January 2008 News

20 Years Into Gun Life, Salahuddin Still Popular In Kashmir

4 January 2008
Kashmir Watch

Srinagar: Watching on television their favorite preacher flanked by awesome gunmen, admirers of Muhammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin – the brand name of Kashmir militancy – feel good as well as bad. Good because they see in him the ultimate deliverance from the perpetual misery. And bad because they see their erstwhile spiritual icon swung into the realm of violence, which they believe Salahuddin hated most before being catapulted into armed resistance. His fans miss him for those mesmerizing sermons and curse the infamously rigged elections of 1987, which according created the longest surviving local militant group Hizbul Mujahideen’s supreme commander out of a saintly teacher who abhorred bloodshed. Rising Kashmir staffers Javaid Malik and Waseem Khalid toured Salahuddin’s home village, Soibug in central Kashmir’s Budgam district and parts of Srinagar and found him still being admired as much as he used to be before assuming the codename after a twelfth century Muslim Warrior, Salahuddin Ayubbi who conquered Jerusalem in 1187 CE. Residents of Soibugh – the native village of the Supreme Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen Syed Salahuddin believe that the unabashed rigging of assembly polls in 1987 Image Ghulam Mohiudin Shah pushed the Kashmiris toward violence and changed the complexion of the Kashmir movement. Salahuddin’s aged brother Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah is sure that the situation would have been better if the ’87 polls would have remained fair. Ghulam Nabi Nisar Ghulam Nabi Nisar He says of Salahuddin, “He was a pious man who always preached religion and wanted to fight for the rights of his people through peaceful means. He contested elections in 1987 to reach the assembly but the coalition government of National Conference and Congress rigged the polls. Salahuddin was winning by a good margin of votes. But he was arrested and humiliated.” A village elder Ghulam Muhammad Dar recalls Salahuddin’s first speech in which he called for ‘Jihad’. According to Dar Salahuddin was released from Jammu’s Kotbalwal Jail in 1988 wherefrom he straightway drove to Soibug and expressed his transition. “We tried to get entry into the state assembly through peaceful means but Government didn’t allow us to reach there and rigged the elections. We were arrested and tortured for raising voice. We are left with no option other than taking up the arms for highlighting the Kashmir issue,” Dar recounts Salahuddin’s speech. Dar says that the rigging had left no argument against Salahuddin’s call for ‘Jihad’. Salahuddin’s elderly brother Ghulam Mohiuddin feels nostalgic about the humbly built five-room house, which Salahuddin used to live in along with his wife and seven children. Pointing to a room of this house, Mohiuddin says, “Hundreds of people used to visit him to seek his blessings. Despite his engagements he used to remain available for everyone.” Talk to anyone here and he would gush with praise for Salahuddin. Born to a humble farmer, Ghulam Rasool Shah, in 1946, Salahuddin belonged to a traditionally spiritual clan. His grandfather is still remembered as a spiritual personality in the area. Salahuddin’s relatives, admirers and other fellow villagers blame National Conference and Congress for his transition. Ask them if they condone Salahuddin’s latest convictions and they would growl back. A local Muhammad Shafi has this to say when asked if he supported Salahuddin’s move: “Salahuddin took a right step that day. He was subjected to third degree torture in jail. He admitted it before 10,000 people before taking up the arms.” According to the residents Salahuddin along with other Hizb cadres used to move in and out of Soibugh and other adjoining areas till 1997. “When the movement was at its peak, Mujahideen used to move openly and Salahuddin used to lead from the front,” the residents recalled. However, his family members maintain that they last met him in 1994. In April 1991, Shah became Syed Salahuddin and was appointed the Hizb Amir, a position that he holds till date. He is also the chairman of United Jihad Council, an amalgam of at least 13 local and Pakistani militant groups. Maqsood Ahmed, Salahuddin’s nephew who was a former Hizb militant says, “I was affiliated with Hizb from 1990 to 1995. His (Salahuddin’s) personality was such that it inspired everyone. Even his opponents used to respect him.” Asked where he sees the Kashmir’s armed movement 18 years after it started, Ahmed asserts, “I think Kashmir movement is much purer today. Only those people are associated with it today who are pure. In its early phase everyone wanted to get affiliated with the movement but today things are different.” His companions still remember how emphatically he would advocate peaceful resistance. Says a resident, “He was keen on peaceful mean that he chose to fight elections but things for were made difficult. And Yusuf Shah became Salahuddin.” From grade 9-11, Salahuddin studied at the Government Higher Secondary School, Budgam. He composed poetry in English, became an impressive debater, got first class in the 12th grade but could not get admission to any medical college. Salahuddin holds degrees in Humanities and Political Science. He passed out of Kashmir University in 1972 and later rose through Jama’at Islami to become the District Amir. Ninety-year-old Ghulam Nabi Nisar still admires Salahuddin’s academic genius. “He was an intelligent student and a bright chap. I’m proud of being his teacher.” “He had Islamic bent of mind from his childhood. He used to bring his friends to Masjid and used to tell them about Islam,” Nisar said. “I was the first member of Jamat-e-Islami in Soibugh. Principles of Jamat impressed Salahuddin and he too joined the Jamat,” Nisar said in a choked voice. The residents said that Salahuddin opened many Darsgahs in the area and was instrumental in preaching Islam in Soibugh and other adjoining areas. “Our area can never forget his contribution.” The family members of Salahuddin said that after passing 12th grade from Budgam, Salahuddin went to Srinagar to pursue his higher education. The Hizb Supremo according to the residents of Shaheed Gunj in Srinagar used to rule the hearts of people. “He was a great Islamic scholar and a very strong orator,” said Ahmed Din, 65, a shopkeeper from Shaheed Gunj. Ahmed Din said that people used to invite Salahuddin to different Masjids for delivering sermons before Friday prayers. “He usually used to deliver a sermon at exhibition grounds on Fridays. Top officials and bureaucrats used to offer prayers after him,” Ahmed Din said. “In his speeches he always used to mention about the disputed status of Kashmir but never talked about violence,” said Noorudin, another resident of Shaheed Gunj. Noorudin accused NC of manipulating the election results in favour of its candidate in 1987. “Salahuddin had won from Amira Kadal constituency but NC rigged the polls. He along with his polling agents Hameed Sheikh, Yasin Malik, Ashfaq Majeed and Javed Ahmed Mir were arrested,” Noorudin said. The polling agents of Salahuddin later became front line commanders of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and were popularly known as HAJY group. Noorudin said, “People of Amira Kadal constituency voted for Salahuddin despite him hailing from Soibugh. If he returns even today he will win the elections with thumping majority.”

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