Hizbul militants, including two top commanders, still play hide-and-seek with the security forces and 20-odd released militants continue to present themselves at the nearest army camp every Sunday.