Interview of Syed Ali Shah Geelani with Yoginder Sikand

Compiled by : Irfan S. Kashmiri

Syed Ali Shah Geelani is a veteran Kashmiri politician. Presently, he heads the Tehrik-e Hurriyat-e Jammu Kashmir. He talks about the Kashmir conflict and its possible solution in this exclusive interview with Yoginder Sikand.

Q: In your writings, and in those of other similar Islamist ideologues, the Kashmir conflict is often described as a war between Islam and ‘disbelief’. Do you really think it is so? Is it not a political struggle or a nationalist struggle, actually?

Ali Geelani : The Kashmir dispute is a fall-out of the Partition of India. The Muslim-majority parts of British India became Pakistan, and the Hindu-majority regions became the Dominion of India. There were, at that time, some 575 princely states in India under indirect British rule. Lord Mountbatten gave them the choice of joining either India or Pakistan, and instructed that their choice must be guided by the religious composition of their populace as well as by the borders they might share with either India or Pakistan, as the case might be.

On this basis, almost all the princely states opted for either India or Pakistan. There were, however, three exceptions to this. Hyderabad, a Hindu-majority state with a Muslim ruler, opted for independence, but India argued against this on the grounds that the state had a Hindu majority, and so ordered the Police Action to incorporate the state into the Indian Dominion. Junagadh, another Hindu-majority state with a Muslim ruler, opted for Pakistan, but India over-ruled this decision, again on account of the state’s Hindu majority, and annexed it. If India had adopted the same principle in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state with a Hindu ruler, there would have been no conflict over Kashmir. After all, more than 85% of the population of the state at that time were Muslims; the major rivers in the state flowed into Pakistan; the state shared a border of over 750 kilometres with Pakistan; the only motorable road connecting Kashmir with the outside world throughout the year passed from Srinagar to Rawalpindi; and the majority of the people of the state had cultural and historical ties with the people of Pakistan.However, over-ruling these factors, which would have made Jammu and Kashmir a natural part of Pakistan, in October 1947 the Indian Army entered the state in the guise of flushing out the Pathan tribesmen, who had crossed into Kashmir in the wake of large-scale killings of Muslims in Rajouri and Poonch. Using this incursion an excuse, Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, engineered the intrusion of Indian forces. The British scholar Alistair Lamb says that the so-called Instrument of Accession that Haris Singh is said to have signed to join India temporarily was itself fraudulent. He claims that Hari Singh did not even sign it.

Thereafter, India itself took the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations. The UN passed some eighteen resolutions related to Kashmir, recognizing the status of the state as disputed and calling for a resolution of the conflict based on the will of the people of the state, which the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, himself also publicly promised. Now, all that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are saying is that India should live up to this promise that it made of holding a plebiscite in accordance with the UN resolutions. So, this is the basic issue.

Q: So, aren’t you here saying that the conflict is essentially political, and not specifically religious?

Ali Geelani : For a Muslim, no action is permissible which is against Islam. How can we say that the sacrifices that the Muslims of Kashmir make, the tortures that they suffer, and the martyrdom that they meet have nothing to do with Islam, and that they won’t be rewarded by God for this? In this sense, it is a religious issue also. Islam teaches that Muslims must follow the guidance of Islam in every action of theirs—not just in prayers but also in matters such as war and peace, trade, international relations and so on, because Islam is a complete way of life. If a true Muslim participates in any struggle, it is for the sake of Islam. So, how can you say that the Kashmir conflict has nothing to do with religion?

Q: This might be true in theory, but surely many Kashmiris who are involved in the movement for separation from India might be motivated by other factors, including for economic and political reasons, or also due to a commitment to Kashmiri nationalism, as distinct from Islam?

Ali Geelani : I agree that there may be various reasons why different people may participate in the movement. Yes, there can be many who do not adopt the guidance of Islam in this regard. They might champion secular democracy and irreligiousness. Their sacrifices might be motivated by nationalism or ethnicity, rather than Islam. They might have no problem with the system of governance in India, their opposition to Indian rule being simply because of the brutalities of Indian occupation. Of course, one cannot say that all Kashmiri Muslims think alike. But I am speaking from the point of view of a practicing Muslim, who accepts Islam as a complete way of life. For such self-conscious Kashmiri Muslims, it is undoubtedly a religious issue and their sacrifices are for the sake of the faith.

Q: But do you really see Indian Hindus and Muslims as two separate ‘nations’? After all, they share so much in common.

Ali Geelani: They are totally separate nations. There is no doubt at all about this. Muslims believe in just one God, but Hindus believe in crores of gods.

Q: But the Prophet Muhammad, in his treaty with the Jews and other non-Muslims of Medina, described the denizens of Medina as members of one nation. The leader of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-i Hind and a leading Deobandi scholar, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, even wrote a book to argue against the League’s ‘two nation’ theory, stressing a composite Indian nationalism that embraced all the people of India. So, how can the Muslims and Hindus of one country be considered separate ‘nations’, even by Islamic standards?

Ali Geelani: Islam lays down that in an Islamic system (nizam) all non-Muslims, including even atheists, will get equality, justice, security of life and property and freedom of faith. Maulana Madani’s arguments were critiqued by Maulana Maududi.

Q: In your prison memoirs, Rudad-e Qafas, you write that ‘It is as difficult for a Muslim to live in a non-Muslim society as it is for a fish to live in a desert’. But how can this be so? After all, the pioneers of Islam in India and in Kashmir itself, mainly Sufi saints, lived and preached in a society in which Muslims were a very small minority.

Ali Geelani: I meant to say this in a particular sense. Islam, as I said, is a complete way of life. No other path is acceptable to God. So, in the absence of an Islamic polity, it is difficult for Muslims to lead their lives entirely in accordance with the rules of Islam, which apply to social affairs as much as they do to personal affairs. For instance, Muslims in Kashmir under Indian rule live in a system where alcohol, interest and immorality are rife, so how can we lead our lives completely in accordance with Islam? Of course, Muslim minorities are Muslims, too, but their duty must be to work to establish an Islamic dispensation in the lands where they live so that they can lead their lives fully in accordance with Islam and its laws. Missionary work to spread Islam is as much of a duty as is praying and giving alms to the poor.

Now, as for your question about those Sufis who lived and worked in societies where Muslims were in a minority—they may have been pious people, but we take as our only model the Prophet Muhammad(P.B.U.H).

Q: You mentioned about preaching Islam being a principal duty of all Muslims. But, surely, for this you need a climate of peace, not of active hostility, as in Kashmir today?

Ali Geelani: Absolutely. I agree with you entirely. No one can deny this. We need to have good relations with people of other communities. Only then can we communicate the message of Islam to them. But if one side continues to oppress the other and heap injustices and says that this should be considered as ‘peace’, how can it be accepted? If, for instance, Narendra Modi says that what happened with the Muslims in Gujarat represents peace, how can anyone accept it? If India stations lakhs of troops in Kashmir and says this is for establishing peace, how can it be, because these troops themselves are disturbing the peace?

Q: In the wake of the attacks of 11 September, 2001, how do you see the impact of American pressure on Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, to change their position on Islamist movements?

Ali Geelani: The events of September 2001 have caused most Muslim states to change their policies and to toe America’s line even more closely. You can see this happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only Muslim country that refuses to cave under American pressure is Iran.

Q: And now America is seeking an excuse to attack Iran, is it not?

Ali Geelani : Yes. America is trying to stoke Shia-Sunni rivalries in order to undermine Iran. It is trying all other such weapons, dividing the Muslims on the basis of sect, nationality, race and ethnicity against each other so as to weaken them. And the leaders of most Muslim countries are now playing the role of agents of the USA, be it in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Palestine or as is the case with the Saudi monarchs. See what’s happening in Waziristan, the Frontier Province and Baluchistan, in Pakistan. A climate is being deliberately created in those parts of Pakistan to justify American attacks and bombings in the name of flushing out militants.

Q: If Pakistan is now so pro-American, acting against its own people, and if it is not an authentic ‘Islamic state’, then why have you been advocating Kashmir’s union with it?

Ali Geelani : As I said earlier, the Muslim League claimed that Pakistan was won in the name of Islam, but it did not give its cadre the necessary training to establish an Islamic state there. Because of this, the influence of the Army and the country’s Westernised leadership, Pakistan failed to become an Islamic state. But it was meant to become such a state, which is something that we want. So, if the people of Jammu and Kashmir were given the right to decide between India and Pakistan, the majority, I think, would prefer the former.

I admit that there are weaknesses in Pakistan, but these can be addressed. India has a secular system, which we can under no condition accept. Because of the oppression that we have been suffering under Indian rule for the last sixty years, how can we opt for India? In just a few weeks, in late 1947, some five lakh Muslims were killed by Dogra forces and Hindu chauvinists in Jammu. In the last seventeen years, over one lakh Kashmiri Muslims, mainly innocent civilians, have been killed. So many localities have been burned down, women raped and men rendered missing. After such brutal experiences, only a blind person would opt in favour of India.

Q: Many Kashmiri Muslims would rather be independent than join India or Pakistan. Do you agree?

Ali Geelani: The UN resolutions provide for only two options: joining India or Pakistan, and if this rule is followed then the majority would, I think, opt for Pakistan. However, if the three parties to the dispute—Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmir—come to a consensus on an independent Jammu and Kashmir, then, as I have repeatedly said, we will accept that formula also.

Q: In some of your writings you have argued against Kashmir being an independent state, even claiming that this is an Indian ‘ploy’. Can you elaborate?

Ali Geelani : This is true. It is an Indian ploy, because India does not want to see Pakistan strengthened, which it would be if Jammu and Kashmir joins Pakistan. The slogan of Azadi is aimed at weakening Pakistan. Independence would result in a territory that would have been a natural part of Pakistan being taken away from it. But, then, compared to staying with India, independence is a lesser evil.

Q: Many Kashmiris, seeing the current political and economic troubles in Pakistan, might say that they would prefer to be independent.

Ali Geelani: If we get independence, we will accept it.

Q: What if most people of Jammu and Kashmir wish to live in a secular or democratic set-up, and not a Taliban-style ‘Islamic’ state?

Ali Geelani: We don’t want to bring Taliban-type Islam, but the real Islam of the Quran and the Practice (Sunnah) of the Prophet(P.B.U.H) .

Q: But the Taliban argued that their state was in accordance with the Quran and the Sunnah.

Ali Geelani: To claim something is different from acting on that claim. For instance, while Islam makes it a duty for every Muslim male and female to acquire education, as soon as the Taliban came to power they banned girls’ education. What they should have done, instead, was to set up separate schools for girls. So, like this, there are many issues on which we can differ. The Islamic state that we would like to establish in Jammu and Kashmir would be one based on the understanding that all of humanity are children of the same primal parents, Adam and Eve. They will all be treated equally and justly. There shall be no discrimination based on religion. After all, the Prophet once remarked that all creatures are of the family of God and that the best is he who treats members of God’s family—which obviously includes non-Muslims, too—in the best way.

Q: You advocate Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, but today minority nationalities in Pakistan, such as the Baluchis and the Sindhis, suffering under Punjabi domination, are struggling for independence. Might not the same thing happen to the Kashmiris if the state were to join Pakistan?

Ali Geelani: We want to join Pakistan, not be absorbed into it. We would have internal autonomy.

Q: But, surely, despite Pakistan’s claims, the part of Jammu and Kashmir under its control—‘Azad Kashmir’—lacks real autonomy?

Ali Geelani: Yes, Azad Kashmir cannot be said to be really autonomous since there, too, everything happens according to the wishes and directions of the Federal Government. But we would make sure that our autonomy be written into the Constitution.

Q: Do you see any significant changes in Pakistan’s policies vis-à-vis Kashmir in recent years, perhaps under American pressure?

Ali Geelani: Yes, considerable changes can be noticed. Earlier, Pakistan used to insist on the right to self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Musharraf was the first to change this, arguing for a solution outside that of the UN resolutions, an out-of-the-box solution. This constituted the first deviation in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. Then, Musharraf began talking of seven zones in Jammu and Kashmir, soft borders and his four-point formula, which is nothing but a means to preserve the status quo.

Q: How do you respond to media allegations that the Kashmiri movement for self-determination is ‘anti-Hindu’?

Ali Geelani: How can our struggle be called ‘anti-Hindu’? It is a struggle for certain principles. In Hindu mythology, when the Kauravas and the Pandavas, cousins of each other, were arrayed against each other on the battlefield, Arjun turned to Krishanji Maharaj, and told him that he could not bear to fight his own brothers. Why, he asked him, was he asking him to fight them? He wanted to refuse to fight. But, then, Krishanji Maharaj said, ‘Arjun, this is a battle for certain principles. In this, do not consider the fact that those who are opposed to you are your relatives’.

We Kashmiris, too, are engaging in such a battle
for certain principles with the Indian Government, for occupying us against our will and for not acting on its promise to let us decide our own political future. It is not a war against Hindus or the people of India. It is not a communal conflict. In fact, there are many Indians who support our stand on the right to self-determination

Q: Then why is it that the Indian media, and large sections of the Western media, too, present the movement as ‘Islamic extremism’ or ‘terrorism’?

Ali Geelani : The Indian media is bound to support India’s military occupation. How can you expect it to support our cause? I’ve seen so many massacres by the Indian Army here, but often the media describes them as ‘encounters’ with ‘militants’. You know how the agents of the Indian Army engineered the massacre of so many innocent Sikhs in Chhatisinghpora and falsely attributed this to ‘militants’, in order to convey the misleading message to the then American President, Bill Clinton, at that time on a visit to India, that our struggle is a ‘communal’ one, and not a freedom movement. I can cite so many more such cases to prove this point.

Q: But, if that is so, why is it that you and people like you have not condemned killings by militants in the same way as you condemn similar crimes by the Indian Army?

Ali Geelani: Wherever such incidents have happened, we have condemned them, irrespective of the religion of the victims. The Quran clearly states that enmity with a people should not make one stray from the path of justice, because justice is closer to piety.

Q: If Jammu and Kashmir becomes independent, how do you envisage its relations with India and Pakistan?

Ali Geelani: It should have brotherly relations with both countries.

Q: Some radical groups active in Kashmir argue that all Hindus are ‘enemies’ of Islam. What do you feel?

Ali Geelani: No, this is erroneous. There should be no enmity or discrimination with anyone simply because of his religion, caste, race, colour or country. We are permitted to fight only those individuals who fight us or place hurdles in the path of our faith. With others we should have good relations, and that applies to our relations with ordinary Hindus as well. So, when some people argue that as a community the Hindus are ‘enemies of Islam’, it is wrong. It is not an Islamic way of thinking.

Q: Certain militant groups active in Kashmir say that they will not stop their war with India until India itself is ‘absorbed’ into Pakistan and the Pakistani flag flies atop Delhi’s Red Fort. What is your opinion?

Ali Geelani: This is emotional talk and should not be paid attention to. We don’t agree with this argument. Our fight with India is only to the extent that India has taken away our right to self-determination. Once we win that right we will have no problem with India. In fact, if by exercising this right the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir say that they want to be with India, we will also accept that.

Q: But don’t you feel certain radical groups active in Kashmir who preach hatred against Hindus and call for India’s ‘absorption’ into Pakistan are actually defaming the religion whose cause they claim to champion?

Ali Geelani: Islam has been given a bad name more by Muslims themselves and less by Hindus. Islam has been damaged less by open ‘disbelief’ (kufr) than by hidden hypocrisy (munafiqat), by people who claim to be Muslims but are really not so in practice.

Q: So, you agree that these groups who condemn all Hindus as ‘enemies’ are actually misinterpreting Islam?would

Ali Geelani: We cannot take responsibility for what others say. You can ask these people yourself.

Q: What message do you have for the people of India?

Ali Geelani: I will only say that India should honour its promise to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to let them decide their own political future. Honouring one’s promise is a major principle of the Hindu religion. Raja Dasharath, honouring the promise he made to his wife Kaikeyi, gave his throne to his son Bharat and ordered Ram Chandraji to go into the forest in exile. Simply in order to keep his promise he sent his elder son to fourteen years in the forest and gave the throne to Bharat instead. Bharat was a man of character, and so he placed Ram Chandraji’s sandals on the throne, believing that his elder brother deserved to rule. So, the Hindu religion teaches that one should live up to one’s promises, and if India were to act on the advice of the Hindu scriptures in this regard on the issue of Kashmir the conflict will easily be solved.

[Frontline Kashmir]