By Yusuf Jameel
(Srinagar, Kashmir – India) — Kashmir’s eminent separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is seen as being divisive by many Indians, has been camping in New Delhi for the past few weeks essentially to escape the harsh winter back home — for health reasons as is being claimed — and has been lately engaged in pastimes that seem to reflect a major change in his outlook.
Many Kashmir watchers have described it as a ‘from inflexibility to malleability’ kind of tale which has, by and large, gone unnoticed in the Indian national media.
Geelani has been in meetings and holding both open and closed door talks with various key characters of Indian mainstream politics, members of the civil society, think-tank constituents and even some people believed to be close to the corridors of power, if not part of it, alongside his meetings — or attempted ones — with members of the diplomatic corps (Latest reports say he has sought audiences with senior diplomats from China, Iran and Japan). Geelani has also tried to strike a chord with the students’ community. All this is aimed at the “wining hearts and minds” of the Indian masses, to acquaint them with “reality of Kashmir” and, at the same time, garner support of the international community, as suggested an aide.
More importantly, the octogenarian separatist leader’s pursuit has received unqualified support from an equally hitherto obstinate player of Kashmir’s jihadi politics -Muhammad Yusuf Shah alias Syed Salahuddin, the ‘supreme commander’ of the frontline indigenous rebel outfit Hizb al-Mujahedin and through him from the United Jihad Council — an alliance of various Islamic militant groups operating from the Pakistani side of the Line of Control or de facto border that divides the scenic Himalayan region in dispute between the two South Asian neighbours since their independence from Britain and over which they have fought two of their three major wars — which he heads as well. “I personally and the Jihadi leadership in general are quite happy and satisfied over his pursuit. The Hurriyat (Conference) leadership must go out of Jammu and Kashmir to plead the case in any forum and any institution or house,” the Hizb chief said in an interview with a Srinagar-based news agency recently.
Hurriyat (freedom) Conference is an alliance of various separatist or pro-freedom political parties and groups in Kashmir split between supposed moderate and extremist factions, and which is presently headed by the region’s chief Muslim cleric or Mirwaiz Muhammad Umar Farooq and Geelani, respectively.
Geelani has also earlier this month had a “cordial and productive” meeting with noted Indian lawyer and ‘Kashmir Committee’ convener Ram Jethmalani in New Delhi, which has surprised the pro-freedom leader’s critics as he had not only distanced himself from such engagements with the so-called moderate leadership of the Hurriyat Conference and others in the pro-freedom camp who he was involved with some time ago, but had opposed them in open. The Kashmir Committee was then openly accused of being part of the cause of split in the conglomerate or, at least, having encouraged the dissent within it.
Without doubt, Geelani’s competitors within the pro-freedom camp particularly Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front — which seeks complete independence from both India and Pakistan to make Kashmir an independent, sovereign country — would like to have the last laugh over the makeover.
But what is noteworthy is the pliability witnessed both in Geelani’s talk and actions of late, although he has not changed his standpoint on the nitty-gritty of the Kashmir issue and still insists on holding a plebiscite as is envisaged in relevant, but now almost defunct, resolutions passed by the UN Security Council from time to time or holding of tripartite dialogue between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership on the principle of equality and keeping in view the “historic background” of the conflict. At the same time, Geelani who would until recently pledge to make Muslim majority Kashmir part of Muslim Pakistan, now openly says it is neither part of India nor that of Pakistan.
This, according to some observers, will have a major impact on Kashmir politics in times to come. Syed Salahuddin’s outright support of Geelani is another indication that things on the Kashmir front are getting ready to take what many Indians see as a positive turn. The UJC chief is reported to be less than happy with Islamabad’s Kashmir policy and has publicly termed it as “half-hearted.”It is also said that during President Pervez Musharaff’s regime Syed Salahuddin was so disillusioned at its Kashmir course of action that he had suggested to the like-minded political leadership in the Vale of Kashmir, predominantly Muslim and considered as being the centre stage of resistance movement, to try to find and work towards an “honourable exit” by engaging itself in talks with concerned quarters. He strongly denies it today, but does admit that Musharraf’s Kashmir policy — particularly the 4-point formula supposed to address the issue — actually dealt a severe blow to the “Kashmir cause”. His latest talk and Geelani’s pastime in the Indian capital only expose the gaff. Muslim League, a radical political group and one of the important constituents of the Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference faction, has, meanwhile, disassociated itself from his activities in Delhi without actually elaborating on the issue, which signifies that the path chosen by the ailing Geelani, or the task ahead, is not that easy either.