Syed Geelani: Architect of a dark, turbulent period in Kashmir history
by Jaibans Singh on 10 Sep 2021 4 Comments

“It is a real tragedy that Geelani was buried in India and not in Pakistan.” This statement posted on Facebook by Indu Jalali, a Kashmiri Pandit lady living in Europe, aptly summarises the widespread sentiment at the demise, due to old age, of the Kashmiri separatist, Syed Ali Geelani, at age 91, on 1 September.


Geelani was the kingpin of separatism in Kashmir. In order to remain relevant he chose to become a stooge of Pakistan and proverbially “sold his soul to the devil.” For a better part of his life he sang the tune that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wanted him to sing and made pro-Pakistan and anti-India statements at its behest. His open bias towards Pakistan created strong doubts within Kashmir about his political motives.


Pakistan, however, dumped him unceremoniously in 2015, due to political expediency. He boycotted the Eid Milan Party hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi that year, ostensibly to protest the non-inclusion of Kashmir in the talks between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif at Ufa, Russia. Actually, Geelani was expressing frustration at being marginalised. Later, he started singing the Pakistan song all over again even though Pakistan refused to respond. Even after being used like a puppet, he continued to show servility to Pakistan. In 2020, Pakistan relented and awarded him the highest civilian honour, Nishan-e-Pakistan, which also heralded the culmination of the relationship.


In the late 1990s, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was not averse to a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue, with Pakistan as a party to the talks. It was in constant touch with the Indian Government. Such a thought process was not acceptable to Pakistan’s ISI and as a result on April 24, 1998, Geelani, with the support of ISI, wrested control of APHC from Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. He then went on to become the architect of a dark, turbulent period in the history of Kashmir.


The Hurriyat constituents realised the danger of continuing with Geelani in their fold and attempted to side-line him. However, their internal contradictions proved a curse and a split within the conglomerate in 2003 again put Geelani in the driver’s seat after the unceremonious removal of then chairman Mohammad Abbas Ansari and suspension of the seven-member executive committee.


In July, 2020, the Hurriyat finally prevailed against Geelani when he resigned from the organisation. The move was widely perceived as the case of “an irrelevant person leaving an irrelevant organisation.” The Hurriyat chapter of his life thus came to an end and, as in the case of Pakistan, much before his demise.


There are two aspects in which Geelani caused irreparable harm to Kashmir and its people in the pursuit of his unbridled ambition. The first is his alignment with Pakistan and through Pakistan with Saudi Arabia, which resulted in the Saudi-sponsored Wahabi/Salafi concept of Islam replacing the valley’s Sufi culture. The second is the loss of childhood, education, and aspirations of two generations of Kashmiri youth, who were sucked into the politics of divisiveness and disruption that he advocated. It is now quite clear that Geelani was one of the masterminds behind the stone pelting era which ruined so many Kashmiri youth.


No self-respecting leader who is fighting for the freedom of his people would bow before a government that he is fighting against. Revolutionaries are made of sterner stuff; they do not succumb to human frailties. Geelani, sadly, had no compunctions in using facilities provided by the Indian nation while castigating it openly. He was looked after, free of cost, in the best government hospitals like AIIMS. His children received the best possible education in India and are pursuing lucrative professions in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia etc., far from the miseries of Kashmir. His “selfless sacrifice” was rewarding for his family.


In pursuance of his evil agenda, Geelani also became a very rich man. While he maintained that a collection of zakat (religious contribution) was his source of funds, he received vast funds through hawala transactions from Pakistan and other countries. Demonetisation hit him badly, as discovered by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into his organisation’s illicit and criminal funding of terror and disruptive activity in the Kashmir Valley.


Despite several decades in politics, Geelani has nothing substantial to show by way of achievement. Even his children understand the futility of his cause and have moved on to other professional pursuits. His legacy will probably pass on to Masarat Alam, a man suited to rabble rousing politics. He has no role to play in the “New Kashmir.”


In the end Geelani, was an embittered and dejected man who witnessed the complete dismantling of all that he stood for, including his friendship with Pakistan and association with the APHC, in his own lifetime. Though in a state of dementia, he witnessed the historic changes (for the better) brought about post abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A.


Geelani had the acumen to do something for his people. He fought and won three elections before taking the path of separatism. Now, the era of a dogmatic, obdurate, self-serving and duplicitous leader has come to an end. For Kashmiri youth, his life represents the best example of the path that should not be taken.


(Jaibans Singh is a columnist and commentator)

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