Spurned and respected
UNLIKE Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, there is not one political leader who can claim to be “the sole spokesman of the Kashmiris” today. Syed Ali Shah Geelani realised that when, a few years ago at the height of popular upheaval, he sought such a mandate and retracted his claim within hours.
That said, there is no other leader of his stature in Kashmir. His courage and commitment have won him respect even from critics. He has either been denigrated or idolised, but not subjected to a fair critical analysis.
The writer who has influenced Geelani most was Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, who founded the Jamaat-i-Islami at Pathankot on Aug 25, 1941. On the partition of India, the Kashmir unit began to function independently of the ones in India and Pakistan. Geelani rose to be ameer of the Kashmir unit and represented the Jamaat in the Hurriyat.
It is Islam which largely governs his thinking, a fact which some Pakistani diplomats and leaders discovered to their discomfiture. He had a testy exchange with the former president Pervez Musharraf at Pakistan House in New Delhi when he questioned him about his policies in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Geelani’s ideas about Pakistan leading the Muslim world ignored compulsions that flowed from its position as a nation state.
He wrote in 2001: “Throughout the Islamic world, Pakistan is the only nuclear power and from this point of view it has a position of distinction. By virtue of this unique position Pakistan had got an opportunity to play a leading role for all the Muslim countries. … Fears of the government of Pakistan, dangers of the dubious role of Bharat, possibilities of Pakistan’s very existence and its nuclear energy programme being at stake are all true and correct, but these are the occasions for proving the superiority of high and sacred moral principles when the need for a fearless and courageous role has to be fulfilled.”
Geelani’s worldview is shared by few within and outside Kashmir. From it springs his inflexible position. However, while it would be wrong to ignore his worldview it would be unjust to ignore the signs of flexibility.
New Delhi has consistently spurned his overtures and takes great delight in branding him a “hardliner” and denying him a passport. The regime headed by Omar Abdullah has visited his excesses galore, even to the point of denying him his religious right to attend the congregational prayer on Fridays and the Eids.
On Aug 31, 2010, he gave newsmen a paper containing a five-point formula but declined to take questions. Obviously the document had been prepared through wide consultations. The points were: India must accept that Kashmir “is an international dispute”; demilitarisation of Kashmir, an end to arrests and killings; release of political prisoners and withdrawal of cases against them; punishment for perpetrators of excesses. Their implementation would create an atmosphere for wide consultations with a view to a settlement of the problem. The offer was ignored.
Geelani supported the armed militancy and differed from the Jamaat-i-Islami when it declared, over a decade ago, that “the role of the gun has come to an end”. He retorted by demanding an end to the gun in the hands of the military.
However, in his memoirs Wullar Ke Kinare (On the banks of the Wullar Lake) published last year he deplored the fact that “many people took to weapons to fulfill their personal goals. People who were selling wine, tried to take the help of the gun after the closure of wine shops. Those people who used to roam around cinemas and sell tickets, thought that the solution to their unemployment was to take to the gun to earn. Some joined to seek personal revenge and some, in love, used guns to kidnap their beloved … Such acts changed the face of a pious struggle”.
Of a piece with this was his condemnation of both 9/11 and the attack in October 2001 on the assembly secretariat at Srinagar.
Why do people “stoop to the level of beasts?” he asked. “Whosoever commits such crimes, whether in the name of ‘jihad’, or as the instrument of government terrorism, (such acts) cannot be justified for targeting unarmed and innocent human beings”. He also opposed stone pelting, a practice which had acquired popular appeal.
There are three problematic aspects to him — his understanding of Islam, his worldview and his basic approach to the Kashmir problem. He supports the Jamaat’s demand for the establishment of “Nizam-i-Mustafa” in Kashmir. What message does this convey to the Hindus in Jammu and the Buddhists in Ladakh? He wants a similar regime in Pakistan as well.
The worldview is starkly unrealistic. He expects the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to take a joint stand regardless of the conflicting national interests of its members. Even more unrealistic is his understanding of the United Nations. It has “passed dozens of resolutions on this issue (Kashmir) and accepts its disputed status. … yet it has never used its influence to enforce its resolutions by forcing the country which is hindering their implementation for half a century”.
The UN has no power or jurisdiction under its charter to enforce a resolution of that kind and enforcement means placing a UN force to conduct a plebiscite against India’s will. The sheer absurdity of the idea seems to have escaped Geelani.
Such an outlook influences his stance on negotiations. What incentive has New Delhi to talk to him, especially since he has, admittedly, no control over the gun and the gun has receded from view? Geelani shuns confidence-building measures and demands a solution almost here and now . The sad result is the marginalisation of a highly respected leader.
The writer is an author and a lawyer.