25 Years a Prisoner: In conversation with Dr Muhammad Qasim Faktoo

On February 5, 2018, Dr. Muhammad Qasim Faktoo became Kashmir’s longest-serving prisoner by completing 25 years behind bars. He’s in prison since 1993—with little hiatus in 1999—over the murder charge of human rights activist HN Wanchoo. Even his wife Asiyah Andrabi, the renowned woman Hurriyat leader makes regular jail appearances.

Awarded a PhD in 2006 in Islamic studies, the incarcerated ex-Hizbul Mujahideen commander believes in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. In 2012, the J&K High Court dismissed his petition, stating that life imprisonment means that ‘he has to remain behind bars till his death’.

In an hour-long interview with Free Press Kashmir on January 30, 2018, at SMHS Hospital—where Dr. Faktoo was brought for a medical checkup, he spoke about his incarceration, the resistance leadership’s shutdown strategy, Kashmir issue and many other things.

25 years is a long time for anyone to spend in jail, no?

It is! But I’m satisfied with my prison life. My political belief is based on my faith in Tawheed—and therefore, serving the resistance movement is worship for me. I’ve no regrets. I’m serving the resistance movement with all sorts of limitations as a prisoner by identifying the areas where Indian imperialistic designs are taking place through my books and writings.

I’m imparting both mundane as well as Islamic education to my fellow prisoners, and more importantly, this imprisonment allows me to consolidate my relationship with my Allah.

Alright, but what’s your opinion on the separatist leadership’s strategy at a time when New Delhi seems to have swayed world opinion in its favour on Kashmir?

Let me correct the wording of your question first. We’re not separatists! We don’t want to separate any legitimate Indian state from the Indian Union. Ours is a simple case. Our country Jammu Kashmir has been occupied by fraud and force by our neighboring country, India. So, we’re resisting this inhuman occupation of India.

So far your question goes, I’m constantly requesting the Hurriyat leadership to constitute an international diplomatic front comprised of Kashmiris living overseas. This front is needed because Pakistan’s apologetic foreign policy and stagnant diplomacy have miserably failed to present Kashmir as a human and historical issue before the world.

Even our repeated requests to make the Kashmir Committee active and vibrant haven’t yielded any encouraging response from the Pakistan state. This makes the task to counter Indian propaganda about the Kashmir resistance movement as the need of an hour.

I think Kashmiris can do it in a better way than people like Molvi Fazlur Rahman.

But, how do you see the Hurriyat’s evolution over the years?

We could’ve judged Hurriyat leaders’ performance when they would’ve been allowed to meet people. We’re in the middle of such a situation where leaders are either in prison or in house-arrest. We’re facing the third worst tyrannical period of occupational history. Killing of innocent youth has become a daily practice.

I’ve not read or heard women being killed and blinded by forces anywhere. Even Pharaoh used to spare women.

So in this tyrannical atmosphere, how can we target the leadership for this stagnation.

But what’s your take on the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL)’s over-dependence on shutdown calls and criticism they face over it.

I believe, yes, excessive use of this protest medium—hartal—has lost vibrancy. I’m in prison from last 25 years and cannot say about possible substitute protest options. But those who’ve substitute options should discuss them with JRL. I hope, JRL will give due heed to them.

But given how people are now questioning Hurriyat, what is it that they, according to you, lack?

Since my organization, Muslim Deeni Mahaz, is not constituent of any Hurriyat faction, therefore I cannot say with authority what they lack. But as an oppressed and suppressed nation, we do lack three things:

a) We don’t have any International diplomatic front of our own.

b) We aren’t doing enough to accommodate people from all schools of thought.

c) We’ve not set long term and short term goals for our resistance movement and to achieve them by proactive and comprehensive strategy.

Our failure of not setting short-term goals already cost us the 2010 and 2016 proactive phases of our resistance movement.

Do you also believe that after NIA raids—as many people seem to suggest in Kashmir— Hurriyat has become irrelevant now?

Only those who change their loyalties like renegades can become irrelevant in Kashmir. And whosoever fights with the truth on his side can never become irrelevant. People of Kashmir have resisted National Conference’s cruel Peace Brigade, Pandit Nehru’s Income Tax Department, Kuka Parray’s brutal militia. Likewise, they’ll also resist Mehbooba Mufti’s NIA onslaught.

Talking about NIA, we also saw somebody like a local unionist Engineer Rashid being dragged into the NIA net. Do you think his type of politics will lead Kashmir issue somewhere?

Engineer Rashid-type politics can only lead people to assembly and assembly will ultimately absorb Kashmir in Indian expansionism.

So in order to settle the Kashmir dispute, does Dr Qasim Faktoo also endorse the armed resistance and can we afford that?

I wouldn’t like to answer this question this time.

But, what’s your vision about Kashmir?

When I say Kashmir dispute is the unfinished agenda of the partition, it naturally means Kashmir should join Pakistan. We can have neither secular-independent-democratic Kashmir nor Islamic State, until and unless we force India to quit Kashmir. While all sane forces should join hands to resist Indian illegitimate occupation, Islam remains the soul and spirit of our resistance movement.

But aren’t people saying that in the post 9/11 world, emphasizing on the religious aspect of the resistance movement is imprudent?

9/11 cannot change the established facts. Even the partition of Indian sub-continent and creation of Pakistan and India was based on religion.

If your religion is motivating you for any just cause, what’s wrong in it? To resist oppression and suppression is a just cause endorsed by all religions, secular ideologies and institutions.

When we’re talking about plebiscite, we aren’t asking it for Muslims only, but for legitimate citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. But isn’t this a fact also that only Muslims of Jammu Kashmir are resisting Indian occupation? What’s their motivation? Nothing, but religion!

There’s no such motivation in Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, and Buddhists and therefore they never resisted Indian occupation. Our motivation is religion, but our demand is political.

Alright. Do you sometimes think that you should’ve stayed away from politics and spent time with your family instead?

For me, to serve the resistance movement, is to worship Allah—just as Salah. So, there’s no question of harbouring such a mindset.

But the truth is, I’ve almost lost feelings of family life. I was 25 when I was arrested in 1993. And now, I’ve turned 50 in prison. My elder son Muhammad was a 6-month-old infant when I was arrested in 1993 and the youngest son Ahmad was a 3-month-old infant when I was rearrested in 2000. Both have been deprived of parental care, because Asiyah too had spent more than 8 years in prison. So, what’s there in our family now to live with?

Therefore, my first and last family are the oppressed people of my Kashmir. I want to live with them and die with them. We cannot be sincere to Allah if we are not sincere to resistance movement and people.


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