From the safety of his home in Pakistan controlled Kashmir, Mushtaq Zargar, also called as Mushtaq Latram, the head of Al-Umar Mujahideen, recalls in a phone conversation exclusively with The Kashmir Monitor how he teased the then Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, with whom he was traveling on a flight to Kandahar, to be a free man again.
Q. Can you tell us about your early life and why you decided to join armed struggle against India?
Mushtaq Zargar: I took arms in the year 1988, because I come from that part of Kashmir where we use to fight with stones. In 1947, India promised to conduct Plebiscite in Kashmir but that was never fulfilled. Many of our seniors fought for it, but they were never given anything. The only way to solve Kashmir issue is through armed struggle, there are no other alternatives. Dialogue is nothing but a time consuming process and it will bear no fruits. If there is any language that India understands, it is the language of gun.
Q. Where were you trained?
Zargar: I trained myself in Kashmir. What is the big deal in learning how to operate a gun? You need to have good muscle power; control on your breath and fingers on trigger. That’s the easiest way. Though, Azad Kashmir was our base camp. I taught myself how to operate gun in Kashmir.
Q. Was Al-Umar part of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front earlier?
Zargar: We were not part of any group. But we were not taking responsibility of attacks till 1990. Whatever strikes we were doing, we were not taking responsibility. We declared Al-Umar militant group in 90s. They were my brothers, but I was separately running my organization.
Q. But according to reports you were also part of the Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping?
Zargar: I was not involved in Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping case.
Q. Do you remember the first attack you carried out in Kashmir?
Zargar: My first strike was in Zaldagar, Srinagar but I don’t remember the day. Then eventually, I carried out many other attacks.
Q. When were you arrested and where?
Zargar: I was arrested on May 15, 1992 at Saraf Kadal in Srinagar. They took me to PAPA 2 and after two months, I was shifted to Tulu Talab interrogation center Jammu and there I was kept for 50 days. Later they shifted me to Central Jail Jammu for one-and-half-months. From there, I was shifted to Jodhpur Rajasthan and I stayed there for a period of one year.
From Jodhpur, I was shifted to Tihar Jail and I spent some 7 years there. I was convicted in one case for five years. When case got over, I was again shifted to Tulu Talab interrogation center Jammu and kept there for one year. Then I was shifted to KotBalwal and from there to Srinagar central jail. Then the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999 took place, and I was released.
Q. Were you informed about the hijacking plan?
Zargar: I won’t tell you that. But when the plane was hijacked, I couldn’t sleep for a full night. After the hijacking I was thinking if something happened, they won’t keep me in any Jail in Kashmir. My heart was telling me that I will be released. The Indian government used to tell me that leave gun and joint politics. But I said, I left home and I will fight for it with a stone or a gun.
Q.Who were the people who came to you to prison and told you to join politics?
Zargar: Many used to come to talk to me. I said my friends sacrificed their lives for Kashmir cause and you want me to join politics.
Q. When you heard about the hijacking, what was your first reaction? How did you get to know?
Zargar: When the whole world got to know, I too heard it. I was in Srinagar jail that time and it was the month of Ramadan. The news came at night and names of three militants, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar and me, were announced. I couldn’t sleep that night, I don’t know why.
Q. How did you come to know that you were among the three men that the hijackers demanded to be released in order for them to free the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight?
Zargar: I was taken out from the Srinagar prison at midnight and taken to Udhampur by road. There my hands were tied behind my back and my eyes were covered under a piece of cloth. I was then put on a helicopter and when the cloth was removed I found myself in Kandahar. I couldn’t see anything. I took Rs 840, which I had accumulated in jail, from India’s then external Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.
Q. Did you know that you were traveling with Jaswant Singh?
Zargar: I didn’t know with whom I was sitting and talking to because my eyes were covered. If I would have known, I would have teased him.
Q. Tease Jawant Singh! India’s Foreign Minister?
Zargar: I teased him (Jaswant Singh) in the helicopter but I didn’t know who he was because I couldn’t see him. In interrogation centers they used to say that you will never be released, I used to tell my interrogators that your External Affairs minister will release me by his own hand and Allah heard my pleas, and that happened.
Q. Although you didn’t know that your fellow traveler was Jaswant Singh, yet what did you tell him?
Zargar: I told him that free Kashmir will be good for you. A handful of militants were giving sleepless nights to whole India including AtalBihariVajapyee and L K Advani. Why are you forcing your army to get killed? The money you are spending on forces in Kashmir should be distributed among needy and poor Indians. And that we will continue our struggle for freedom till each and every Indian soldier doesn’t leave Kashmir.
Q. After getting down in Kandahar what happened?
Zargar: After getting down, the Taliban took us till border and I crossed the border and reached to ‘Azad Kashmir’.
Q. Who else was with you when you were released in Kandahar? Did you cross over to Pakistan?
Zargar: Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and me. No we didn’t cross over to Pakistan. Maulana Azhar told me that we are going to land on the soil of Taliban. He asked me to wear a turban but I didn’t have one and then I covered my head with some cloth. From there we boarded a vehicle, and MaulanaSahab went to some other places and I reached Muzzafarabad and from there I crossed back to Indian side of Kashmir.
Q.Were you aware of the hijacking of the Indian Airline flight in 1999?
Zargar: No, I didn’t know in advance about the hijacking but came to know from the media about it just like everybody did. But we did lot of kidnapping cases like Pankaj Kumar Senawho spent a year in our captivity. We wanted to kidnap cricketer KapilDev but that couldn’t happen. After that lot of kidnapping cases happened. That way I knew one day I will be released.
Q. Tell us about your plan to kidnap KapilDev?
Zargar:One of our colleagues was sent to Punjab to kidnap KapilDev in 1996, but he got arrested and was imprisoned for 3 years. If he (KapilDev) had been kidnapped I would have been released long before.
Q. What do you make of the current situation in Kashmir?
Zargar: Will Insha Allah, “throw Indian forces out of Kashmir”. Indian army has broken all limits in Kashmir by blinding and killing innocent Kashmiris. They have called lakhs of army men into Kashmir, but they are frightened by handful of militants. Sometimes they are shutting internet and other time closing whole Kashmir. Kashmir will be solved only through armed struggle and all talks are futile. I want to appeal to Nawaz Sharif to snap all ties with India. They are killing Muslims in India and Afghanistan, why to talk to them.
Q. In a recently circulated video, youth are seen beating CRPF personnel? What’s your reaction on it?
Zargar: They should have killed those men and cut them into pieces. But we Kashmiris are not like them, we left them unhurt. I never see such a coward army anywhere.
Q. What is your take on Hurriyat?
Zargar: They want a political solution of Kashmir and I am in favor of armed struggle. It is not necessary everyone should take gun.
Q. So you feel it is better to fire a gun than throw a stone?
Zargar: Stone pelters are real militants and courageous than those who have gun in hand. I salute them. In 1992, I was also part of stone pelting despite having a gun in hand.
Q. Zakir Musa recently said they are fighting to impose Sharia in Kashmir? What is your reaction?
Zargar: Everybody has a view and Zakir too has his own stand. I favour accession with Pakistan.
Q. You favor accession with Pakistan: Did they support you in your cause?
Zargar: Pakistan supports us politically and morally, rest we do everything by our own .We use to collect money and buy weapons from Indian and Indian forces.
Q. You used to buy weapons in India?
Zargar: Yes everywhere weapons are available. If you have money you will get each and everything. We bought weapons in Gurdaspura, Gujarat and Mumbai in India.We use to purchase one round of bullets for just Rs 10 and AK47at times at Rs 50,000 or Rs 1 lakh.
Q. Are Jaish Muhammad and Al-Umar working together?
Zargar: We all are one and fighting for the Kashmir cause. We have same color and we are all Muslims.