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Islam and Politics ( 23 Sept 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Movement for Political Self-Determination for Jammu and Kashmir -- Part 5

By Yoginder Sikand ,

Critique of the Course of the Militant Movement

Geelani wholeheartedly commends the ongoing militant struggle in Jammu and Kashmir, blessing it as an Islamically-mandated ‘jihad’, and insists that it must continue till India agrees to let the people of the state participate in a plebiscite to decide between India or Pakistan, or, if this is not possible, to grant freedom to Jammu and Kashmir.

At the same time, however, Geelani readily admits that the militant movement has not been without its problems. The most crucial of these he identifies as internecine fighting within the ranks of what he terms as the mujahidin. On occasion, he appears to evade this question altogether by branding it as ‘Indian propaganda’ and insisting that ‘there is no ideological conflict at all’ in the ranks of the mujahidin, all of them being unanimous on freedom from India —although here he conveniently glosses over the stark ideological differences between pro-independence Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists and pro-Pakistan Islamists.

Geelani also makes no mention at all about the fact that many men have joined the ranks of the militants not out of any ideological commitment, certainly not of pure Islamic passion, as he seems to claim, but, rather, simply to loot, plunder and target, and to settle personal scores and eliminate personal enemies. Only once throughout the book does Geelani refer to these activities, but then only with an oblique reference to what he terms as ‘irresponsible actions’ (ghair zimmedar harkat)  of some unnamed elements. When questioned about allegations against his Jamaat-e Islami and its armed wing, the Hizb ul-Mujahidin, engaging in unwarranted violence, including against other Kashmiri Muslim groups, he refused to acknowledge the possibility, claiming that the Jamaat was committed to Islam and to the ‘establishment of the faith’ in Jammu and Kashmir.  Presumably, he thereby sought to argue that the Jamaat’s stated ideology itself rendered it incapable of doing any wrong. He accused ‘socialists, nationalists and communists’, who, he said, ‘have no relation with Islam and God’, for spreading canards about the alleged misdemeanours of Jamaat and Hizb ul-Mujahidin activists, arguing that they did so in order to indirectly attack Islam itself—since they could not dare to traduce Islam directly, they attacked the Jamaat, which stood, he claimed, for Islam. Thus equating his Jamaat-e Islami with Islam itself, and hence attacks on the Jamaat with assaults on Islam, he declared, seeking to absolve the Jamaat’s militants of charges against them, ‘Those people who level allegations against the Jamaat actually intend to abuse Islam itself’. 

However, elsewhere in Nava-e Hurriyat Geelani does admit the undeniable fact of rivalry, ideological as well as physical, in the form of internecine fighting, in the ranks of the militants in Jammu and Kashmir, which, he laments, has weakened the overall struggle, to the advantage of India. He is acutely conscious of the divisions in the ranks of various militant groups. In response to a question put to him by Director-General of the Pakistan-based Kashmir Press International expressing the fear that if Jammu and Kashmir were to be freed from Indian rule it would face the same dire situation as in Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet defeat, when different ‘mujahidin’ groups began warring among themselves, Geelani conceded this possibility by remarking that in Kashmir ‘unfortunately, the relations between the different [militant] groups are not very satisfactory.’ Hence, he said, the ‘apprehension’ that Kashmir might go the Afghanistan way ‘cannot be denied’.  On this occasion, he issued an impassioned appeal to the militant groups in Kashmir to unite—for the sake, he said, of Islam and their common goal—of freedom from India.

Geelani lists several reasons for the lack of unity in the ranks of the militants. Prominent among these is the fact that some militant groups have, he admits, gone out of the control of the political leadership that is spearheading the azadi movement. He refers to efforts for unity in the past by the political leadership of groups struggling for independence from India as represented by the Hurriyat Conference, but admits that the unity achieved thereby ‘has not been long-lasting’.  This, he bemoans, ‘has played havoc with our lives’. 

Another major cause for the divisions in the ranks of those struggling against India, Geelani says, is the ‘lack of intellectual (fikri) unity’, most particularly between pro-Pakistan Islamists like himself, and Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists, who aspire to an independent Jammu and Kashmir. To this he adds sectarianism, party rivalries, and personal interests of leaders of different groups. 

A key factor that Geelani describes in the divisions within and infighting among militant groups active in Kashmir is the role of the Pakistani state. Surprisingly, he admits on numerous occasions in the book the central importance of the Pakistani state in the militant movement and in directing and controlling many of the militant groups active in Kashmir at the same time as he continues to insist that the movement is entirely indigenous and that India’s claims of Pakistani involvement are bogus propaganda intended to rob the movement of its legitimacy and international support.

Although Geelani is quick to dismiss the Indian charge that the ongoing struggle in Kashmir is not indigenous, but, rather, instigated by Pakistan, throughout Nava-e Hurriyat he provides ample evidence of the central role of the Pakistani state in the ongoing militant movement, and of what he clearly describes as its culpability in promoting internecine fighting within the ranks of the militants active in Kashmir. Thus, in a telephonic interview with the Director-General of the Pakistan-based Kashmir Press International in 1993, Geelani lamented the lack of the ‘required degree of dialogue and intellectual and practical unity’ among the militant groups, attributing this to the role of what he cryptically termed as the movement’s overall ‘guardian’ (using the Urdu word sarparast in inverted commas)—seemingly a veiled reference to the Pakistani state—which was, he bemoaned, ‘directly and indirectly encouraging divisions’ among the militant groups. If the ‘guardian’ so desired, there would have been no rivalry among the different militant groups in Kashmir, he remarked, adding, ‘Without fear of contradiction, I can say that in producing these divisions and conflicts and deepening them the fault of the people of Kashmir is very minor’.  If there was any doubt about precisely whom Geelani referred to as the ‘guardian’ of the militant groups in Kashmir it was set at rest in a letter he penned in 1993 to the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, wherein he complained, ‘Your institutions and officials have created another major problem for us by creating new [militant] groups every day, because of which here [in Kashmir] we are faced with very severe disruption and anarchy. It is becoming very difficult to control these groups’. He went to the extent of denouncing this situation as a ‘calamity’ (azab). 

In another telephonic interview, in 1994 with a group of Pakistani journalists, Geelani lamented the lack of unity among the various militant groups active in the region, and frankly admitted, ‘In this connection, your [Pakistan’s] responsibility [for this] is more than ours’. Through these journalists he appealed to the Pakistani people and leaders to ‘try to influence the militant groups so that they work with sincerity’, because, he added, ‘after all, they get their warp and woof (tana bana) from you’. He made no bones of the fact that these groups ‘received instructions’ from Pakistan to eliminate certain people, for which they were, he revealed, promised that ‘they would become dominant’. All this, he confessed, had made the life of the Kashmiris, reeling under ‘Indian oppression […] even more miserable’. 

In a similar vein, in an interview given to the Rawalpindi-based fortnightly Jihad-e Kashmir in 1994, Geelani acknowledged the infighting among militants in Kashmir but claimed, ‘In this, our blame is less, and that of [Pakistan] is more’. Geelani further indicated that Pakistan was playing a central role in creating new militant organizations in Kashmir, and in unwittingly or otherwise promoting conflicts between them in order to suit what it regarded as its own interests. From what he added about what he frankly admitted was Pakistan’s manufacturing of new militant groups in Kashmir it seemed that he was apprehensive that this was eroding the popularity of his own Jamaat-e Islami and its militant wing, the Hizb ul-Mujahidin, and their influence within the Pakistani establishment. Thus, he advised the editor of Jihad-e Kashmir, to ‘convince the people where you are [Pakistan] that multiplying the number of militant groups will not help the militant struggle at all’, and that ‘only two or three groups should exist’. This, he explained, would ‘ease our difficulties’ and promote what he called Pakistan’s ‘real objectives’. In yet another frank admission of Pakistan’s central role in the ongoing militant movement in Kashmir, he added that efforts on the part of anti-Indian Kashmiri leaders to reduce conflicts among the militant groups could not succeed until ‘our base-camp’, by which he obviously meant Pakistan, ‘does not turn its attention to this problem’ and ‘influential forces there do not play an effective and positive role’.  Given this honest recognition of the integral role of Pakistan in the militant movement, Geelani’s claim, published in a Pakistani periodical, the Lahore-based weekly Zindagi, that the argument that Kashmiri militants were being armed by Pakistan was mere ‘Indian propaganda’ that aimed to ‘tell the world’ that the movement was not indigenous, but, rather, ‘created and promoted by Pakistan’ , can hardly be taken seriously.

At the same time as Geelani accuses the Pakistani state of fomenting divisions in the ranks of the militants, thus playing into the hands of India, he continues to appeal to the rulers of Pakistan to support him, his Jamaat-e Islami and the Jamaat’s militant wing, the Hizb ul-Mujahidin, as against other anti-India factions, most notably the Kashmiri nationalists, whom he depicts as inveterate foes on par with the Indian state. In this way, too, he admits the central role that Pakistan, both the Pakistani state and its agencies as well as various Pakistan-based militant Islamist groups, are playing in the ongoing, self-styled ‘jihad’ in Kashmir. In order to curry favour with the Pakistani establishment, and competing with other rival groups for such patronage, Geelani argues that he and his Jamaat-e Islami are Pakistan’s best bet in Kashmir, its most reliable and trusted ally, and fully committed to Pakistan’s interests which lie, he argues, in the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. Thus, in the letter addressed to Nawaz Sharif mentioned above, Geelani declared, ‘The Jamaat-e Islami of Jammu and Kashmir and its militant wing, the Hizb ul-Mujahidin, are the most appropriate and reliable group [in Kashmir] for the ideological existence (nazariyati wujud) of Pakistan’ , as they were committed to Islam, rather than Kashmiri nationalism, and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, rather than independence. Despite this, he complained, Pakistan ‘provided help’ and ‘gave greater importance to […] secular and so-called nationalist elements’—a reference to pro-independence Kashmiri groups, opposed to both Indian as well as Pakistani rule—although these groups, he claimed, were ‘not sincere, neither about Pakistan, nor about Islam’.  He lamented that the Pakistani state and its various organs, such as its official media, ‘did not give weight to the activities of the Jamaat-e Islami [of Jammu and Kashmir] and the Hizb ul-Mujahidin’, describing this as a ‘lamentable and saddening state of affairs’ that was having a seriously deleterious impact on the ongoing movement in Kashmir. He lambasted Pakistan’s policy of patronizing Kashmiri groups of divergent ideological orientations, saying that this was tantamount to promoting the ‘enemies of jihad’—a veiled reference to pro-independence Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalist groups. This, he alleged, was enabling the Kashmiri nationalists to seek to ‘damage and destroy’ the ‘jihad’ that, in his view, ought to work for Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Geelani also reminded the Pakistani Prime Minister that ‘to enable the current struggle in Jammu and Kashmir reach its logical end, Pakistan’s role is central’, warning him that, ‘If in this last and very sensitive stage’ Pakistan continued with its ‘negative’ policy’, of patronizing rival Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalist groups, ‘Kashmir will forever be cut off from you and then it will never become a part of Pakistan, contrary to Pakistan’s desires, hopes and needs’. 

From the details disclosed in the letter, Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists appear to Geelani to be as inveterate foes of (his version of) Islam and what he terms as the ‘jihad’ in Kashmir as the Indian state. Their source of inspiration, Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalism, is, as Geelani sees it, and as his mentor Maududi would have, as ‘un-Islamic’ as India’s officially claimed secular democracy, both being ‘man-made ideologies’ that represent a ‘revolt’ against Islam as God’s ‘complete code of law and way of life’, as understood by the Jamaat-e Islami. Their political project, of an independent state, is also anathema to Geelani, who regards it as a betrayal of Islam, which, according to him, demands global Muslim political unity and hence requires Kashmir to join Muslim Pakistan. They are, Geelani believes, to be stiffly opposed for another reason—they compete with Geelani and his followers for the patronage of the Pakistani state, and thus threaten to usurp the position that he and fellow pro-Pakistan Islamists claim of being the authentic voice of the Kashmiri people.

In his letter to Nawaz Sharif, Geelani spares no bones in attacking his secular Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalist rivals, whom he sees as competing with him and his fellow pro-Pakistan Islamists for representing the people of Jammu and Kashmir and for the crucial support of the Pakistani establishment. He warns Sharif that these people and groups ‘are not the means for Pakistan’s stability and welfare’.  ‘Since 1947’, he goes on, ‘I and my Jamaat have been consistently struggling for accession to Pakistan’, claiming that he and his organisation have made innumerable sacrifices for this purpose.  He insists that for Pakistan to attain its objectives in Kashmir it must work with what individuals in Kashmir whom he terms as a ‘sincere leadership’ (mukhlis qayadat). He uses this term four times in the same paragraph, undoubtedly to refer to himself and his fellow pro-Pakistan Islamist associates. ‘You also know well’, he tells Sharif, ‘that to liberate Kashmir from Indian control the militant struggle of our youth is not enough.’ India’s well-organised and large army, he writes, ‘can only be defeated by an equally strong army’, but, he adds, ‘the experience of the last 45 years and present-day global conditions clearly show that Pakistan cannot bear the burden of a regular war with India.’ Hence, he advises him that, accepting this ‘bitter truth’, Pakistan must make sure that the militant movement in Kashmir is kept under a ‘sincere political leadership’—a reference to himself and his Islamist colleagues. However, this can ‘under no circumstances whatsoever’ come about on the initiative of the Kashmiris themselves, he explains. For this, he insists, admitting the central role of Pakistan in the movement, the Pakistani state must ‘offer its full assistance’, stop ‘creating innumerable artificial militant groups’, limit the number of militant groups to ‘that which is truly required’, and, most importantly, listen to the advice of the ‘sincere leaders’ of the Kashmiris (people like himself), working in cooperation with them. 


Syed Ali Shah Geelani is seen by vast numbers of Kashmiri Muslims as the symbol of their collective resistance to Indian rule, which they regard as illegitimate. Key in constructing this image of a charismatic hero has been Geelani’s consistent opposition to what he and many Kashmiris see as Indian occupation. Unlike other noted Kashmiri Muslim leaders, he is regarded as ‘honest’, ‘committed’, to have never compromised his stand on freedom from India, and as having suffered immense privations, including long spells in jail, for daring to oppose Indian rule. His charisma is also based on the perception of him as a pious, committed Muslim—an image that he also strives to project—and as having allegedly dedicated his entire life, including his long and tumultuous political career, simply for the sake of (his version of) Islam. In Nava-e Hurriyat, Geelani very deliberately portrays himself as the model Muslim, his every action allegedly determined by, and dedicated to, Islam. Thus, he piously proclaims:

‘I have dedicated my whole life to the establishment of the faith (iqamat-e din). Till this very day, all the efforts I have made, whether personal or social and collective, have revolved round this agenda. I have always tried to use all my abilities to ensure the supremacy of God’s Word.’ 

Geelani’s charisma also rests in the perception that, in contrast to various other Kashmiri leaders, he has never caved in to Indian pressure or blandishments. In Nava-e Hurriyat he relates that at the height of the militant movement, in 1990, when incarcerated in jail in Jammu, he was approached by a top Indian intelligence officer who offered him the post of Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. However, he writes, he refused the offer, telling the officer, ‘Minister-ships and ambassadorships have no importance at all for me. Even if I sacrifice my life for our cause I will not think it to be that I have made a bad bargain. My goal is so lofty that it cannot be measured by any worldly criterion.’ 

In his Nava-e Hurriyat, as in his longstanding political career, Geelani forcefully articulates the manifold grievances of many Kashmiri Muslims—opposition to Indian rule, widespread human rights violations by the Indian armed forces, India’s reneging on its commitments to the international community, its consistent denial of the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris through plebiscite, the perceived Hinduistic and anti-Muslim character of the Indian nation-state, and the plight of the Indian Muslims, which he attributes entirely to Hindu chauvinism. Consistently referring to all these, he portrays himself as the authoritative voice of the Kashmiri people and as spearheading the movement for azadi, which he projects as the solution to all these various challenges.

At the same time as Geelani forcefully foregrounds azadi, freedom from India, as the core of his political project, he remains silent on the details of the political dispensation—the ‘Islamic state’ and ‘Islamic system’—that he sees himself struggling to establish in Jammu and Kashmir in place of Indian rule. He offers nothing even remotely resembling a blue-print of this ‘state’ and ‘system’. This is certainly a very consciously thought-out strategy, reflecting the intellectual limitations of Islamism itself as a political project for practical governance, and of the fact that the trope of the ‘Islamic state’ serves, in Kashmir today as in many other cases, essentially as a slogan and device for mobilizing popular dissent and opposition to existing regimes. This silence on the details of the ‘Islamic system’ that Geelani aspires to must also related to deeply-contested notions of Islam itself, in Kashmir as elsewhere, with considerable opposition among many Kashmiri Muslims themselves to the very understanding of Islam and its relationship with politics and the state as articulated by Islamists such as Geelani and his Jamaat-e Islami. The desire to maintain a ‘united front’ and to prevent further fissures within the anti-Indian Kashmiri Muslim constituency demands, therefore, silence on the practical details of his Maududist-inspired Islamist vision that may not have many takers among the Kashmiri Muslims.

Ironically, despite the widespread perception of Geelani as the icon of the azadi movement, Geelani’s understanding of azadi differs radically from that of the Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists, who may be said to reflect the aspirations of a sizeable majority of Kashmiri Muslims. While Geelani repeatedly uses the term azadi, it is clear that he takes it to mean not just freedom from Indian rule but also the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. This is in sharp contrast to how Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists understand the term—as freedom from India and the establishment of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir. It can thus be posited that Geelani’s widespread popularity among many Kashmiri Muslims, based on the perception of him as a leading champion of azadi, is not quite what it seems. To many Kashmiris he is a hero for his consistent opposition to Indian rule and to widespread human rights violations by the Indian armed forces. But, when it comes to his advocacy of a Maududist-style ‘Islamic state’ and the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, a large section of even those who regard him as a hero would vehemently disagree. In other words, it is largely in his fiery anti-Indianism that his charismatic appeal lies and to which his popularity among many Kashmiri Muslims today may be attributed. Many of these very same Kashmiri Muslims would, at the same time, stoutly oppose his ultimate political project—merger with Pakistan—and his particular version of Islam, as represented by Maududi and the Jamaat-e Islami.

The inconsistencies and contradictions in Geelani’s approach to azadi are also reflected in his understanding of the awam, the people, of Jammu and Kashmir, whose political voice he claims to be, equating the anti-Indian constituency among the Sunni Kashmiri Muslims with the entire population of the state. Consequently, the aspirations of the substantial non-Muslim minority in Jammu and Kashmir come to be completely silenced, while the Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists, who oppose his agenda of merger with Pakistan and his Maududist-style ‘Islamic state’, are summarily branded as nothing short of traitors to Islam, as Geelani understands it. Accordingly, it can be said that despite the widespread perception of him as the icon of azadi and hero of the Kashmiri Muslim resistance, Geelani’s political project and his Islamist vision represent the aspirations of only a relatively small, and apparently diminishing, minority of pro-Pakistan Kashmiri Muslims.


Ibid., p.242.

Ibid., p. 162.

Ibid., p.242.

Ibid., p. 162.

Ibid., p.76.

Ibid., p.68.

Ibid., p.148.

Ibid., p.232.

Ibid., p. 227.

Ibid., p.149.

Ibid., p.148.

Ibid., pp.136-37.

Ibid., pp.225-6.

Ibid., p.243.

Ibid., p.255.

Ibid., p. 137.

Ibid., p.138.

Ibid.,  p.138.

Ibid., p.138.

Ibid., p.142.

Ibid., p. 139.

Ibid., p. 65.

Ibid., p. 164.

Copyright 2010: New Age Islam Foundation