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Islam and Politics ( 20 Sept 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Movement for Political Self-Determination for Jammu and Kashmir- Part 2

By Yoginder Sikand,

The Militant Path

Geelani repeatedly stresses that the ‘people of Jammu and Kashmir’ have, since 1947 onwards, been pressing for India to live up to its promise of arranging for a plebiscite for them to determine their political future on the lines called for by the UN Security Council Resolutions. This, he says, they have been consistently struggling for, using peaceful means of protest, ever since 1947.  Groups like his own Jamaat-e Islami, he says, even decided (in the early 1970s) to contest elections for this very purpose so that, as elected representatives, they could forcefully articulate the demand for self-determination and plebiscite. Geelani himself was elected to the state assembly as a candidate from the Muttahida Muslim Mahaz (‘The Muslim United Front’), most recently in 1987. That election, he writes, that proved to be a turning point in the history of the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. He claims that the Muslim United Front was poised to win the elections by a considerable majority but that this was sabotaged by the Government of India, which feared that it would refuse to toe its line if it came to power. 

Geelani repeats a point made by numerous observers—that the widespread rigging of this election in Jammu and Kashmir (as well as all previous ones) and the indiscriminate arrests and brutal treatment of Muslim United Front workers and candidates clearly suggested to the Kashmiris that peaceful methods to win the right to self-determination would never work due to Indian intransigence. Once again, he says, India’s slogans of democracy were exposed as a complete farce. It was now clear to the people of Kashmir, he says, that India would never allow a truly democratically-elected government to come to power in the state, for, he claims, such a government, reflecting the genuine aspirations of the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, would advocate the state’s separation from India.  It was then, he says, and faced with no other option, that, in 1989, some Kashmiri youth decided that the time had come to take to the militant path to seek to force India to agree to live up to its promise of allowing the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their own political future.

By explicating this background to the launching of the militant struggle in Kashmir, Geelani is careful to point out that it was resorted to more than half a century after 1947, when over five decades of peaceful struggle for the right to self-determination had completely failed. In other words, he suggests, the ongoing militant movement in Kashmir is not at all meaningless violence for its own sake that its Indian critics accuse it to be. Geelani denounces the Indian state’s and media’s description of the militant movement as ‘terrorism’, which, he argues, is a crude means to seek to rob it of its legitimacy and to defame it in the eyes of the world. He charges India with hypocrisy in describing the struggle in Kashmir as ‘terrorism’ or ‘communalism’, arguing that it is no different from, and as valid as, India’s struggle for freedom from British rule. In a letter written in 1990 from prison in Naini jail, Allahabad, to Chandrashekar, the then Indian Prime Minister, Geelani stressed:

‘Indians fought the British for the sake of freedom both at the political level and through armed struggle. Gandhi used non-violence and the political platform, while Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose used the path of armed struggle. So, then, how can you [India] deny the Kashmiris the same right and seek to crush them militarily? The British tried to use force to quash the Indian freedom struggle […] but failed and had to leave India. The same will happen to India [in Kashmir]. 

Geelani also reminded the Indian Prime Minister that in the years following its independence India had supported numerous liberation struggles for self-determination of oppressed peoples, such as the Palestinians and the black South Africans. It had even intervened militarily to create Bangladesh.  How, then, he asked him, could India deny the same right and freedom to the Kashmiris, and crush their struggle through force, indiscriminate killings and widespread violation of human rights? 

The militant movement in Kashmir, Geelani claims, is not aimed at spreading terror in India, unlike what Indian sources often allege. Rather, he insists, it aims at forcing India to agree to let the people of Jammu and Kashmir decide their own political future. Once that happens, he says, the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be willing to have good neighbourly relations with India. In other words, Geelani points out, the movement is not impelled by a blind, irrational hatred for India (or the Hindus), as is alleged by numerous Indian commentators. But, he repeatedly insists, the armed struggle will carry on till India relents and agrees to act on its promises to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the international community. No stop-gap or

half-way measures, such as more autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir within the ambit Indian Constitution, restoring the pre-1953 status of the state, or elections, he says, can or will lead to the Kashmiris calling off their armed resistance to Indian rule. This can only happen, he says, when they are able to exercise the right to political self-determination through plebiscite as envisaged by the UN Security Resolutions, which India has solemnly promised the international community to allow for.  In repeatedly stressing this point, Geelani makes very clear that no amount of economic assistance from India would cause the Kashmiris to weaken their resolve to press India to allow them to determine their own political future. ‘So as long as the rulers in Delhi keep parroting the slogan that [Jammu and Kashmir is] an inseparable part of India,’ he stresses, ‘no solution to the Kashmir problem can be found. The only way out is by acting on the UN resolutions, which India itself has accepted’.  In a letter to the then newly-elected American President Bill Clinton in 1993, Geelani wrote:

‘As long as the Government of India refuses to accept the basic and inherent right of the 12 million people [of Jammu and Kashmir] to determine their political future and act on the UN Security Council resolutions in this regard, this [militant] movement will continue’.

At the same time as Geelani insists that the people of Jammu and Kashmir be allowed to decide between joining India or Pakistan, he repeatedly stresses that what he terms as the ‘people of the state’ would never agree to being with India and would accept no deal brokered between India and Pakistan that legitimizes Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Kashmir: Pakistan or Independence?

As numerous surveys have indicated, perhaps a significant majority of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir, including even in the Kashmir Valley, where the ongoing militant movement is most intense, aspire to a separate, sovereign, state, independent of both India and Pakistan. These surveys also indicate a sharp decline in support among the Muslims of the state for merger with Pakistan. This owes principally to increasing awareness of the realities of Pakistan—its chronic political instability, its slavishness to American dictates, its lack of democracy, Punjabi hegemony resulting in the many grievances of non-Punjabi ethnic groups, the corruption of Pakistan’s rulers, the deep-rooted military-bureaucrat-landlord nexus, pervasive and mounting sectarianism and violence perpetrated, among others, by self-styled Islamic groups, and the country’s dismal educational system and widespread poverty. In the face of all this, many Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir would rather live in an independent country of their own than be part of Pakistan, or of India for that matter.

In contrast to many other Kashmiri Muslims, including Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists, however, Geelani, like the Jamaat-e Islami of Jammu and Kashmir and several other Islamist groups active in the region, passionately advocates Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan and has been consistently opposed to the project of an independent Jammu and Kashmir. The slogan of azadi or ‘independence’ that fired the imagination of many Kashmiri Muslim youth is given an entirely different twist by Geelani. For him, it does not mean, as it literally does and as many other Kashmiri Muslims take it to be, ‘freedom’ from Indian rule and an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir, but, rather, independence from India and accession with Pakistan. Throughout Nava-e Hurriyat Geelani evokes the slogan of azadi but interprets it to mean both accession to Pakistan as well as unrelenting opposition to an independent Jammu and Kashmir. It is as if only by joining Pakistan that Kashmir can find azadi, the term here being reduced simply to anti-Indianism or freedom from Indian rule. Arrogating to himself the right to represent and speak for the entire anti-Indian constituency in Kashmir, completely silencing the substantial pro-independence (as well as the minority pro-India) voices among the Kashmiri Muslims, he declares, ‘There can be no two opinions on the fact that the entire struggle of the Kashmiri people is for the sake of Islam and for accession to Pakistan’.  Islam and Pakistan are thus conflated with, and projected as inseparable from, each other. Conversely, pro-independence Kashmiri ethno-nationalists (as well as, of course, pro-Indian Muslims and non-Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir) are by definition treated, in Geelani’s scheme of things, as being, by definition, opposed to Pakistan as well as to Islam.

Throughout the book Geelani stresses that Kashmir must join Pakistan, and he offers various reasons for this, besides the principles mentioned earlier regarding the rules that princely states were to abide by in choosing between India and Pakistan. These follow from his particular understanding of Islam and of Muslim communal identity, shaped particularly by his ideological mentor, Syed Abul Ala Maududi (d.1979), the founder of the Islamist Jamaat-e Islami.

Like other Islamist ideologues, most notably, Maududi, Geelani argues that the only identity a Muslim can, or, rather, should, possess and recognize is that of being Muslim. Maududi regarded nationalism, even Muslim ethno-nationalism, as being un-Islamic, akin to polytheism and idolatry, and as divisive of the world-wide Muslim ummah. In his view, which Geelani shares, Muslims all over the world share the same nationality or qaumiyyat—that of being followers of Islam. Hence, Maududi insisted, Muslims the world over must strive to form a single global polity on the basis of (his understanding of) Islam. For Muslims in different parts of the world to set up their separate nation-states, based on the notion of ethnic nationalism, was, for him, nothing short of anathema. This is why Maududi fervently opposed the Muslim League in pre-Partition India and its demand for Pakistan, which was based on Indian Muslim nationalism rather than Islam. It is, of course, another matter that no sooner had Pakistan come into being than Maududi decided to shift to the newly-established country.

Geelani shares Maududi’s visceral opposition to Muslim ethno-nationalism. This extends also to Kashmiri Muslim nationalism which underlies the Kashmiri Muslim nationalist project of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir and that probably reflects the aspirations of the majority of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir. For him, such an ideology and political project are divisive of the global Muslim ummah. They also threaten to promote alternate, indeed rival, forms of identity to that of the one and only identity that, in his view, Muslims should possess and publicly articulate—of being Muslims and nothing else. As Geelani argued in an essay published by the Jamaat-e Islami of Jammu and Kashmir in 1992, which is reproduced in Nava-e Hurriyat, Muslims the world over are a single community (millat), whose ‘point of unity’ (nukta-e ijtimaiyyat) is the kalima tayyiba, the declaration of belief  in Allah as the sole deity and in Muhammad as Allah’s Prophet. Accordingly, he went on, ‘it would certainly violate this concept of Muslim unity if a Muslim community sets up its separate identity when it has ideological, cultural and communal relations with another Muslim country with which it shares a border’.  In other words, he suggested that because Muslim-majority Kashmir has a border with Muslim-majority Pakistan, and because the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan enjoy close ‘ideological, cultural and communal relations’ with each other, it was impermissible, and, indeed, ‘un-Islamic’, for the Kashmiris to set up an independent state of their own. He argued that for the Kashmiris to establish an independent state would ‘be against the wider, collective interests of the global Islamic community (millat-e islamiya).  In an interview with a Pakistani journalist, he stressed that talk of the ‘third option’—an independent Jammu and Kashmir—was ‘harmful’ for the Kashmiris themselves , contending that Islam itself mandated that Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir merge into Pakistan. Intriguingly, in thus defending Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan and opposing the project of an independent Jammu and Kashmir, Geelani remained studiously silent on the existence of multiple Muslim-majority countries, many of them styled as ‘Islamic states’, which have borders with other such Muslim states but yet show no enthusiasm to dissolve their borders into a grand, single Muslim political entity, which, presumably, Geelani regards as Islamically normative.

Further reflecting his visceral opposition to Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalism and the demand for an independent, even though Kashmiri Muslim-dominated, state of Jammu and Kashmir, Geelani repeatedly stresses in the book that the most acceptable solution to the Kashmir conflict lies in implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions that provide for a plebiscite allowing the people of Jammu and Kashmir just two choices—deciding to join either India or Pakistan. He repeatedly, and enthusiastically, points out that the Resolutions do not envisage a third option—an independent Jammu and Kashmir. He is confident that if the UN resolutions were followed, a demand that he makes numerous times in the book, the majority of the people of the state would, because they are Muslims, vote for Pakistan. He stresses that in such an eventuality he and his Jamaat-e Islami would urge the people to opt for Pakistan, because this, he says, is what is mandated by (his understanding of) Islam.

Critique of Pakistan

Although Geelani remains a fervent supporter of Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, he is not uncritical of how the idea of Pakistan has unfolded over time, which he regards as a betrayal of the ideals of the Pakistan movement. Indeed, comparing the two—the ideals, as represented by the vision of such key figures as Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Mohammad Iqbal, and Syed Abul Ala Maududi, and the present-day realities of Pakistan—Geelani sees them as almost complete contrasts. He does not regard this contrast as an indicating the failure of the ‘two nation’ theory, however, and repeatedly appeals to Pakistanis in general, and the leaders of Pakistan in particular, to seek to build their country and mould their personal and collective lives according to the teachings of Islam and the ‘two nation theory’, which, he argues, were the very rationale for the creation of Pakistan.

The leaders of the pre-Partition Muslim League were heavily criticized by Maududi for being ‘secular’ and ‘irreligious’ in their personal lives, for basing their demand for Pakistan on Indian Muslim ethno-nationalism rather than on Islam, and for envisaging Pakistan as a modern, secular, democratic Muslim-majority state, rather than one ruled by medieval conceptions of the shariah. Geelani cleverly ignores Maududi’s critique of Jinnah and other founding-fathers of the Pakistani state, and presents them, along with Maududi, as having been fired by an irrepressible Islamic zeal and a passionate commitment to establishing a model ‘Islamic state’ in the country of their dreams. Pakistan, he says, is a ‘God-given state’ (mamlakat-e khudadad). ‘The Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, he writes, ‘emerged on the map of the world in the hope that, with God’s blessings, the word of God would be exalted in this land and the individual and collective life of its people would be based on the Quran and the sunnah [the practice of the Prophet Muhammad].’ Pakistan, he claims, was envisaged to be ‘an ideal for the entire world of a just state and system and a model of a righteous society’.  In a letter to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in 1993, Geelani argued that ‘Pakistan was created for the hegemony (ghalba) of Islam and for establishing an Islamic system (islami nizam)’. 

When Geelani is forced to confront the dismal reality of contemporary Pakistan, he admits that the vision that he claims had inspired the leaders of the Pakistan movement has miserably failed. He puts this somewhat circumspectly when he says that the course of Pakistan’s evolution, ever since its inception, ‘has not lived up to the hopes and desires of the Muslim ummah to the desired extent’.  He does not locate the cause of the failure of Pakistan to live up to his dream of it becoming a model Islamic state in the impossible utopianism of the dream itself, however. Rather, he attributes this primarily to what he critiques as the lack of seriousness among successive Pakistani rulers about Islam as a system of governance and their flirting with ‘anti-Islamic’ ideologies.  He does not absolve the Pakistani populace as well for the failure of the Pakistan dream. He laments that in successive elections in Pakistan, ‘Islam-loving’ (islam pasand) parties have received relatively little public support, taking this to indicate, much to his disappointment, that ‘the people of Pakistan have shown coldness towards Islam’.  However, he repeatedly insists, the only way for the Muslims of Pakistan to live up to the demands of Islam, as well as for Pakistan to remain united and stable and to progress, is for the country to establish what he regards as an ‘Islamic state and system’. 

Throughout Nava-e Hurriyat Geelani lashes out at India for its treatment of the Kashmiri Muslims as well as the wider Indian Muslim community, seeking thereby to further justify his advocacy for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. However, he does not spare Pakistan from critique either, although this he articulates only when pressed to do so by journalists. In a lengthy telephonic interview with a group of Pakistani journalists in 1994 shortly after his release from jail, Geelani was asked to comment on Pakistan’s chronic political instability. He confessed that this ‘pained and troubled’ him a great deal, and that it had made him ‘terribly disappointed’. This was a reaction, he said, that he shared with many other like-minded Kashmiris, who were, as he put it, so ‘upset’ about the situation in Pakistan that ‘the peace of our days and the sleep of our nights have been snatched away’. He referred to the continuing and mounting inter-ethnic violence, indiscriminate killings and riots in Pakistan, for which, he lamented, the Pakistanis had ‘not found the proper solution’—allusion to his recipe of an Islamic state as the cure for all of Pakistan’s ills. Also ‘extremely distressing’, he said, was the subversion of democracy in the country and the federal government’s refusal to allow opposition parties to rule provinces where they had won elections.  He berated what he called the ‘immoral culture’ being promoted by Pakistan Television, which, he claimed, ‘was every day leading Kashmiris further away from Pakistan’. He even contrasted India’s government-controlled television channel Doordarshan favourably with its Pakistani counterpart, claiming that ‘as regards immorality, Pakistan Television has gone far ahead of Doordarshan’.  He referred to the abysmal levels of literacy in Pakistan, pointing out that because a substantial majority of Pakistanis were illiterate, they were unable to read Islamic literature and study the Quran and the life of the Prophet, as a result of which, he lamented, they were not enthusiastic about establishing an ‘Islamic system’ in their country. This ‘ignorance’, he went on, was the basic cause for ‘anti-Islamic views prospering in Pakistan’. In addition, he criticized the hold of capitalists and landlords in Pakistan and the power of the custodians of Sufi shrines, all of who, he said, flourished in a society characterized by high levels of illiteracy and consequent lack of what he regarded as appropriate Islamic awareness.

‘Witnessing all this’, Geelani concluded, ‘one’s heart trembles at the realization that Pakistan today is not’ what its founders had imagined. ‘Whatever is happening in Pakistan today’, he commented, ‘is certainly not in accordance with our hopes and expectations’.  All of this, he confessed, was proving to be deeply problematic for pro-Pakistan Kashmiris and was having an ‘extremely negative impact’ on their struggle. This was a somewhat oblique reference to the fact the alarming situation in Pakistan had led to a very definite disillusionment with that country on the part of many Kashmiri Muslims and a consequent sharp decline in their enthusiasm for Kashmir’s merger with it. Geelani also lamented that ‘If Pakistan could not become a fort of Islam (islam ka qila) it would be a great tragedy for the whole Islamic millat’. 

Significantly, in enumerating the myriad forms of violence and conflict in Pakistan Geelani did not mention militant Islamist movements and groups, without accounting for which Pakistan’s present predicament can hardly be understood. Far from critiquing or them or even appealing to them to introspect, he argued that the solution to all the ills of Pakistan was for such forces to take over the country and establish an ‘Islamic system’. Thus, he commented that Pakistan’s present instabilities were a result of the fact that in that country ‘no talk is happening about promoting [Islamic] knowledge […] and no efforts are being made to enable Islam to rule over the minds and bodies of the Pakistani people and the society as a whole.’ ‘Till Islam is established, and the Islamic stamp seals the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan,’ he predicted, ‘these conflicts will continue.’ ‘If the leaders of Pakistan truly want the country to become strong, secure and stable in terms ideology, politics, morals, economics and society’, he contended, ‘sincere efforts must be made to mould Pakistan on Islamic lines, and make Islam prevail in all spheres, not just with empty slogans.’ 

Yet, despite lamenting the conditions of Pakistan, which he regarded as far from satisfactory, Geelani continues to plead for Kashmir’s accession to that country, even in the face of widespread and increasing disillusionment with Pakistan among many Kashmiri Muslims.


Ibid., p.49.

Ibid., pp.119-20.

Ibid., p.49.

Ibid., pp.119-20.

Ibid., p.51.

Ibid., p.49.

Gilani repeatedly bemoans the separation of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, attributing this to an alleged ‘Indian conspiracy’ against Islam, the ‘two-nation theory’ and Pakistan.

Ibid., p.49.

Ibid., p.172, p. 254.

Ibid., p.54.

Ibid., p.109.

Ibid., p. 178. 

Ibid., p.119.

Ibid., p.76.

Ibid., p.76.

Ibid., p.160.

Ibid., p.85.

Ibid., p. 134.

Ibid., p.85.

Ibid., p.134.

Ibid., p.191. 

Ibid., p.193.

Ibid., p.22.

Ibid., p. 224.

Ibid., p.226.

Ibid., p.223.

Ibid., p. 227.

Copyright 2010: New Age Islam Foundation