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Interview with a Kashmiri journalist July 2008

Interview with a Kashmiri journalist July 2008


Many journalists, writers, authors, researchers and scholars from various countries contact me for interviews or to get my views on certain aspect of Kashmiri struggle, terrorism or Indo Pak relations. Some times I ask them to send me questions and I write replies in my own time.

Last year a Kashmiri student Sumera Reshi came to London to study a course in international journalism with special emphasis on insurgency in 21st Century and reporting from a conflict zone. As most of this interview was done in writing, and I have a copy of it, I am producing this for the benefit of readers with permission of Sumera Reshi.

Q1. Could you please brief me about what happened in 1988, which led to first local uprising in Kashmir?
1. Answer:
A. Roots of that uprising could be traced back to many years of mismanagement, maladministration and proxy politics by New Delhi. Turning point was rigged elections of 1987. People finally realised that they cannot have rights or positive changes by ballot. This frustration and anger was visible in the Kashmiri youths. At that time war or 'Jihad' in Afghanistan was coming to an end which could have made thousands of people 'redundant'. These people were not employable in the sense of real employment, as the only skill they had was to use gun in guerrilla warfare and kill and destroy. A skill hardly useful for peace time and development or political stability. The authorities in Islamabad, who managed this 'jihad' in Afghanistan, were seriously concerned as these jihadi warriors could have created problems for the Pakistani society, so they had to find some thing for these jihadi warriors to keep them occupied.
B. Also keep in mind that Pakistani government always suspected India, perceived as arch enemy, and was worried that India might attack Pakistan, especially when Rajiev Gandhi was Prime Minister of India, so they wanted to 'engage India' and 'keep India bleeding' that she cannot consider any military adventure against Pakistan.
C. Apart from that Islamabad wanted to take revenge from India for 1971 defeat; and take revenge from Kashmiris for not 'helping' them in war of 1965 and in 1947.
D. But there is another aspect to this. In 1987 Amanullah Khan, Chair of JKLF was expelled from the UK because of alleged anti state activities. He felt very disappointed and frustrated, and envisaged no future for himself, as not many people like to abandon life style of Britain and live in Pakistan. Frustrated and demoralised Amanullah Khan became easy prey of ISI, elite secret agency of Pakistan which masterminded the 'Jihad' in Afghanistan. They offered him a deal which was previously rejected by a representative panel of senior leaders of the JKLF, as it was not in favour of the party, the movement and the Kashmiri nation.
E. The JKLF delegation which met senior ISI personnel consisted of five senior leaders of the JKLF, namely late Sardar Rashid Hasrat, Dr Farooq Haider, Hashim Qureshi, Aslam Mirza and Zubair Ansari who was Secretary General at the time of this meeting. Zubair Ansari told this writer that during the course of this meeting he bluntly told the officers that: 'you are looking for sacrificial lambs (qurbani ke bakray) to target India and advance the interest of Pakistan'. He further said: 'let me make it clear to you that we will not be part of your proxy war in which people of Jammu and Kashmir will suffer and it will not help our national struggle'.
F. Other members of the delegation, notably Hashim Qureshi was also very forceful in rejecting this deal. But to Amanullah Khan it was an opportunity of life time and he grabbed it with both hands, hence the JKLF provided raw material which was to be used in this 'proxy war' to advance Pakistan's national interest.
G. What you got to remember is at that time there was no JKLF in Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir. Yasin Malik, Javed Mir, Ashfaq Wani, Hamid Sheikh and some others were asked to come to Muzaffarabad for training. The result of this training was the first violent action carried out by the JKLF on 31st July 1988.

Q2. What was the ideology of JKLF - its core agenda since inception, and how it changed over time?
A. JKLF was formed in Birmingham, England in 1977. It believed in united and independent Jammu and Kashmir free from both countries, of course from China as well.
B. The JKLF Head Office was in Britain, but when Amanullah Khan was expelled in 1987, we transferred the JKLF Head Office to Pakistani Administered Kashmir. Perhaps that was the first serious tactical mistake we made, and I take responsibility for that as I forcefully advocated this change. Late Afzal Jatalvi and I were senior office bearers at that time, and we both agreed that it was in the best interest of the Party because we feared some action against the JKLF in Britain as a result of Mahtare Rawinder (Indian diplomat in Britain) kidnapping and subsequent killing in Britain.
C. JKLF believed in non communal politics- religion to us was a personal matter and state should have no role in it. We strongly believed in equality for all citizens, rule of law, democracy and liberal ideals.
D. To us both India and Pakistan were occupiers, hence equally bad as far as imperialism and occupation was concerned. Our struggle was against both.
E. But when Amanullah Khan was expelled from Britain and he had Head Office in Muzaffarabad, he decided to take help from one occupier (Pakistan) to fight against the other occupier (India). With that deal of JKLF and ISI began a gradual shift in the JKLF policy as the party was used as a vehicle to promote a proxy war. The JKLF officially still adhered to the old policy, but gradually walked in to the trap and was forced to support communalism, regionalism and terrorism against innocent people, which opened wounds of the partition of India. In Kashmir policy of religious hatred and intolerance was unleashed where non Muslims were targeted and the struggle was presented as a Muslim struggle.
F. Struggle for independence or right of self determination was transformed in to a 'Jihad' against Hindu rule or Hindus in which minorities were targeted. Cinemas, beauty parlours, tourists, religious festivals (Amar Nath Yatra) of other religions etc were targeted, not to mention targeting of other political views, even if held by Muslims. All this was against Islamic teaching, but unfortunately it happened, and the JKLF leadership unfortunately either remained quiet or became part of this communal game. From then onwards it became a Muslim struggle and not a Kashmiri struggle; and the JKLF groups while still wearing a secular hat became part of this game for various reasons.
G. Workers and lower to middle ranking leadership of the JKLF groups still sincerely believe that they are advancing the cause of an independent Kashmir. They wrongly think that the JKLF is still advancing policy of secularism and liberal democracy.
H. Those who sponsored this campaign of terror and gun culture in Kashmir brought in Jihadi warriors from other countries which changed the fundamental character of the struggle. It was no longer a Kashmiri struggle- it became part of the Islamic fundamentalism which provided a big propaganda stick in hands of India and Europe.
I. It is interesting to note that those who sponsored this campaign of terror or religious fanaticism had cinemas, beauty parlours, tourists etc in their own country but encouraged these extremists to target people who were using these services in Jammu and Kashmir. Aim was to promote religious hatred, intolerance, regionalism and communalism, and widen divisions among Kashmiris. They were successful in this. Freedom or independence of Jammu and Kashmir was never their aim, their hidden agenda was to 'keep India engaged' and 'keep India bleeding', and they were successful in that.
J. My relative who is employed by ISI advised me in 1992, that I should do something else and make a career as there was nothing in this struggle of Kashmir. He said that I was talented and educated person and should not squander my time in this, as Kashmir will not get independence because those who planned this struggle never envisaged that. They only wanted to engage India. He said, he told them not to start it in Kashmir as Muslims will become target of Indian wrath, and that it was ok to do it in Punjab, Asam, Nagaland etc, but he was vetoed out.
K. I did not believe him as I thought he was just trying to discourage me; after all he was ISI man, and wanted to deprive the movement of my skills and talent. But by 1995/6, I was convinced that he was correct, and that we Kashmiris were taken for a ride by Pak agencies - they used us Kashmiris to keep the wolf away from their door. But it was too late.
L. Amanullah Khan also realised this that he was used to advance a Pakistani interest, but he is stubborn man who believes in dictatorship in the organisation and strong hold on all institutions of the party with trusted and 'yes man' kind of people holding various ceremonial positions. He with support of ISI managed to keep his stature and his JKLF group. Some critics believe that one of his tasks is to ensure that the JKLF remains divided; and that all nationalists are divided too. Anyone who dared to challenge him was expelled from the party on charges of working for either ISI or RAW. Reality however is that he is the one who closely worked with ISI and continues to do so.
M. Apart from that not all matters were under his control, as someone else called the shots. But being a stubborn man who was led to believe by flatterers that he is like Chairman Mao and infallible, he didn't want to accept his mistakes or even abandon what he thought was a struggle. He thought once we get Kashmir internationalised perhaps we will get help from other countries and Pakistani influence could be neutralised, but he didn't realise that the world has changed since 1970s. Mentally he is still living in 1970s. He failed to appreciate changes going on in the international politics, that the world DOES NOT help those who become proxy of other countries and promote agenda of a neighbouring country.
N. Pakistan has very strong hold on media and all aspects of life in Pakistani Administered Kashmir, and majority of people tend to believe what is presented to them as they have no other source of information. Anti India feelings are embedded in minds of people right from child hood; and the establishment regularly devise policies to intimidate people and fear of being called an 'India agent' disciplines rebel members and people at large.
O. But then there are dedicated and equally stubborn people like me who damn care what label is attached with their names - they fight their corner when they know they are right whether they win or lose. My friends and I have been fighting establishment policies on Kashmir and their stooges since 1992. We sincerely worked hard to unite factions of the JKLF, and correct wrongs in the JKLF. I have no hesitation in acknowledging our failure.
P. In 1995 when Yasin Malik and Amanullah Khan had power struggle and the JKLF once again suffered split, we thought may be Yasin Malik will be little better than Amanulla Khan and supported him. We thought we will be able to correct wrongs of the JKLF and put the JKLF and its ideology back on track. Alas he proved worse. This is another topic and needs a lot of time.
Q. When we realised that the top leadership of JKLF groups have abandoned ideology of Maqbool Butt, and that they are incorrigible, we decided to say good bye to the JKLF and formed Kashmir National Party to advance the cause of united and independent Jammu and Kashmir.

Q3. Could you please tell me about various pressure groups in Kashmir which are quite vocal in present times?
A. There are too many small groups in Jammu and Kashmir. These leaders and their followers won't like it, but in my view most of these groups have one agenda: to ensure that the status quo continues. They want to ensure that there is no resolution to the Kashmir dispute; and people continue to suffer that they can continue their politics in their name and enjoy wealth, and power.
B. Many of these leaders are either on pay role of India or Pakistan, and dance on tune played by them. It is amazing that some of them have managed to woo agencies of both countries and they blow hot and cold air in same breath.
C. APHC is an alliance and has some hold on pro Pakistan or anti India people. It is in two groups and until recently both groups were accusing each other for being anti movement.
D. Jammat E Islami is very vocal and active, but does not have mass following. It manipulates people in name of religion, and has some following in some quarters and across the border in Pakistan.
E. Mir Waiz has some limited following in his traditional area and being a Mir Waiz and darling of Pakistan and India has some value in Kashmir politics.
F. JKLF is in groups and Yasin Malik has upper hand in the Valley. He is also wearing nationalist hat with Gandhian vest and pyjama of communalism when he wants to use it. When it suits Kashmiri nationalists they yell: 'Kashmir ki shinakht aur Islam ki pehchaan khateray main hai - meaning identity of Kashmir and Islam is in danger'.
G. Then there are militant groups or Jihadi out fits and they are pursuing their own agenda or to be more precise agenda of ISI. They are part of Mutahida Jihad Council which is based in Muzaffarabad and is controlled and financed by Pakistan. So one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that they will only pursue a policy dictated to them by those who control them. At present main groups are Jashe E Mohammed, Lashkar e Taiba and Hizb Ul Mujahideen. The last one is a Kashmiri group the other two are Pakistani militant groups who have close contacts with other militant or terrorist groups.
H. Whether you agree with me or not, in my opinion, National Conference still has mass following. This is the party with grass roots support, and especially Omar Abdullah is very down to earth man. Other parties like PDP and Congress also have considerable following, but I am concerned that due communalisation of Kashmiri polity, Hindu extremist parties like BJP could benefit.
I. There are so many parties and if I start writing about each party then I will end up writing a booklet.

Q5. What narratives are dominant in Kashmir politics?
A. There are many important features concurrently present in Jammu and Kashmir. People of Jammu and Kashmir are proud of their history, culture and traditions of tolerance and co existence; but unfortunately over the years extremism is spreading and one can say that it is a by product of gun culture and militancy. Imported gun and subsequent gun culture has torn apart fabrics of Kashmiri culture and society. Use of this gun was followed by the use of other guns, hence enormous suffering of the people, which has not stopped to date.
B. Apart from that division in name of region, ethnicity and religion are widened. There is lack of understanding and confidence. It appears that each region has its own political and social agenda, and they try to out manoeuvre each other instead of cooperating and supporting each other. It is frightening that some parties are using name of religion to advance their agenda which will further divide people and strengthen those who play communal card. All those who believe in liberal democracy and members of civil society have to unite and oppose forces of communalism and hatred.

Q6. Where is Kashmir heading to in present times and do you think we have enough leadership to project Kashmir cause at international platform?
A. To boost morale of people or to give them hope one can say that azadi or independence is around the corner, but in my view people have right to know the true situation. They have been deceived by the leadership for far too long.
B. When it was widely believed that the Kashmir dispute will be resolved by 2007, even at that time I said it was not possible. In my opinion Kashmir situation will remain like this for some time to come. There is no solution in sight, and despite so many sacrifices we are back to square one, mainly because the Kashmiri leadership was not sincere and was more interested in promoting a Pakistani interest or play a religious card.
C. Militancy will continue for some time to come. It might be a surprise to some but in my view, militancy; especially low level militancy suits armed personnel of both countries, and all those associated with it or all those who transformed the struggle in to lucrative business.
D. In my view Pakistan will get deeper in to trouble and might end up in three countries which of course will have great impact on Jammu and Kashmir and this struggle. It is possible when Pakistan gets deeper in trouble and might end up having another military clash on both Western and Eastern borders, India might take over parts of the State under Pakistan at present. It is also possible that Punjab (new Pakistan) will manage to hold on to Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan.
E. While considering future of Jammu and Kashmir and aspiring for united and independent Kashmir we also need to realise that we no longer have a national leader like Sheikh Abdullah. The lot we have consist of local, regional and religious leaders, with limited vision and they seriously lack sincerity and most of them are puppets of either India or Pakistan.
F. I have no doubt in my mind that the Kashmir dispute is a strong one and Kashmiri Diaspora have an important role in prompting cause of Kashmir, but we need to differentiate a Kashmiri interest from that of India and Pakistan.
G. It is unfortunate that world at large don't see the Kashmir separate from India and Pakistan problem. Despite all the sacrifices the people of Jammu and Kashmir have given, it is still perceived as a bilateral dispute which has to be resolved by the two countries. We are in this fix because: Pakistan made it a territorial dispute, it also suited India, and we Kashmiris failed to promote a Kashmiri cause and appeared to be only proxies of India or Pakistan.
H. Anyhow in my view Kashmir will be united one day. We might not get full sovereignty with right to have our own army and F16 fighters, but we will win independence with right to trade and make agreements with other countries. Question we need to ask ourselves is do we need to have army and F16's or we can do with local police to keep law and order? In any case who are we going to fight with army and F 16's? Army will prove to be a white elephant for Kashmiris and we cannot afford to have this white elephant.

Q7. What are your views on other militant groups in Kashmir? Do you agree with their ideology?
A. I strongly disagree with their ideology and tactics. These groups are promoting violence, terrorism and extremism which are against fundamental character of the Kashmiri society and culture. They are fighting this 'war' or 'jihad' in name of Islam; hence they are making Kashmir dispute a religious one. In our view Kashmir dispute is not religious in nature. It is a political matter which has to be resolved through a process of dialogue by all the parties concerned and not by use of violence and by taking terrorist actions against religious and political opponents.
B. Apart from these militant groups there are groups who could be called 'proxies of Pakistan', who want the state to join Pakistan because of religious affiliations and not because it is better for the people or the state.
C. I strongly believe that these groups for the sake of unity, territorial integrity and better future of the State should abandon divisive and pro Pakistan policies, and promote pro people and pro Kashmir policies. They should support the political process while not abandoning the right of self determination. India on the other hand should change its policy on Kashmir and must realise that the demand of right of self determination could not be crushed by force; and must promote a new policy that can bring peace and stability.

Q8. How important is the role of Pakistan in projecting Kashmir cause to the Western world?
A. Role of Pakistan in the Kashmiri struggle needs a detailed reply. I have written books on this. In my opinion, which is shared by Kashmiri nationalists and many neutral scholars, respective Pakistani governments have messed up the Kashmir dispute, because of lack of proper understanding the dispute, lack of proper vision and selfish attitude. A brief details are as follows:
B. Nehru asked Mohammed Ali Jinnah that people of Princely States should be allowed to decide future of Princely States. Mohammed Ali Jinnah refused this, and emphasised that the 'Rulers' should decide future of their states. Mohammed Ali Jinnah must have thought that this way he will be able to get Jammu and Kashmir as Maharajah Hari Singh and Pundit Kak, Prime Minister of Kashmir were in his confidence. He never got on well with Sheikh Abdullah, most popular leader of Kashmir, and if a right to decide was vested with the people Mohammed Ali Jinnah could have lost out.
C. With this policy Mohammed Ali Jinnah aimed to get States of Hyderabad and Junagarrh as well. Both of these States had Muslim Rulers, but majority of population in both states were non Muslim. Rulers of both States were in his contact, and were not willing to accede to India; but if a right to decide was vested in the public then of course decision would have gone against Pakistan.
D. Irrespective of Mohammed Ali Jinnah's sermons on democracy and human rights, when it came to the crunch he supported autocratic rulers. He didn't want people of the Princely States to take decision with regard to their future. He felt more comfortable with autocratic and unelected rulers.
E. At one time Pakistan was offered to take Kashmir and keep hands off Hyderabad and Junagarrh. The Pakistani government of the time refused to accept this, as they wanted to get all three States, but due to wrong policies and lack of appropriate planning they lost all of them.
F. Mohammed Ali Jinnah refused to talk to Sheikh Abdullah, most prominent leader of Kashmir, and insulted him at a crucial time of partition. Sheikh Abdullah secretly travelled to Lahore in second week of August 1947, to discuss and formulate some common strategy on future of Jammu and Kashmir, but Mohammed Ali Jinnah blatantly refused to meet him by saying 'why should I meet him when Kashmir is already in my pocket'.
G. Despite this insult Sheikh Abdullah sent two representatives to Lahore that they can talk to Mohammed Ali Jinnah. These leaders were never given a chance to meet Mohammed Ali Jinnah - they were still in Lahore waiting for a meeting when on 21st October 1947, Pakistani government managed a tribal invasion with disastrous consequences. We people of Jammu and Kashmir are still suffering as a result of that illogical and brutal invasion.
H. Tribesmen invaded Barmullah on 24th October, and celebrated this victory for three days by dancing, pillaging and raping Kashmiri women (To them they were non Muslims; to me they were human beings and Kashmiris). They could have taken over Srinagar within hours as there was no defence of any kind as Maharaja's army had deserted. Perhaps to these tribesmen and their leaders dancing, looting and raping was more important; and when they eventually decided to proceed to Srinagar, the Indian army had landed on morning of 27th October 1947.
I. Initially Kashmir was registered as a 'Kashmir problem' in the UN, clearly showing that the matter related to Jammu and Kashmir. It was government of Pakistan which got it changed to 'India and Pakistan problem', hence making it a territorial dispute, to which world powers were hesitant to take sides; but at that time were eager to support right of self determination and oppose imperialism.
J. The first UNCIP Resolution (13 August 1948) had inbuilt option of an independent Kashmir, which reads as follows: The Government of India and the Government of Pakistan reaffirm their wish that the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be determined in accordance with the will of the people…
K. The phrase 'future status' of the state, implied accession to Pakistan, accession to India or an independent Kashmir. It was Pakistan and not India, which got it changed in the second UNCIP Resolution of 5th January 1949 to the following: 'The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan will be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite;'
L. The purpose of this change was to ensure that 'Kashmir dispute' remains a territorial dispute; and that people of Jammu and Kashmir must not get independence. In other words for policy makers of Pakistan, it was acceptable if in a referendum Kashmir goes to India, but not acceptable if Kashmiris were to become independent.
M. The outcome of a referendum could have gone against Pakistan, especially when Sheikh Abdullah was at the helm of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir, and Indian army was also present there. It is precisely why Pakistan did not honour conditions of the resolution and refused to withdraw her forces from AJK and Gilgit and Baltistan.
N. Pakistan as early as 1950 agreed to divide Kashmir; and had many rounds of talks afterwards to get maximum area of Jammu and Kashmir, which means Pakistani rulers had no interest in right of self determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. To them safety, welfare and prosperity of people of Jammu and Kashmir was not priority; they were more interested in territory, strategic security, water and other resources of Jammu and Kashmir.
O. Once we have established what Pakistani game plan on Kashmir is then we can see how well they have done to project the Kashmir dispute. When ever they project Kashmir dispute or take any action on Kashmir, be it diplomatic or political manoeuvring, some kind of war or a proxy war the planners always have Pakistani interest in mind, whether they achieve that or not it is a different matter.
P. Some critics argue that Pakistanis are not even concerned with interest of their own country, so why should we criticise them for not doing enough for Kashmiris. That is not a valid excuse. It is true they don't have a proper system in place to discuss, plan and execute policies with sincerity and dedication, but that is not fault of Kashmiris. They are responsible for the mess they have created for their own country and neighbours including Jammu and Kashmir.
Q. Role of Pakistan is crucial in matters related to Jammu and Kashmir. It is because of their de - facto control of Jammu and Kashmir territory, and enormous influence which result in many problems in Jammu and Kashmir. It is because of their direct and indirect involvement which has helped to keep the Kashmir pot boiling; hence we see the present shape of the Kashmir dispute.
R. Kashmir was not the only Princely State to have rough deal at the time of Partition, but today we don't even hear about their plight; but Kashmir dispute is still perceived as most dangerous spot on earth; and that is mainly due to the Pakistani involvement in this matter. People of Pakistan have also suffered due to the Kashmir dispute in many ways; and I believe Pakistan's consent is crucial to any final settlement on Kashmir.

Q9. What are prospects of Kashmir in a longer run is there any possible solution to Kashmir conflict?
A. Unlike claims of some people, Kashmir dispute is very complex one; and we Kashmiris further complicated it by wrong strategies. The struggle was presented as a struggle to join Pakistan and not to get independence. And the final straw was making it a religious struggle - a Jihad, which in view of some has no end- if it ends in one area, it could continue in another area or in some other form. This not only divided the people of Jammu and Kashmir and alienated the minorities of Kashmir, but also deprived us of international support which was vital for success of our struggle.
B. But despite all the odds and conspiracies against our struggle for right of self determination, I believe this forced division will end, and one day we will get united and get some kind of independence.
C. That unification and independence could have some role for India and Pakistan, perhaps this assurance from them that no country will invade the State in future. They can also have some more input in the form of common currency, trade or provide this facility that people of Jammu and Kashmir have more than one nationality.
D. But I cannot envisage any solution of Jammu and Kashmir in near future. In any case we have to change our strategy and abandon use of gun; and make it a Kashmiri struggle rather than a Muslim struggle.

Q10. Do you believe that the conflict in Kashmir is an act of terrorism as claimed by India?
A. First we have to define what is terrorism? Genuine freedom fighters do not aim to kill innocent civilians just because they belong to different religion or region. They do not engage the armed forces in populated areas. And if we impartially look at what has happened in Jammu and Kashmir in name of jihad or struggle, we note that innocent people were deliberately targeted; and that cannot be tolerated or justified by civil society. These acts of violence could only be called terrorism.
B. Any impartial research will tell you that thousands of people were killed in cross firing which is generally initiated by militants in highly populated areas. Also thousands of people were killed and injured because most of the bombs thrown by militants landed in populated areas or bus stops killing and injuring innocent citizens.
C. India like any other government will call it terrorism and propagate against it. But bad elements among militants also helped the government propaganda machinery by committing acts of terrorism, and in some cases targeting members of minorities. Furthermore they called it a 'jihad' and tried to justify their wrong actions by misquoting verses of holy Qur'an and Hadees of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
D. In my view we have a genuine struggle in Jammu and Kashmir, and that should not be projected as a religious struggle against Hindus or any other religion. Our struggle is political in nature. We want unification and independence of the State; and our struggle should be against all those countries who occupy us, and not against one country and again in name of Islam.
E. Apart from that, tragic events of 9/11 have changed many things in the world, and that includes any distinction there was between freedom struggle and terrorism. The world community led by the United States is not willing to accept any violence in name of jihad or freedom struggle. It is because of this pressure that the government of Pakistan announced that they will not allow any territory under its control to be used for acts of terrorism, implying that previously it was used for this purpose.

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