Born on September 29, 1929 in the Zoori Manz hamlet in Bandipora — some 40 miles from Srinagar — Syed Ali Shah Geelani is an important political figure and religious personality in Indian-administered Kashmir. This hugely popular octogenarian leader is often compared to Libyan revolutionary, Omar Mukhtar, by his admirers for his dogged determination in relation to the Kashmir dispute. Detractors, however, criticise Geelani for lack of flexibility, pro-Pakistan ideology and rigidness. Today this 84-year-old seems as unwavering in his stand as he was two decades ago when the anti-India armed movement erupted in Kashmir.
In an exclusive interview for Dawn.com, Geelani candidly talks about his expectations from the newly-elected government in Pakistan, the political future of Kashmir, the Kashmir elections, and the perceived threat that Kashmiri youth might opt for extreme steps in the absence of a democratic political space. Here are the excerpts:
After a relatively smooth and successful transition from one democratic government to another, there is a newly-elected government in Pakistan led by Nawaz Sharif. Your reaction.
I congratulated Pakistani people soon after the election results were declared there. They (people) courageously came out to cast their vote. It is a good sign. I also wrote an open letter to Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif in which I reminded him that Jammu & Kashmir is a core issue for Pakistan, not only for the people of Kashmir who are fighting against the occupation.
The Pakistan Army has, by and large it seems, stayed away from recent political affairs and not meddled too much into the electoral process. How healthy is this sign?
It is indeed a good sign. People should be allowed to select sincere people to run a democratic government. Only sincere politicians can strengthen the roots of democracy. They should safeguard Pakistan’s interest, its sovereignty, and boundaries. They have to adopt Islam, as it is the complete way of life. The idea of Pakistan was achieved for the purpose that Muslims in the sub-continent should have a separate nation and a particular system. People and politicians of Pakistan should fulfill their responsibilities in this regard.
How critical is Pakistan’s stability for Kashmir and Kashmiris? And if you were given a chance to suggest some concrete steps and workable measures vis-à-vis Kashmir to Nawaz Sharif, what would these be?
Pakistan’s stability is of utmost importance to us. My suggestions, if any, would be to impress upon Nawaz Sharif to show respect towards the deep-rooted sentiment of Kashmiris for freedom from the occupation and Indian rule. Pakistan’s leadership must feel duty bound to support our genuine cause morally, diplomatically and politically. It should not leave this issue for the future generations to decide.
Kashmir seems to be out of both Indian and Pakistani governments’ favour and also the media’s spotlight. What do you think are the reasons?
As I understand it, the biggest reason I can think of is the weakness of Pakistan leadership. As far as the people of Pakistan are concerned, they are very much interested in Kashmir and support our collective struggle. They are wholeheartedly with our freedom struggle. People do not endorse the policy of some of the Pakistan politicians who argue that Kashmir issue should be sidelined and that coming generations will decide its future. The government officials in Pakistan have their own interests and compulsions. We are not against Indo-Pak relations, but Kashmir is a core issue and should be resolved as a priority.
As a politician you believe in Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan but have remained open to the idea of an independent Kashmir in case the majority demands so. What makes you favour a merger with Pakistan?
According to the partition plan of Lord Mountbatten — the last Viceroy of British India and the first Governor-General of the independent Union of India — the future of about 562 princely states, which were not directly ruled by the British, was to be decided by the people, as the British had given up their suzerainty (the power) in 1947. Each of them (562 princely states) were given freedom to choose to join either of the two new dominions, India or Pakistan. This partition plan was guided by three basic guidelines: political aspirations of the majority population, boundaries, and geographical and cultural affiliations. Considering all these laid down norms, Kashmir was a natural part of Pakistan. And it is a natural part of Pakistan. At the time of the partition in 1947, we had 85 per cent Muslim population in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. Not only do we share boundaries with Pakistan but we also relate to Pakistan so far as our geographical, cultural and religious affiliations are concerned. Now, why am I also open to the idea of independent Kashmir? As a leader, I can’t reject the voice of the people.