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Islam and Politics ( 21 Sept 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Movement for Political Self-Determination for Jammu and Kashmir -- Part 3

By Yoginder Sikand,

Opposing an Independent Jammu and Kashmir

What, then, of the third option—of an independent Jammu and Kashmir? It is clear that a significant majority of the Muslim population of the state would indeed support this project, although, of course, the non-Muslims of the state, being almost wholly with India, would oppose it, fearing Kashmiri/Muslim domination.  That relatively few Muslims of the state, particularly from the Kashmir Valley, would choose to remain with India is undeniable. The continuing and mounting human rights violations, including widespread killings and torture, in Kashmir by agencies of the Indian state (which Geelani describes in chilling detail) has, admittedly, only hardened the resolve of many Kashmiri Muslims to seek azadi, freedom from India. But, this does not mean that anti-Indianism in Kashmir translates automatically into pro-Pakistani sentiment. Indeed, it can be safely said, as mentioned before, that the desire for a separate state of their own, independent of both India and Pakistan, among a substantial number of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir has been further reinforced in recent years with the ongoing developments in Pakistan, where chronic political instability, economic crisis, sectarian violence, terrorism in the name of Islam, continued sabotage of democracy, and Pakistan’s subservience to America—to name just a few factors—have convinced many Kashmiri Muslims that joining Pakistan, instead of being independent, is definitely not a worthwhile proposition.

Yet, even in the face of the desire for an independent state of their own on the part of probably the majority of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, Geelani has consistently continued to press for the state’s merger with Pakistan and to vehemently oppose the demand for an independent Jammu and Kashmir. Stressing his opposition to the ‘third option’, Geelani castigates it as a ‘play’ (khel) of Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists, whom he refers to contemptuously as mere ‘elements’ (anasir).  In order to counter this popular demand, he claims that talk of the ‘third option’—an independent for Jammu and Kashmir, based on the state’s August 1947 boundaries—is an ‘Indian conspiracy’ to strengthen India’s claim on the disputed territory. In an interview in 1993 with a Pakistani journalist, he insisted that Jammu and Kashmir must become a part of Pakistan, rather than an independent country, arguing, ‘If we win the right to self-determination, we want to restrict the choice to just two options [India or Pakistan], and we will appeal to the people to vote for Pakistan’. To ‘bring up the issue of the third option’, he went on, was ‘destructive (nuqsandeh)’, adding that ‘we want to save the entire Muslim community from this tragedy’.  He contended that if the ‘third option’ were allowed, anti-India votes would be divided between supporters of an independent Jammu and Kashmir and those who wanted the state’s accession to Pakistan, and that in such a situation those in favour of the state’s accession to India might easily win. Thus, in a press conference that he addressed in 1992 on being released from a long spell in jail, Geelani declaimed:

‘The ongoing struggle in Kashmir has brought the issue on the world stage, and so the rulers of India have devised a dangerous political trap by talking of the third option. Through this they want to divide the people. India knows that some people will want to join Pakistan and that some will raise the slogan for independence, and then these will fight each other and their votes will be divided. This will benefit India. In my view this [talk of the third option] is a crafty weapon that India is wielding in order to divert us from the basic position on the issue of Kashmir [the choice between India and Pakistan through a plebiscite as envisaged by the UN Security Council Resolutions].’ 

At the same time, it appears that Geelani is indeed aware that the majority of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir may not be enthusiastic about his plea for their state’s merger with Pakistan and may actively support the ‘third option’ that he so vehemently denounces. This is why he appears to reluctantly admit that if it is no longer possible (for reasons he does not elaborate) for the UN Security Council Resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir to be implemented, then the three parties to the conflict—India, Pakistan and what he terms as the ‘authentic representatives’ (haqiqi numainde) of the people of Jammu and Kashmir—should organize a tripartite conference under UN supervision, and that if in this conference they unanimously agree on an independent Jammu and Kashmir conforming to the state’s boundaries as in August 1947 he would agree to this proposal.  It is clear that this is not the ideal solution for Geelani, however, who indicates that he would accept such a deal ‘only as a last measure’  and ‘under duress’. 

Claiming the Authoritative Voice

A key issue involved in the tripartite conference on Jammu and Kashmir that Geelani calls for is: How are the ‘authentic representatives’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who would participate in this conference to be decided? This is a particularly complex question given the extreme heterogeneity of the people of the state, in terms of religion, sect, caste, ethnicity, and language, not to speak of gender and class.

Geelani insists that the Kashmir conflict is not a bipartite dispute between India and Pakistan. Rather, there are three parties to the dispute: India, Pakistan and the ‘people’ (awam) of Jammu and Kashmir. Hence, he argues, the dispute cannot be solved between just the Governments of India and Pakistan. The conflict is not a territorial one between India and Pakistan, he points out, but, rather, one that relates to the life of the over twelve million inhabitants of the state.  Hence, no solution to the conflict is acceptable, he says, if it goes against the wishes of ‘the people of the state’, who must have a central say in such a solution, because the conflict and its solution concerns their very existence and future. 

Scattered throughout Geelani’s book are repeated references to the need for the ‘authentic representatives’ of the awam or ‘people’ of Jammu and Kashmir to be represented in any tripartite conference on Kashmir to decide the state’s future. But as to who these representative individuals and groups are Geelani remains, perhaps deliberately, fuzzy. It would appear that, to him, these ‘representatives’ are essentially Kashmiri Sunni Muslims who seek independence from India, given that whenever Geelani speaks of ‘the people of Jammu and Kashmir’ or ‘the Kashmiri people’ it is in such a manner as to seem to equate the terms with the anti-Indian Muslim constituency state, in particular the Sunni Muslims of the Kashmir Valley. This is clearly indicated throughout the book, as, for instance, when Geelani argues that ‘the people of Jammu and Kashmir’ are vociferously opposed to India, and that ‘every person’ in the state ‘hates India’ , ignoring the undeniable fact that the non-Muslims of the state, as well as significant sections of Muslims outside the Kashmir Valley (and not an insignificant number of Muslims in the Valley as well) do not share this perception at all. When Geelani announces that, ‘There is not a single person in Jammu and Kashmir who is agreeable to dialogue and compromise with India or living under its control’ , it is clear that the vast numbers of people of the state—the non-Muslims of the state as well as many Muslims—who believe otherwise simply do not exist in his imagination, and that, as far as he is concerned, their aspirations have no value at all in determining the political future of the state. It is as if these inhabitants of the state, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, who do not share Geelani’s project, of a Maududist-style ‘Islamic state’ and merger with Pakistan, are completely dispensable and are not part of what Geelani refers to as the ‘people of Jammu and Kashmir’, on whose behalf he claims to speak.

In this way, in Geelani’s writings anti-Indian Kashmiri Sunni Muslims come to be seen as standing in for all the people of the state, while the sizeable remaining population of Jammu and Kashmir (Hindus, Dalits, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, many Shia Muslims and non-Kashmiri Pahari Muslims, as well as not a negligible number of Kashmiri Muslims) who are definitely pro-India are completely ignored and silenced as if they are not part of ‘the people of Jammu and Kashmir’. But it is not every Kashmiri Muslim leader who demands freedom from India who is seen as an ‘authentic representative’ of the people of the entire state in Geelani’s scheme of things. Rather, to Geelani, the mantle of ‘authenticity’ falls on people like himself, Islamists who advocate Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Secular and/or nationalist Kashmiri Muslims who advocate an independent Jammu and Kashmir are depicted as ‘inauthentic’ and, hence, as disqualified from claiming to represent the Kashmiris in tripartite negotiations. This, for instance, is suggested in Geelani’s response to a query from a Pakistani journalist in 1993, when he claimed that ‘there can no doubt that the Kashmiri people have been engaged in this struggle for the sake of Islam and for accession (ilhaq) to Pakistan’.  Likewise, in a letter written in 1993 to the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Geelani described Pakistan as the ‘land of the dreams’ of ‘all Kashmiris’ because it was ‘won in the name of Islam’.  In this letter, he argued, ignoring completely the aspirations of the Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists, that accession to Pakistan is ‘what the Kashmiri people have been demanding since 1947’.  Geelani thus appeared to claim that Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists who are as opposed to their state joining Pakistan as they are to it being part of India have no resonance at all with the ‘people’ of Jammu and Kashmir, whom he erroneously describes as homogenously pro-Pakistan and Islamist. This would logically mean (although he does not say so in so many words) that they are in no way ‘authentic’ representatives of the people, and hence are not qualified to speak on their behalf in any tripartite conference to chalk out a solution to the Kashmir dispute.

Given this, it is not surprising, therefore, that when Geelani talks of the ‘authentic representatives’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, he refers to people like himself. In a pamphlet he penned in 1992, titled ‘Solution to the Kashmir Conflict’, which was published by the Jamaat-e Islami of Jammu and Kashmir and which is reproduced in Nava-e Hurriyat, he argued that the ‘third party’ in negotiations over the status of the state would be ‘the real representatives who desire freedom (azadi pasand)’.  He remained, perhaps deliberately, ambiguous as to who these individuals and organizations would be. Asked by a Pakistani journalist to identify them, he cryptically answered, ‘The people who can reliably represent Kashmir are present. Searching for them will not take much time’.  He even went to the extent of arguing, presumably referring to himself and people of his ilk, ‘We can form this representative group ourselves’ , adding that this group would consist of people from both Pakistan-administered Kashmir (‘Azad Kashmir’) and from Indian-ruled Kashmir ‘who are fighting for azadi’, and who would ‘truly represent the wishes of the people’.  Further underlining his argument that, in his view, the ‘true’ representatives of the people of the state would be those who shared his position (Maududist-style Islamist politics and merger with Pakistan), he argued that in any proposed tripartite talks the delegation of ‘the true representatives of Jammu and Kashmir’ and the Pakistani delegation ‘would certainly support each other.’ ‘They will be close to each other and will not oppose each other’, he went on. ‘I believe’, he insisted, ‘that there cannot be any difference in the thinking of the representatives of Kashmir and that of the Pakistani delegation’.  Quite naturally, then, the individuals and groups whom Geelani considers ‘authentic representatives’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who, in his view, would be qualified to participate in the tripartite talks would be ardent advocates of the merger of the state with Pakistan. This effectively excludes the voices of the non-Muslims of the state as well as pro-independence Kashmiri ethno-nationalists from his definition of ‘authentic’ representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, although, taken together, they reflect the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the population of the state.

Geelani on the Non-Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir

Various non-Muslim communities occupy more than a third of the population of the Indian-administered part of Jammu and Kashmir. Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Leh account for well over half of the geographical area of the state. They have consistently opposed the azadi movement, being vehemently opposed to the state’s accession to Pakistan and even to an independent Jammu and Kashmir, and are almost entirely pro-India. Despite their significant numbers, these non-Muslim inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir are, as noted before, almost wholly invisiblised in Geelani’s representation of the ‘people’ of the state.

As mentioned earlier, Geelani routinely refers to the ‘people of Jammu and Kashmir’, a term he uses interchangeably with another term, the ‘Kashmiri awam’, as being united in their fierce opposition to Indian rule. In this way, ignoring the immense religious and ethnic diversity in the state, he conflates the entire population of the state with the Muslims (specifically Sunni Muslims) of the Kashmir Valley. Accordingly, the desire for freedom from Indian rule of the majority of the Sunni Muslims of the Kashmir comes, in his view, to represent the will of the entire people of the state. The political aspirations of non-Muslim/non-Sunni, non-Kashmiri inhabitants of the state, which differ completely from those of most Sunni Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, are thus completely ignored, marginalized and silenced by Geelani, replicating, in a sense, the Indian state’s own silencing of the political aspirations of the Kashmiri Muslims.

Only once in Nava-e Hurriyat does Geelani refer to the need for the non-Muslim inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir to be represented in any proposed talks about the Kashmir conflict. He makes this passing reference not on his own volition but only when specifically asked (by a Pakistani journalist) if the non-Muslims of the state, too, would have any representation in the talks. His answer to this question is brief and somewhat vague. All he says is, ‘In the tripartite talks, Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control will be represented, as will the non-Muslims who live in Jammu etc.. We accept their rights’. 

Geelani appears wholly indifferent to the political aspirations of the non-Muslims of the state and to their apprehensions about the prospect of living as obviously marginalized and severely-discriminated against minorities in Pakistan if Kashmir, as he insists, merges with that country, or in the Maududist-style ‘Islamic state’ that he so passionately argues for. Thus, in a reply to a question by an Indian journalist as to what his reaction would be if the Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh voted in the proposed plebiscite to join India, he said that he would ascertain their views and ‘act accordingly’, but quickly dismissed the possibility of this happening at all by denying outright that they would like to join India. 

How Geelani perceives the non-Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir is indicated in the different standards he adopts with regard to human rights abuses, by the Indian armed forces, on the one hand, and by Kashmiri Muslim militants, whom he terms as mujahidin, warriors engaged in what he regards as an Islamically-mandated jihad, on the other. Nava-e Hurriyat is replete with detailed narratives of atrocities committed by the Indian armed forces against unarmed Kashmiri Muslim civilians. Yet, Geelani, willfully or otherwise, ignores the numerous atrocities committed by Muslim militants on unarmed non-Muslim (as well as Muslim) civilians, including loot, rape, and massacres. Geelani seeks to create the image of the militants as uniformly pious, committed Muslims engaged in a religiously-legitimate jihad, who, by definition, are incapable of deviating from the moral rules that are supposed to guide jihad. Thus, for instance, he places the entire blame for the mass exodus of the Hindu Pandits from the Kashmir Valley on the Indian state, absolving the militants of any role at all in this affair. He argues that the Indian state, under Jagmohan, the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, conspired to evacuate the Pandits from the Valley so that the Indian armed forces could brutally crush the Kashmiri Muslims and project the Kashmiri Muslims’ struggle as a narrow, ‘communal’ one so as to rob it of legitimacy in the eyes of the world community. There is undeniably some truth in this charge, of course, but when Geelani insists that not a single innocent non-Muslim has been killed by militants in Jammu and Kashmir , it is obvious that he willfully seeks to cover up a long list of brutal attacks by militants that numerous other Kashmiri Muslim leaders themselves have publicly condemned.

Geelani’s indifference to the political aspirations of the non-Muslims of the state are evident throughout Nava-e Hurriyat in his answers to the journalists—never on his own—who happen to mention them.  To them he hastens to insist that the ongoing militant struggle is not a narrow, Kashmiri Muslim one, although critics would remark that his claim is completely disingenuous and utterly fails to convince. In reply to a question about the implications of the struggle for the substantial non-Muslim population of Jammu and Kashmir, he replied, ‘If our struggle was based on religious hatred, it would certainly have impacted on the non-Muslims on Kashmir, but the world knows that nothing of this sort has happened.’ ‘In Kashmir’, he went on, referring to allegations about non-Muslims being targeted by militants, ‘you will see no such thing.’  The non-Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, Geelani insisted, obviously concealing numerous instances of violence by militants directed against them, were fully protected by their Muslim neighbours, and ‘they have not been made to be victimized in any way by a sense of insecurity.’ Throughout the book, Geelani refuses to even acknowledge, leave alone refer to, the selected killings of non-Muslims that have taken place over the years at the hands of militants in the state, the overwhelming opposition of the non-Muslims of the state to the militant movement and to the demand for the state’s freedom from India, and the climate of fear in which non-Muslims in many Muslim-dominated parts of the state continue to live. Wholly insensitive to the aspirations of the non-Muslims of the state, and contradicting his own consistent claim that the ongoing movement in Kashmir is inspired by and for Islam and for the cause of an Islamic state, Geelani argued that ‘right from 1947, our struggle for self-determination has been non-communal (ghair firqavarana) and still is and shall remain so in the future. It is based on moral values, and will not discriminate on the basis of religion, colour, race, caste and region. This is not just our politics but also our religion and faith’.  Accordingly, he dismissed Indian claims that the movement was ‘communal’ as ‘baseless propaganda’ aiming at delegitimising and defaming it.

Geelani insists that the ‘Islamic state’ that he sees the Kashmiri Muslims as struggling for will not discriminate against its non-Muslim citizens. ‘Ever since Muslims became a majority [in Kashmir]’, he claims, ‘we have been expressing our commitment to love of humanity, religious tolerance, peace and communal harmony. We have behaved well with our Hindu, Sikh and Christian brethren, and, with God’s help, will continue to do so in future’.  But how this claim squares with his insistence on establishing an ‘Islamic state’ on the model devised by his mentor Maududi, wherein non-Muslims would definitely occupy a second-grade status as dhimmis, is, not surprisingly, left wholly unaddressed. At the same time, in an implicit admission of the very obvious fact that the non-Muslims of the state would refuse to willingly live in the ‘Islamic state’ that he aspires to establish (they being well aware of the dismal conditions of non-Muslims in neighbouring Pakistan, the record of various self-styled Islamic states of mistreating their minorities, and the forced exodus of almost the entire non-Muslim population from Pakistani-administered Kashmir in 1947), Geelani acknowledged that if India, Pakistan and the ‘representatives’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir unanimously agreed on the division of the state, giving non-Muslim-majority Ladakh and Jammu to India, he would also accept the proposal.


Ibid., p.190.

Advocates of an independent Jammu and Kashmir and those who urge the state’s accession to Pakistan have failed to take into account the vociferous opposition to their political projects among the state’s substantial non-Muslim minority, who would regard both such options as seeking to impose Kashmiri/Muslim domination on them, in the same way as many Kashmiri Muslims regard Indian rule as Indian/Hindu domination.

Ibid., p.190.

Ibid., p.159.

Ibid., p.66.

Ibid., p.178.

Ibid., p.160.

Ibid., p.178.

Ibid., p. 55.

Ibid., p.64.

Ibid., p.197.

Ibid., p. 242.

Ibid., p.92.

Ibid., p.133.

Ibid., p. 142.

Ibid., p. 64.

Ibid., p.175.

Ibid., p.178.

Ibid., pp.179-80.

Ibid., p.181.

Ibid., p.178.

Ibid., p.197.

Ibid., p.253.

Ibid., p.207.

Ibid., p.52.

Ibid., p.172.

Ibid., p.182.

Copyright 2010: New Age Islam Foundation