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December 27, 1999
Kashmir Secessionist Damns 'Absolute Terrorists'
A P Kamath
"This is a war against the entire humanity, and it does no good to our cause," said Mushtaq Jeelani, an executive of the Toronto-based Kashmir-Canada Council. "And this happens during our holy days," he continued.
"The cause of self-determination of the Kashmiris is made to suffer by these absolute terrorists," he continued.
Jeelani was among many Kashmiri secessionists in Canada and United States who said they were unhappy with the hijacking.
But some said they were not surprised. "These men -- assuming they are Kashmiris -- are driven to the extreme by the horrible policies of the Indian army and Indian government," said Anwar Shah, a small-time merchant in New York.
Some said they have been trying hard to build support for the "Kashmir cause" following the Kargil "fight" and tell the American and Canadian leaders their side of the story.
Now, the action of a handful of men has given their cause a bad name. "We have been reading in the last few days about alleged terrorist plot against America, and the man arrested happen to be Muslim," said Shah. "And now those who are against Islam will say that we are all terrorists."
Abdussalam Chouia, executive director of the northern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the San Francisco media he is concerned that the hijackers are being singled out as Muslims, rather than simply as terrorists or rebels.
"If you link the Islamic faith with it, it will make all the Muslims look bad," he said.
He said he did not like violence against innocents. But he also said "the overwhelmingly Muslim region" has been trying to get freedom and autonomy for decades.
"At least 90 per cent of the Kashmiri people are of the Muslim faith, and they do want their independence, or at least autonomy, and India is currently occupying by force," he said.
His fears about Islam being dubbed as terrorist religion was echoed by many Muslims. "The BJP guys in America will make maximum use of this situation," said a Pakistani doctor. "And they will try to make Pakistan a villain once again."
"Maybe the Indian government staged the incident, and it went beyond their hands," said a Pakistani businessman who asked for anonymity.
Jeelani said while he "disliked" to his marrow what India "was doing in Kashmir," he had no sympathy for the hijackers. "The act must be condemned at all levels," he said.
Hijacking and similar acts robs the movement of its moral force, he continued, and could make Western law-makers who are sympathetic for "our cause," hesitate in expressing their support.
Many Indians said while they were shocked by the incident, they were not surprised.
"I knew something like this was going to happen," said Viju Sheth, newsvendor in Queens. "But I thought they will try to blow up the Taj Mahal or Parliament."
Many also ask why the Indian government had not thought of warning Nepal and the neighboring countries of the possible terrorist attack that could originate on their soil.
"It took this government many months to realize that Pakistanis had inched into Kargil," said a high school teacher in Chicago. "And now, this. Are we going to run out of 'surprises'?"
For Jeevan Zutschi, founder of Indo American Community Federation of the Bay Area and a member of Census Bureau in San Francisco, there was heavy sorrow in the heart.
"Here we are marking Christmas and getting into the new millennium," he said. "And India has made attempts to make peace."
"India has been engulfed by these terrorists," he said.
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