The announcement of MasratAlam Bhat as the new head of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in place of Syed Ali Shah Geelani was possibly based on Pakistan’s directions to nominate a hardliner, seeking merger of Kashmir with it. Bhat has been in Tihar Jail since 2015. For Pak, the death of Geelani was an end of an era, which they exploited for enhancing violence in the valley leading to lowering India’s image and continuing Kashmir on the global discussion agenda.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a pro-Pakistan separatist leader, passed away on 01 Sep. He was 92. His death, similar to his life,made more headlines in Pakistan than in India. In July last year, Pakistan had honoured him with their highest civilian award, Nishaan-e-Pakistan. Just a few weeks prior to the announcement, he resigned from the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, which he founded, as also the APHC. He stated in his resignation letter that given the present situation within the Hurriyat Conference, he is dissociating himself from the platform. He was unhappy with Hurriyat members staying silent over the abrogation of Article 370 as also being ignored by Pak.
For decades, the Hurriyat, under Geelani, claimed it represented the population of Kashmir and should be part of tripartite talks with Pakistan. It considered itself the only organization in J and Kwith which the centre could hold discussions. Hurriyat leaders enjoyed perks and privileges at state cost, while propagating Pakistan’s viewpoint. Geelani supported Kashmir being a part of Pakistan. An investigative report states that there were over 2900 days of strikes based on calls by Geelani which spans a period of almost eight years. In addition, millions of Pak funnelled dollars were expended to incite violence.
Like other separatists, Geelani’s children were well educated and settled, while he prevented local Kashmiris from gaining education. He treated locals as cannon fodder while ensuring his children were safe and away from the region. During riots post the encounter killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, 31 school buildings were burnt on his call. He demanded closure of army run schools and desired children attend Madrassas. The NIA is probing 14 properties owned by Geelani and his kin valued between 100-150 crores. All this while denying basic income and schooling to locals by ordering strikes and stopped tourism, the main revenue earner for most Kashmiri’s.
Geelani supported the ouster of Kashmiri Pundits from the valley. He played the demographic card while opposing the transfer of land to the Amarnath board.
Geelani was Pakistan’s face in Kashmir. Any Pak leader visiting India invariably sought a meeting with the Hurriyat. On Pakistan’s National Day, Geelani with other separatist leaders were always invited to the Pak embassy in Delhi. In August 2014, India cancelled foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan because their High Commissioner held talks with Geelani.
Few Indian politicians, including Mani Shankar Aiyar and Yashwant Sinha, visited Geelani,providing him legitimacy in Kashmir politics. He enjoyed all benefits from India, including free medical, travel and security, but sold the idea of Kashmir being part of Pakistan. The turning point into reducing the power of the Hurriyat, came with investigations into Hawala transactions and re-opening of suppressed criminal cases against Hurriyat members. This effectively made the organization redundant.
For Pakistan, his death was an opportunity to exploit, with hopes of it leading to violence, embarrassing India. Imran Khan tweeted, ‘Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Syed Ali Geelani.Remember his words: Hum Pakistani hain aur Pakistan Humarahai.’ He even had the Pak flag flying at half-mast for a day in Geelani’s honour. General Bajwa stated, ‘His lifelong sacrifices & ceaseless struggle symbolises indomitable resolve of Kashmiris against Indian occupation.’ Pakistan’s attempts to instigate violence had no takers in Kashmir.
It then attempted to exploit Geelani’s burial, which was conducted under tight security. Pakistan summoned the Indian charge-d’affaires and objected to what they termed as, ‘inhuman handling of mortal remains of Geelani.’ Pakistan organized funeral prayers in absentia for Geelani at a Mosque in Islamabad, attended by their President and army chief. This, apart from influencing its own people, was another washout.
The only Indian politician to comment against the government was Mehbooba Mufti. Her intention was to gain local sympathy and rekindle her support base in South Kashmir, which was fast eroding. The incident of his body being draped in a Pakistan flag was commented upon by Pakistan and Mehbooba. It was evident that Geelani had lost popularity in Kashmir and politicians tolerated him to avoid violence.
Kashmir has seen a change since the Hurriyat lost steam. The past two years of peace and increased outreach by security agencies, since eroding of the Hurriyat’s influence and blocking of hawala funds, has resulted in the local populace no longer supporting violence and terrorism. Hence, there were few small protests. However, as a safety measure aimed at restricting Pakistan’s fake propaganda and controlling spread of rumours internet restrictions in the region were imposed.
With the passing away of Geelani, Pakistan has lost the one individual whom it utilized to enhance violence levels and display Delhi in poor light. Their attempts to capitalize on his death as they had done in the case of Burhan Wani, failed. However, to gain sympathy and continue to display its concern to Kashmiris, on both sides of the LoC, Pakistan would shortly name a road in his memory, as also conduct a memorial event on his death anniversary, for the next few years. Like earlier, these too would come to naught.
For Kashmiris, it is the end of an era. The Hurriyat, which under him had instigated violence is defunct. Their influence remains in just a few pockets. Kashmir political parties, which humoured Hurriyat leaders, will breathe a sigh of relief. The naming of another hardliner, Bhat, as his replacement in a hope that he would redirect violence, is bound to fail. Bhat lacks the following of Geelani. Pak attempts to exploit Geelani’s demise, as it was their last opportunity for enhancing violence,collapsed.
(The author is Major General)