For all of New Delhi’s unhappiness over Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar hosting Hurriyat leaders during her visit, the interaction might have offered Islamabad greater cause for concern.
The spearhead of Kashmiri secession, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, left Khar and her delegates a little stumped by demanding, for the first time, that the self-determination exercise should include areas under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as well.
Initially a champion of “complete and irrevocable” merger with Pakistan, Geelani quietly changed tack a few years ago and began advocating the right to self-determination for the Valley.
The shift was perhaps forced because he began to sense disenchantment with Pakistan even among staunchly secessionist elements. But the ageing and most unbending Kashmiri separatist has now confounded the Pakistanis by lassoing PoK into his aspirations.
Geelani confirmed to The Telegraph that he had indeed spoken of the “entirety of Kashmir as it existed before August 14, 1947” during talks with Khar, but made out as if he hadn’t popped anything new on the table.
“I have always spoken of the rights of Kashmiri people in the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood on or before August 14, 1947, and that is what I told the visitors from Pakistan,” Geelani said over telephone from Srinagar. He would not say how his position was received bar repeat the stated position that Pakistan “supports our struggle politically, morally and materially”.
Seasoned Kashmiri observers, though, disagree with Geelani that he hasn’t altered his position. “Geelani has always advocated plebiscite and later self-determination in the Valley,” said a moderate Hurriyat leader who would not be named.
“He has never before even hinted at the same for PoK in deference to the sensitivities of the Pakistani establishment. That he has now demanded for PoK what he has been seeking in the Valley will not please the Pakistanis. It not merely menaces the huge military-strategic infrastructure Pakistan has erected in the region, it also brings Pakistan on a par with India as far as Kashmiri aspiration is concerned. It is almost as if Geelani is adopting a position of equidistance from both, which was not the case hitherto.”
The burden of Geelani’s quarrel against India has been that it is in “military occupation” of Kashmir and should withdraw its armed forces as a precursor to any move towards self-determination. His inclusion of PoK could be — and in certain sections, will be — extended to infer that he is demanding the same of the Pakistani establishment.
Technically, Geelani can make a “no change” argument on the ground that his demand has always been pegged on the pre-August 1947 position. In truth, though, he has seldom, if ever, clearly articulated that what he wants done in Jammu and Kashmir, he wants of PoK too.
It would please the Pakistani establishment no more that in his conversation with The Telegraph, Geelani aggressively espoused a cross-communal Kashmiri case rather than merely a Valley-Muslim cause, which he has often done in the past. “What I want is for all people who belong to undivided Kashmir, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Dogras, Pahadis, all of them,” Geelani said. “They must all be allowed to decide their future destiny and where they want Kashmir to be. I have always spoken for all sections and I continue to do so, it is propaganda that I only speak for a particular section, I speak for Kashmiris.”
Such articulation sits ill with the Pakistani outlook on the Kashmir dispute whose central idea is Islam.
Geelani continues to enjoy top billing as the voice of Kashmiri secession with the Pakistani establishment, his altered position notwithstanding. He was received separately by the Pakistani foreign minister at the Pakistan high commission and given a far longer hearing than what Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, leader of the moderate Hurriyat faction, received. At the end, Khar came out to see Geelani off at the high commission entrance, another courtesy not extended to the Mirwaiz.
And even though Geelani himself allayed suggestions he had begun to make subtle shifts in position, Kashmir watchers agree. “We have been witnessing an evolving Geelani over the years,” said Basheer Manzar, seasoned Kashmiri journalist and editor of the Srinagar daily, Kashmir Images. “Earlier Geelani would take what you could call an Islamic line, talking of establishing a state based on Islamic tenets and values. He is increasingly not doing that. He has also toned down politically. He speaks of self-determination rather than plebiscite, although the difference might be very little. He is also trying to reach out to a much larger constituency both in India and PoK. The desire to reach out to a bigger base from his shrunken position could be the reason behind what he is saying now.”
Manzar also discerned personal aspects behind the “evolving” Geelani. “As he grows older, he probably wants to not go down as a bigot, he wants to leave behind a legacy that finds some sort of acceptance with Kashmiris of all hues,” he said.
Geelani has been ailing for years now but has proved himself a doughty and committed warrior for Kashmiri self-determination. However, he has of late probably begun to realise an independent Kashmir is not something he will be able to witness. “He may have a feeling he is cornered both politically and by time. He is trying to make the best of the situation,” Manzar argued.
[The Telegraph, India]