Militant shuns violence, embraces democracy

Militant shuns violence, embraces democracy

Militant shuns violence, embraces democracy

One sunny morning in May 1995, an impressionable teenager decided to cross over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to become a militant, believing that he would help free Kashmiris. Today, Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh has gone on to become a Congress candidate for the Assembly elections.

In his youth, Sheikh’s only romance was with AK-47s that he flaunted with pride.

Overwhelmed by this love, Sheikh, along with four of his friends, decided to get arms training across the border. “I was in 9th standard in 1995 when my friends and I were discussing azadi (freedom). Militancy was at its peak and we decided that we should also be part of the azadi caravan,” he revealed to Deccan Herald.

Several years passed before Sheikh realised that violence was not the solution to Kashmiris’ problems. By then he had even become the communication chief of the dreaded Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant outfit in PoK. After spending nine years in militant training camps in Pakistan, he decided to join the mainstream and quietly returned home via Nepal.

“We had thrown our books and packed our school bags with food which we ate while crossing the border. Once we reached PoK, the situation was entirely different from what we thought.

For some years, I even handled the communication unit for the Hizb,” Sheikh reminisced.

He is now representing the Congress from this central Kashmir constituency in Ganderbal district and is the latest buzz in political circles. Sheikh had contested the panchayat elections in 2011 and even though he lost by a narrow margin, he won many admirers. As this correspondent was in conversation with Sheikh, dozens of his supporters insisted that he hurry up or they would get late for an election rally. The Congress candidate, however, politely asked them to wait and continued to narrate his story.

“It was the year 2002 on Kashmir Solidarity Day (February 5) when then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf came to address Kashmiri militants near Kohala bridge (along the Rawalpindi-Muzaffarabad border). Musharraf insisted that we shun violence as the situation in the world was changing after 9/11,” he said.

For Sheikh, this speech was a wake-up call. “I realised that Kashmir is a political problem in Pakistan and needs a political solution. I also realised that violence is not a solution to any problem as several militants who had fought in Afghanistan shared their experiences of how it can bring devastation to a country,” he said.

Sheikh, who belongs to a well-off business family in Kangan, said he joined politics to serve downtrodden people. “Several parties approached me, but I decided to join the Congress as it is the only party which can heal the wounds of Kashmiris,” he said.

The political novice is not intimidated even though he is pitched against National Conference stalwart Mian Altaf, a Gujjar leader, and People’s Democratic Party candidate Bashir Mir in Kangan. “I have some regrets about my past, but that experience has taught me one lesson; Never give up,” Sheikh concluded.