Remembering Syed Ali Shah Geelani

Today would have been Ali Geelani’s 93rd birthday

Syed Ali Geelani was born in Zurimanj village (Bandipora tehsil), in the Baramulla district of North Kashmir on 29 September 1929. He died on 1st September 2021while under house arrest (2010 to September 1, 2022) for over a decade. His house remained heavily barricaded until his death.

He was denied access to the internet and other communication facilities. Freedom lovers including the Kashmiri Diaspora in different countries have decided to commemorate his birth and death anniversaries in a befitting manner.

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Geelani’s passport was seized in 1981. Though he suffered from renal cancer, he was not allowed to travel abroad for treatment. Not to speak of a foreign visit, he was not allowed to attend even an Urdu book fair at the Kashmir University.

When he died, Indian forces whisked away his dead body and buried it at a deserted place. That’s why Kashmiris regard his death as a custodial killing. In his will and testament, Geelani had wished that his dead body should be buried in Srinagar Martyrs Graveyard. Even if someone is hanged, his last wish is respected. But in the case of Ali Geelani, the Indian forces did not have the decency to honour Geelani’s wish. Geelani’s family alleged that his body was taken away by the police and buried forcibly.   Shortly after the burial, the administration booked Geelani’s relatives under the Public Safety Act.

Geelani opposed Musharraf’s Kashmir formula even when the US Institute of Peace had supported it. This formula smacks of plagiarism of former Indian foreign-secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s formula. Mehta presented his ideas in an article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (Hindustan Times editor B.G.Verghese also gave similar proposals)

Syed Ali Shah Geelani was born in 1929 in Zoori Munz, a village on the banks of Wular Lake in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district. He named his autobiography Wular Kinarey [On the Banks of the Wular].

He even criticized the Pakistani establishment at one point, rejecting Musharraf’s four-point plan, which proposed that the borders remain unchanged and that Jammu and Kashmir be granted “self-governance” without independence.

Geelani had walked out of the Hurriyat after some separatist leaders sent proxy candidates to fight assembly elections. Unlike many of his Hurriyat colleagues, he also refused to join peace talks with Delhi. Over the years, it would prove to be an astute political move. The peace talks went nowhere. In the Valley, they were seen as a ploy by the Centre to maintain the status quo in Kashmir.

He felt Kashmir’s future lay with Pakistan but he claimed the plebiscite could be a genuinely democratic process whose results may not have gone his way. In several interviews, he said he would accept the results of the plebiscite even if Kashmiris chose India.

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Geelani was a versatile thinker.  He was an austere religious ideologue who held funeral prayers in absentia for Osama bin Laden. He had written 40 books, spoke Urdu, Arabic and Persian, and quoted the poet Iqbal in conversation. All his life, he articulated his demands through peaceful channels.

Geelani stepped down from the leadership of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat in 2020 owing to differences with his colleagues.

He foresaw that India wanted to change the demography of the disputed state. He also realised that India’s draconian laws, meant for nabbing the timber mafia, were being applied to freedom lovers to stifle their voice. He vehemently opposed these laws, particularly the Public Safety Act.

He was a symbol of indomitable resistance. During his incarceration in Indian jails, he was subjected to physical and mental torture. His grandson had been serving as a research officer at the government-controlled Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre in Srinagar. He was dismissed from the government job citing “security concerns”.

Gilani played an active role in the formation of the Muslim United Front (MUF) in 1987 ahead of provincial elections, against pro-India parties, including the National Conference. Only four candidates of the platform, including Gilani, however, managed to secure seats because of rigging. Gilani, along with three other winners, was jailed by India.

In 1992, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference (APHC) was set up. It was meant to serve as a platform of 30 pro-freedom parties. In August 2004, Gilani along with Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai launched Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (Movement of Freedom).

Geelani opposed Musharraf’s Kashmir formula even when the US Institute of Peace had supported it. This formula smacks of plagiarism of former Indian foreign-secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s formula. Mehta presented his ideas in an article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (Hindustan Times editor B.G.Verghese also gave similar proposals).

Mehta understood that plebiscite, the real solution, was anathema to India.  As such, he proposed ‘requirements’ for the solution, not a solution. Some points of his quasi-solution are

(a) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…”.(b) Immediate demilitarisation of the LoC to a depth of five to 10 miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (c) Pending final settlement, there must be no continuing insistence by Pakistan “on internationalization, and for the implementation of a parallel or statewide plebiscite to be imposed under the peacekeeping auspices of the United Nations”. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a ‘cold freeze’) for an agreed period. (e) Conducting parallel democratic elections in both Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir. (f) Restoration of an autonomous Kashmiriyat.

(g) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached.

It is eerie that India shrugged off Mehta’s quasi-solution, Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press).

Geelani stressed that Pakistan should not show any resilience to India unless India admits in unequivocal terms that Kashmir is a disputed territory.

Amjed Jaaved
Amjed Jaaved
The writer is a freelance journalist, has served in the Pakistan government for 39 years and holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law. He can be reached at [email protected]

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