He is described as Pakistan's biggest asset in Kashmir. Not all Kashmiris agree with the role that Syed Ali Shah Geelani has played in Kashmir's turmoil, but they are united in saying that unlike other political leaders of the Valley, he is not a “sell-out” to India. He also came out against Pakistan for “diluting” its stand on Kashmir under General Pervez Musharraf. The hawkish views of the separatist 84-year-old, who heads his own Hurriyat Conference faction, had once marginalised him in Kashmir. But he is back in the limelight after assuming the leadership of the latest agitation in the Valley. Excerpts of an interview, by Nirupama Subramanian, with him at his Srinagar home, where he is presently under house arrest.
Hasn't the steam gone out of your ‘tehreek' (movement) of the last five months. Many Kashmiris are asking what was the point of it — more than a 100 people dead, the economy disrupted, schools closed. What did they get out of it?
It is your ignorance that makes you say it was a five-month movement. This movement has been going on since 1947. It has phases, its ups and downs, it changes faces, but it has been going on since India seized this place by force, without any moral justification or legal sanctity, and the majority of the people of Jammu & Kashmir are against that.
But your strike calls are eliciting hardly any response and people are now criticising you, saying they cannot sustain these protests …
First correct your impression that this is a five-month movement [recounts the history from 1947 up to the 2009 protests]. Now you are seeing for the last five months that people are saying ‘Go India, Go Back.' The movement was peaceful. It was an indigenous movement.
Among the 112 people who were killed mercilessly, most were teenagers. More than 3,000 people were injured, many lost their eyes, several had broken arms and legs, and then the jails were filled. Those who were organising the movement, from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, and particularly our party, Tehreek Hurriyat Freedom Movement, were jailed. Even the Bar Association president and the general secretary are behind bars.
So is it because of these arrests, especially the arrest of Masarat Alam [leader of the Muslim League, a constituent of the Hurriyat (Geelani faction)] that the protests have weakened?
No, the arrests have not made any difference. The difference is that the killings have stopped. People's sentiments boil over when there are killings and they come out on the streets. And the government used all its resources to harm this movement. In our view, this movement is still on. India can never kill the sentiment that has always prevailed among the people …
And this sentiment is for azadi, right?
The sentiment is for freedom from India's forcible occupation.
Azadi is commonly taken to mean independence from both India and Pakistan. You have assumed the leadership of this movement, but your position has always been that of accession to Pakistan. Has this changed by any chance?
Look, at this stage, our common point is freedom from India's forcible occupation. We will decide after that what we have to do. Our demand is implementation of the [U.N.] resolutions. Our other demand is consensus — that India, Pakistan and the representatives of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who are representing the sentiment of freedom, that these parties sit around the table. The solution that will come through consensus, that should prevail.
How long are you going to be putting out these protest calendars? When will you stop? When will the protests end?
These calendars are issued after consultations at a meeting of the executive committee of the Hurriyat (G). We take into account the realities on the ground and the feedback from the people. We cannot say at this time when we will stop issuing the protest calendars. It all depends on the ground situation. We will review the calendar when the government of India accepts our five-point programme.
About your demand that the government must accept that Kashmir is a disputed territory, do you really expect a government to amend the Constitution in order to begin talks with you? Don't you see that the willingness of the government to talk to you is by itself a tacit acceptance that there is a dispute, without saying so in as many words?
(Laughs) Do you know how many times there have been talks until date? From March 23, 1952, there have been 150 rounds of talks — between India and Pakistan, New Delhi and Srinagar [reels off the titles of each round]. But you too cannot say that from these talks, there has been any progress on the Kashmir issue.
The reason is India says on the one hand we will have a dialogue, and on the other, it says J&K is an integral part of India. No solution has come out of that position until now, nor will it in the future.
It is said that you remain the biggest obstacle to a resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Either this is your personal view (laughs) or you have been told this by people who do not wish for a resolution of the dispute. Let me tell you, I am a person who is wholeheartedly wishing and hoping that the J&K dispute is resolved — according to its historical background and the sacrifices that the people have given for the cause, by peaceful and democratic means, according to the wishes of the majority of the people of J&K.
I have spent 15 years in Indian jails. I've been attacked more than a dozen times by Indian forces to eliminate me physically. I am not given even the passport facility. I have suffered much because of the J&K issue. How is possible that I am not interested in its resolution?
India is suffering from arrogance of power and is using an imperialistic attitude in J&K disputed territory. These are the bottlenecks in the way of a permanent resolution, not Geelani.
Even in the Hurriyat Conference, there are leaders who believe that India deliberately seems to do things that strengthen your hands in order to defame the movement — to declare that this Geelani, who wants Kashmir to join Pakistan, is the face of this movement.
Doesn't this only show that India is the basic bottleneck in the permanent resolution of the Kashmir issue?
We demand the right to self-determination. India took the case to the United Nations Security Council. In total, 18 resolutions have been passed. All those resolutions have been signed and admitted by the Indian government. [India promised] to fulfil those commitments.
“I am not in favour of forced unity, I am not in favour of forced marriages.” Jawaharlal Nehru's words. If Geelani is saying that those commitments and pledges should be fulfilled, and India should co-operate for the implementation of the resolutions, then what is wrong?
On these resolutions, a plebiscite would give people only two options: India or Pakistan. From what I have heard here, Pakistan holds no attraction at all for anyone any more. So aren't you a bit behind the times on this?
Have you heard anyone saying we are not for Pakistan but we are for India? If you rule out Pakistan, and India agrees to give azadi to J&K, I will be the first person to sign that agreement, to accept. Let India come forward. This is all [said] to create confusion, that Geelani is only for Pakistan.
The interlocutors [appointed by the Centre to restart the dialogue process in Kashmir] have said azadi can be interpreted in different ways, maybe some people may not mean it as total freedom, but may interpret it as greater autonomy, more powers …
We will not accept that, the majority of the people will not accept that.
Why did you reject Musharraf's four-point formula? Is it not true that the India-Pakistan dialogue of those years yielded several benefits for Kashmiri people?
That was all about preserving the status quo. Starting a bus service, or trade between the two sides of Kashmir does not matter to a people who [are] caught in a huge quagmire. For them, the first priority is that they should be free.
At that time you said Kashmiris must help themselves as Pakistan had betrayed their cause by diluting its stand on Kashmir. Has your view changed now?
You are ignoring the background. Musharraf said that we are trying to find a solution outside of the [U.N.] resolutions. That was taking us only towards the status quo, there was nothing new in it for us. On this basis, we opposed that. Today Pakistan is saying we support the people of Kashmir politically, diplomatically and morally. Don't you see the difference between Musharraf's attitude and what [the present] government is saying?
There are concerns that you and some of your colleagues in the Hurriyat, such as Masarat Alam, are contributing to the radicalisation of the Kashmiris, giving the movement an Islamist colour, that Islamist elements are gaining dominance, which does not augur well for Kashmir in the future …
This is also a baseless allegation and assessment. We are Muslims, and will never bypass our faith as far as Islam is concerned. We are facing the worst kind of state terrorism, but we are not radical, we are peaceful people, we have no guns in our hands, no bombs, no teargas shells … These people who are using the state terrorism, they want to hide their heinous tactics, so they blame that there are radical elements.
What was the justification for America to attack Afghanistan on October 6, 2001?
What was the justification for America and Britain to attack Iraq on March 23, 2003? You people are not calling them terrorists or radicals.
Don't you contradict yourself on America? On the one hand you are against all American interventions anywhere in the world, but when President Obama comes to India and you are appealing to him to save Kashmir from India.
No, we don't want [American intervention] here. What we want is that any world leader who comes should support our cause. It does not mean that we support American actions or policies from A to Z. I have myself told American diplomats in Delhi that [they are perpetrating] the worst kind of state terrorism in Afghanistan, that there was no justification to attack Afghanistan. If the person who attacks Afghanistan says that J&K is a long standing dispute, then he is speaking our language, right? On that basis, how can we say to him no, that we will reject this too.
That sounds opportunistic …
No, it's not opportunistic. This is for our cause.
You call India a repressive state, on the other you go to Delhi, hold seminars and conferences, meet people freely, including at the Pakistan High Commission. Don't you at least appreciate that in the same India you can do all this?
(Laughs) We are also attacked, beaten. We are all the time under surveillance. Yes, I go to Delhi, but India also has the power to lock me up anytime they wish. I have been almost 73 days under house arrest.
I was not allowed to read either the Eid namaz or the Friday namaz. So you want me to praise this democracy?