Qureshi is Hizb man for the job
1 August 2000
Srinagar: Fazal Haq Qureshi, 56, one of the co-founders of the Al Fateh, Kashmir''s first insurgent group, and a separatist who has been in and out of prison several times, has been chosen by the Hizbul Mujahideen as its key negotiator in the Valley. Speaking to The Indian Express today, Qureshi, known in militant circles for his ''solid integrity,'' said that he will stress upon the Government to take immediate ''confidence-building measures.'' These include removal of security-force bunkers and pickets from roads, withdrawal of security forces from public places, amnesty to people languishing in jails and an end to ''atrocities,'' including custodial killings and torture. All eyes in the Valley are on Qureshi right now as he begins what promises to be a long, delicate peace process. His phone has been ringing incessantly since yesterday. The calls come from senior bureaucrats in North Block to top officials in Islamabad, from the Hurriyat leadership to underground commanders. Born in a poor neighbourhood in the Nowakadal area of downtown Srinagar, Qureshi lives in a single-storey house in the Soura colony with his wife who is a schoolteacher and they have four children. The former Al Fateh militant leader, Qureshi, is now a firm believer in ''a peaceful and amicable resolution of the Kashmir dispute.'' ''I am happy to mediate between Hizb and the authorities in the larger interest of Kashmiris and the freedom movement. It is a big responsibility,'' he said. ''The Hizbul decision of a ceasefire is a step towards the goal. And we can only move forward step by step,'' he said. Qureshi said the Hizb move was in accordance with the manifesto of his party, the People Political Front (PPF). Qureshi said he was contacted by Hizbul commander Abdul Majeed Dar much before the ceasefire announcement to discuss the plan. ''We straightaway welcomed the move because we sincerely believe that it''s a step in the right direction,'' he said. Why had the Hizbul sidelined the Hurriyat while choosing a mediator? Qureshi shoots back: ''Who am I? I am part and parcel of the Hurriyat combine.'' He added that nobody could ignore the Hurriyat leadership in any such process. In fact Qureshi is said to have taken ''the blessings'' of senior Hurriyat leaders before sending a green signal to the Hizbul commanders. Giving details of his immediate role, Qureshi said he will help the Hizbul first sort out the modalities of ceasefire. ''The immediate thing is to work out how to put the ceasefire in practice on ground,'' he said and added that a ''Hizbul commander will also be with me when the ground rules are settled with the authorities.'' He, however, said that he was waiting for a Hizbul communique as to what exactly ''they want me to do as a mediator.'' In fact by nominating Qureshi, the Hizbul has improved the credibility of its effort in the eyes of people here. Qureshi, a non-Jamat-e-Islami man will also help the militant outfit to take along the anti-Jamat leadership within the Hurriyat Conference. Being in the forefront of separatism in Kashmir, Qureshi has literally earned this place of importance among insurgents. He was first jailed during 1965 war soon after his graduation and appointment in State Transport department as a clerk. He remained in prison for six months only to find himself suspended after release. In 1968, Qureshi and his two friends, N A Wani and Zahgeer launched the first insurgent group of Kashmir, the Al Fatah. The outfit was exposed in 1971 and Qureshi was arrested from Al Fatah headquaters at Barsu in south Kashmir. He was released in 1974 but again arrested for launching an agitation against the Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975. Qureshi later founded the separatist political group, People''s League, and became its first Chairman. He was again put behind bars for almost two years. The Government later withdrew all Al Fatah cases in a bid to win them back and Qureshi was reinstated. He remained in government service up to 1990, when he was again sacked and picked up for his role in the militancy. He remained in Naini jail, Allahabad, till 1992.