Based in Pakistan, Mohammad Yousuf Shah (70), popularly known by his nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, is the self-claimed supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest indigenous militant outfit in Jammu and Kashmir. He is also chairman of United Jihad Council — an umbrella group of militant outfits in Kashmir.
A school teacher-turned-politician-turned-militant, Salahudin is a native of Soibugh village, in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. As a student of politics at Kashmir University, Salahuddin had his first brush with politics when he was associated with Jamat-e-Islami and became its member.
After graduating, he started work as a teacher at a Jamat-run school and also led the Friday prayers in a mosque outside the then civil secretariat of Srinagar. Known for his fiery speeches, he developed a clout in Srinagar, and many top Valley bureaucrats who attended his Friday sermons started to associate themselves with Pakistan.
In 1987, Salahuddin was fielded as a Muslim United Front candidate from Amirakadal assembly constituency in Srinagar. The Front was an amalgam of many social, religious and political organisations formed to take on National Conference and Congress, and he was up against NC veteran Ghulam Mohidin Shah.
Popular belief in the Valley is Salahuddin was winning, but Shah was declared the winner. It changed the political course of the state, it is believed by many. After Shah was declared winner, Salahuddin was arrested. Post-release, when armed insurgency started in Valley, Salahuddin crossed over to Pakistan and became chief of Hizbul Mujahideen.