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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 9 Sept 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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An Islamist’s resurrection in Kashmir

Tehreek-i-Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has emerged as the principal secessionist voice in Jammu and Kashmir. What does it portend?

By Praveen Swami


Syed Ali Shah Geelani woke up shortly after four in the morning and turned on the radio — the sole news source in the beautiful but sparse mountain cottage which briefly served as his prison last month. Half an hour later, an attendant who brought tea heard Kashmir’s Islamist patriarch sobbing quietly. News was coming in about an encounter near Jammu, which had claimed the lives of three terrorists, three soldiers and five civilians. “So many people have given their lives for the movement I lead,” Mr. Geelani said, “I will have no answers to give them in the hereafter should I falter now.”


Four years ago, when he was released from prison and flown on a government jet to the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, Mr. Geelani’s autumn appeared to be upon him. He faced an uphill battle against cancer — and what appeared an even more certain defeat at the hands of his political adversaries.


On his return to Kashmir, Mr. Geelani found himself sidelined by the Jamaat-e-Islami, the party he had led for years. Worse, in 2005, the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led All Parties Hurriyat Conference opened negotiations with New Delhi, breaking with its historic rejection of a dialogue that did not include Pakistan. Less than three years later, though, Mr. Geelani has become the principal voice of the Islamist movement against India. How did this come about?


In the build-up to the Assembly elections, which were scheduled to have been held in October, the APHC’s doves began pushing for a dialogue with New Delhi. Part of the reason lay in a successful campaign by the People’s Democratic Party to recruit influential secessionists. The former Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front supreme council member, Pir Mansoor Husain, became party president Mehbooba Mufti’s political advisor; the former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat’s brother, Abdul Khaliq Bhat, was lined up to contest from Sopore; Mirwaiz Farooq’s trusted lieutenant, Mohammad Yakub Vakil, too, joined the PDP in search of a seat.


APHC leaders could see the writing on the wall. As things stood, the secessionist formation would see its ranks slowly eroded by unionist parties or be forced to join in the dialogue with New Delhi after accepting that it was not the sole voice of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. If the secessionist cause was to survive, leaders like Mirwaiz Farooq argued, its leaders had to open a dialogue with India — and consider terms short of independence.


Mr. Geelani charged the realists with treachery. Speaking at a religious conference in Baramulla on May 26, he warned his audience that the stakes were too high for their defeatism. India was seeking to change “the Muslim majority into a minority by settling down troops along with their families here permanently.” “After turning Kashmiri Muslims into a minority,” he continued, “it will either massacre Muslims as it did in Jammu in 1947 or carry out a genocide as was done in Gujarat.”


Ever since 2006, Mr. Geelani has used similar polemic to build a new mass constituency. He welded together elements of the pious petty bourgeoisie, and angry, lumpenised young people from the middle and lower-middle classes who felt that they were denied a share of prosperity and power. Similar class alliances, the work of French scholar Oliver Roy has shown, propelled Islamists to prominence across much of West Asia and north Africa. In Kashmir, Mr. Geelani built his campaign on the twin pillars of piety and paranoia, arguing that Islam and Kashmiri identity were being threatened.


When the Amarnath Shrine Board protests began in June 2008, a configuration of circumstances helped Mr. Geelani turn the tables on his tormentors. He, for one, was the sole politician with the tools needed to build a credible mass movement. More important, as the former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s fortunes waned, Mr. Geelani’s allies in Pakistan — particularly the Lashkar-e-Taiba and hardliners in the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate — became increasingly powerful. During a visit to Dubai in February, Mirwaiz Farooq is believed to have been bluntly told to accept Mr. Geelani’s leadership. Fearing for his life should he refuse, the cleric agreed. The shrine board protests provided him the perfect pretext for pushing the proposal past anti-Geelani moderates in the APHC.


In the secret June 19 unification declaration that brought the Mirwaiz and Mr. Geelani together, a copy of which has been obtained by The Hindu, the APHC dropped the option of direct talks with the Indian government — thus addressing the Islamist leader’s long-standing grievance.


“Both sides,” the document states, “after considerable argument and discussion, reached the conclusion that the Hurriyat Conference will continue its political struggle for self-determination, which can be achieved through tri-partite talks against the backdrop of the historic struggle of the Kashmiris and their numerous sacrifices.” “It was decided,” the document continues, “that both the Hurriyat groups will, on an interim basis, maintain their respective identities but strengthen [the] mechanism to achieve the right to self-determination by appointing a six-member team made up of three representatives from each side. The committee will go into the 1993 Hurriyat constitution and make any necessary amendments.”


Ironically, the document contained just two words about the issue which leaders of both factions said that they had united to pursue. “Shrine Board,” read the third clause — followed by a blank space. Just two days later, the Mirwaiz flew to Pakistan.


“We have not yet decided who is to lead us. Do you accept me as your leader,” Mr. Geelani asked the mass of protesters who had gathered at Srinagar’s Tourism Reception Centre on August 18. Tens of thousands of hands waved back, signalling their assent.


Reinvented in Mr. Geelani’s image, how would the secessionist movement look like? Few doubt that the United Jihad Council and the Lashkar will have a renewed influence on the contours and content of secessionist politics. It was the UJC that called for a march to Muzaffarabad on August 6, a day before fruit growers set a date for the fateful effort. Mr. Geelani has also ensured the deepening of the Lashkar’s integration with Kashmir’s secessionist politics. He discussed the Muzaffarabad march with the Lashkar’s spiritual and political head, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, on August 11 — and followed it up with addressing a convention organised by the proscribed terror group on Pakistan’s independence day. Two weeks ago, the Lashkar and the Hizb staged joint rallies in Muzaffarabad.


But the staff at Mr. Geelani’s prison-cottage in Gulmarg had a firsthand view of the most important consequence of all. Mirwaiz Farooq, imprisoned along with Mr. Geelani last month, was given the sole cottage in Gulmarg which had a television set. Even as Mr. Geelani spent the morning of August 27 listening to the news from Jammu, the young Srinagar cleric watched cricket. Where Mr. Geelani complained to the staff about what he described as a growing culture of aggressive materialism in Kashmir, the Mirwaiz joked about cricket star Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s new hair colour.


Above all, Mr. Geelani’s rise marks the triumph of a vision of Kashmir which rejects its integration into modern high capitalism. His Islam articulates the concerns of social classes angered by the inequity in the wake of economic growth; for a social order threatened by a pluralist, commodity-based culture; and, perhaps ironically given his age, for the rage of young people who stand at the gates of the earthly paradise that a fast-growing India has promised them, only to find they are denied entry by communal prejudice.


Islamic nizamiat

In his pronouncements in recent weeks, the Islamist patriarch himself has left the world in little doubt of his ideological agenda. Speaking to the New Delhi-based journalist Aasha Khosa, Mr. Geelani called for the creation of an Islamic nizamiat, or state, in which the “creed of socialism and secularism should not touch our lives and we must be totally governed by the Koran and the Sunnat [precedents from Prophet Muhammad’s life].”


For long, Mr. Geelani has argued that Hinduism and Islam are locked in an irreducible civilisational opposition. At an October 26, 2007 rally in Srinagar, he demanded that “the people of the State should, as their religious duty, raise their voice against India’s aggression [emphasis added].” This duty stemmed from the fact that “practising Islam completely under the subjugation of India is impossible because human beings practically worship those whose rules they abide by.”


For those familiar with the work of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Islamist whose work deeply inspired the global jihadist movement in general and Osama bin-Laden in particular, this argument will be familiar. Qutb argued for a radical reorganisation of “relations between the Islamic community and other camps, whether idolaters or people of earlier revelations.” He asserted that it had proved “impossible to achieve coexistence between two diametrically opposed ways of life.”


“Osama has come only during the last few years,” rasped Mr. Geelani in a recent interview. “People like me have been fighting for this all our lives.” He is right. Everyone who cares for the future of democratic rights in Jammu and Kashmir ought to be paying close attention.

Source: The Hindu, New Delhi