Srinagar, April 8 (IANS) He was once among the most wanted separatist guerrillas of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) terror outfit in Jammu and Kashmir. But today Abdul Khaliq Dar alias Junaid-ul-Islam spends most of his time advising youths against drug abuse.
An M. Phil in Arabic from Kashmir University, Dar joined the ranks of the HM in March 1990, became its spokesman in 2003 and was arrested in 2008.
"Since my release in 2010 I have been working against the growing drug menace in our society," Dar told IANS in an interview.
"Drug abuse is not new to Kashmir and it used to be there even before the outbreak of the armed campaign. The difference is these days an alarming number of our youths are affected by it," he said as he went around a local college, distributing written material on the dangers of drug abuse.
Dar, 45, belongs to north Kashmir's Baramulla town.
He hails from a family that was influenced by the Jamaat-e-Islami ideology whose best known face in the valley is hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani. The latter hails from the adjacent Sopore town.
Dar says his intention while joining the cadres of the HM was to reform society on Islamic lines. He was the HM spokesman for five years and the security forces ranked him among the top 10 most wanted guerrillas in the valley.
But after his arrest and subsequent release he felt that instead of trying to reform society with the help of the gun, it was better to continue the campaign through interactions with the younger generation here.
Dar feels the role of the gun was to create an awakening among Kashmiris, which has been achieved, and now is the time for propagation of Islamic ideology through dialogue and discourse.
He says he will continue to work against drug abuse which poses a serious threat to society and is also against the teachings of Islam.
"We have set up a counselling centre in Sopore town and I spend most of my time with local youths, educating them about the dangers of drug misuse.
"It is the duty of every Kashmiri to protect the future generation from the dangers of drug abuse and I am trying to do my bit in that direction," Dar said.
Dar parries questions when asked about the Afghan drug mafia.
"It is misinformation. Drug abuse is everywhere, be it in Pakistan, India, America or Afghanistan. Isn't charas (Marijuana) being cultivated in the valley?" he asks.
State police say Dar is at liberty to continue his anti-drug campaign and would even be helped to promote it.
"This is what we have always been asking the militants to do. Abjure violence and work through peaceful means to reform society. If you want a change, there are always peaceful means available to bring forth that change," said a senior police officer commenting on Dar's campaign.
From a gun-wielding underground guerrilla to an anti-drug campaigner, Dar's new avatar is a far cry from his past.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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