For eight months, Indian police stood guard at the gates to prevent Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani from venturing outside.
But they are finally gone.
Now, Geelani – an 85-year-old with a single kidney, a pacemaker and half a dozen other ailments – enjoys a degree of freedom of movement.
A few days after the end of his house arrest, the top separatist sat down with Anadolu Agency to discuss the future of the Kashmir struggle and his defense of Kashmir’s right to self-determination in accordance with UN resolutions.
His politics are based on the rejection of an Indian constitution in Kashmir and opposition to talks with India unless the latter recognizes Kashmir as an “international dispute” and not as a “law-and-order problem.”
Geelani, who has established himself as the strongest and most respected Kashmiri leader, also talked about the campaign he launched to boycott upcoming elections, which, he said, “only strengthens the [Indian] occupation” of Kashmir.
A critic of Western hegemony and secularism, as well as armed movements that target civilians, he underlined the importance of both political and armed resistance against Indian rule.
“The armed fighters, on the other hand, should only fight those with guns in their hands,” he asserted. “If they transgress, then it isn’t jihad, it’s just instigating trouble.”
Kashmiri militancy died down considerably after 2004, but in 2008, more than half a million Kashmiris took to the streets to protest against India. Massive rallies roared their way across Kashmir, and throwing stones at Indian soldiers and police emerged as the main form of resistance against Indian rule.
Two years later, people again took to the streets when the pro-India government declared an indefinite curfew and shot more than a hundred unarmed protestors dead.
Geelani, whose name was chanted by protestors at the time, regretted that Pakistan had been “weakened” by militant attacks and sectarian violence, which, in turn, had affected its ability to helpKashmiris in their long struggle for self-determination.
With staunch positions informed by Islamic doctrine and Jamaat-e-Islami ideology, Geelani spoke about the lessons learned from the Egyptian military’s July 3 ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent army crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood.
While uncertain how long the Kashmiri struggle will last, Geelani remains confident of the outcome.
“We only have truth on our side; or rather, we are on the side of truth,” he said. “And history has shown that between truth and power, at the end, truth has always won.”
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
The two countries have fought three major wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
India has more than 600,000 soldiers posted in the disputed region, making it one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world.
Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups in India-heldKashmir have been fighting against Indian rule, demanding either national independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict so far.
Following is the interview in full.
AA: You are calling for a boycott of State Assembly elections next year. Why?
Geelani: We call for boycotting the elections because our main objective is that Kashmir is a disputed territory and people should be given the right to self-determination. It is a globally accepted fact – and there is a UN resolution supporting it – that the people of Kashmir should be given the right to self-determination. They should be allowed to decide their future and should not be suppressed under military might. It is an internationally admitted fact that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory. These elections cannot solve the basic dispute of the people of this nation; instead, they bolster and concretize the occupation, giving an illusion to the world that things are fine here. So for people who oppose occupation on the basis of hard facts and principles, this election only strengthens the occupation, and that is why we oppose it.
AA: Although you called for boycotting 2008 State Assembly elections, more than 60 percent of the people voted in those polls. Do you think voters will heed your call this time around?
Geelani: It is not about polling votes; votes are managed, elections are managed. Voters are given money, they are given short-term facilities, and there is a role [played by the] army at places and of police many times in making the voting possible. You see, the 7.5 to 8 lakh [750,000 to 800,000 Indian] soldiers that are here, and there is police and several agencies, and then [there] are administrative institutions that are supporting the occupation. And together they all manage the votes. The good people should not come into this corruption of voting, but weaknesses do come; when nations become enslaved for a long time, people begin to lose their independence, their viewpoints and their free opinions. In 1947, we thought we would get rid of the slavery of Dogra rule after a hundred years, but we got caught up in the vilest slavery of the Indian state. In slavery, the values of a people that are its identity get broken and changed. But we must still boycott.
Political, armed resistance
AA: There has been a debate within Kashmiri society about the resistance being caught between political activity and the gun. How do you see it?
Geelani: These are two factors in any movement. There is the gun and there is politics, and they have different uses and different lines of action. They are separate and they should remain steadfast at their respective places. But none should lose the values that justify their existence. If we are acting politically, we must mobilize people and convince people against occupation and its methods by arguments. The armed fighters, on the other hand, should only fight those with guns in their hands. They should not deviate from that line and if they keep on that line, they are doing their duty. They should have resources, they should have discipline, and they should have their limits that they shouldn’t transgress. If they transgress, then it isn’t Jihad, it is just instigating trouble. The armed struggle has its own limits that they shouldn’t transgress. The political activists should mobilize people, and that, too, on a moral ground. They should have arguments. They should be able to convince people that we are fighting against suppression; that we are fighting against occupation. We are against the use of power to slaughter people’s rights. They should also not become corrupt on some level. They should maintain the moral human values at any cost. And their politics should not be based on communalism, nor should communalism emerge from their politics.
AA: Why are resistance politics in Kashmirreactionary? Why don’t separatist politics engage with Kashmiri society?
Geelani: We do talk about the consequences of occupation in society, but you must also realize and understand that the political voice against occupation does not get space. They are crushed. If you see, from March 7 to three days ago, police were removed from my doors and I was told that I am free. There is no certainty how long my freedom to move out from my house will remain. We are allowed no space of work. People who resist this occupation are being pressurized and imprisoned lawlessly. If you only see how many political activists have been arrested under Public Safety Acts, you will realize that we are being denied space completely under this so called ‘democracy.’
AA: What do you think about the future of the leadership of the resistance?
Geelani: The clarity of the leadership of separatist politics should be that they should resist and continue resisting, whoever it is. Every party has their own workers and their leaders who are constantly working. Some have less, some more, but it is just that they aren’t in the limelight.
AA: You were imprisoned in your own home for about eight months, and even before that you were under house arrest for a long time. How different has your life been – before and after house arrest?
Geelani: I cannot go to places to do any programs and I cannot reach out to people. That absence can also be exploited by the occupation forces by abetting forgetfulness. For example, the gaze of people is turned from the 600 Martyr’s graveyards to smooth roads and flyovers and schemes and benefits that actually concretize the occupation in this place. And people can forget their dead, their loved ones, and the neighbors who languish in Indian prisons. Forgetting is encouraged by the occupier. In resistance politics, you are not alone, you are against an enemy – a more powerful enemy who tries to completely crush you. They use every method to prevent our voice from reaching out to people. We are stopped from interacting with people.
AA: And now that you’ve been free for three days now, how do you feel?
Geelani: The only difference is that I think there is no police at my gate and I won’t be arrested if I try to walk out of my compound. Till now, I would be arrested if I wanted to go to the mosque for Friday prayers and put in the police lockup for the day. Today there is the feeling that I can move out of my gate. But they play all these games then. If I am going anywhere far, they just arrest me on the road. Like yesterday, we went to Sopore, we were stopped by the police at many places. But they seemed to have a directive from higher-ups to allow me to reach [my destination] and we were allowed to go. Or they would have stopped us and arrested us.
AA: When did you think you would be released?
Geelani: I had no idea. They wouldn’t even accept that I was in illegal confinement – they would say that I am free. The last time as well, when I was released, the then police chief said I was not under any detention, that I was always free.
AA: Were you surprised when you were informed of the release order?
Geelani: No, I wasn’t surprised. I thought they must have got the sense that it is being debated, that articles are being written about it in the newspapers. Abroad, also, people are speaking against it, and they must have thought, ‘It only gives us a bad name. So let’s leave him.’
AA: How has the situation in Pakistan affected the resistance in Kashmir?
Geelani: There is no doubt that Pakistan’s weakness has affected the resistance and situation in Kashmir. There should have been peace in Pakistan, not the fratricide that is going on, not the mayhem and the suppression. Shia-Sunni fights should not happen, attacks on minorities should never happen. It should have been peaceful places, where everyone felt protected, and they should have had tolerance for each other. It would have been a stronger place and its weakness does affect our struggle and us.
Lessons from Muslim Brotherhood
AA: What’s the solution?
Geelani: The solution is that Kashmiris must continue our resistance movement and not become hopeless and sad. We must keep on with our struggle for a genuine and just cause and times do change and times will change. The future is not necessarily within the grasp of thought and there is a superpower who changes things and creates such conditions that things that seem impossible become possible suddenly. To attain freedom from Indian rule,Kashmiris have to remain steadfast and try consistently and not leave hope. And we must remember that not everyone surrenders to despotic rule and those who resist keep alive the fight for justice. If you see, in Egypt, for 80 years, the Muslim Brotherhood suffered and lots of its people sacrificed their lives and lots got wounded. They saw the worst imprisonments, but finally their time came and people voted for them, bringing them into power. But there is a concerted effort that Muslim ideologies should not come forward and take the reins [of power], and a coup was orchestrated against them, which was even helped by Muslims like the Saudis – let alone the West, which doesn’t want to see a Muslim ideology in power at all. The Brotherhood is suffering again, but they are not surrendering; they are still resisting. And that is how histories are made – not by surrender, but by struggling. Movements are kept alive by resistance for truth and justice.
AA: Will events like the ouster of a democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt affect the thinking and politics in Muslim-majority areas likeKashmir?
Geelani: Right now there is a huge fight between ideologies: on one side is secular thought and on the other there is the Islamic way. Western powers are not so much in a fight with Islamic thought as Muslims themselves, those Muslims who are secular, who think Islam is fine only for personal life but cannot govern public life and people. This is the thought [of those] that did the coup in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood government. And the Saudis are only protecting their monarchy.
Future of Kashmir
AA: In 1989, a massive armed uprising began inKashmir, which seemed to completely discredit pro-India politics. Many Kashmiri leaders who had contested elections up until that point left electoral politics. More than 20 years later, only those from the separatist camp appear to be moving back towards electoral politics. How did pro-India politics gain a foothold again?
Geelani: It doesn’t matter who is coming here or there. When someone has the faith that they are on the right path, an unshakable faith, like when we ask for [the] right to self-determination or for acceptance of Kashmir as a disputed territory, when you think of resisting the occupation as our duty, those stands should remain firm like a rock. People who are not associated with resistance mentally and lack the faith that we are on the right path, who only look for benefits that they would get somehow, they change. There can be no trust [in] them. In 1990, it was an armed movement and a mass movement and the pro-India politicians were afraid of that. It was because of the armed movement that Indian politics lost ground, but the Indian state then crushed people with [the] army and oppression, and thousands of people sacrificed their lives. And the pro-India politics re-gained its ground again. But that doesn’t mean any problem in Kashmir or [that] the problem of Kashmirhas been solved. The realities on the ground are the same, that Kashmir is a disputed place and a conflict. In 2010, even the Indian Home Minister said that Kashmir is a story of broken promises. Promises were made to the Kashmiri people and then never fulfilled.
AA: In 2008 and 2010, when hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets to demand freedom from the Indian state, it seemed like something might happen – but nothing did. The authorities didn’t release a single Kashmiri prisoner or remove the impunity enjoyed by Indian soldiers.
Geelani: It is true that the Indian state doesn’t accept anything we say, just because they have a gun, just because they are powerful. They have no argument but power, and though a lot of people bow their heads in front of power, not everyone in the nation does. Not everyone surrenders.
AA: You believe India should first accept Kashmir as “disputed territory” before entering talks held outside the ambit of the Indian constitution. New Delhi, however, doesn’t accept this precondition. Where can you go from here?
Geelani: Their politics is completely without any moral values. It is scheming. It is this politics that is the cause of the chaos in the entire world. A politics bereft of ethics. You can see how hard it is for common people to get justice within this system; in these systems man loses his position within humanity. Their politics is based solely on power; in our system power cannot be separated from ethics.
We cannot do that or there will be no difference between them and us.
AA: But can you win by evading politics?
Geelani: It is on the basis of their power that they have been neglecting our right to self-determination and our just fight. There are only two ways to negotiate with power: either you surrender or you resist. And often resistance politics doesn’t have the means to defeat the powerful at its own game, the only thing it has is truth. What power do we have? Neither military nor economic. We only have truth on our side; or rather we are on the side of truth. And history has shown that, between truth and power, at the end truth has always won.
Anatolia News Agency