Profile: Syed Ali Shah Geelani

Yoginder Sikand for the Outlook Magazine


Not many Kashmiri Muslims might share his particular hardliner version of Islam or his passionate advocacy of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, but, still, 82-year old Syed Ali Shah Geelani commands widespread respect among his people for his firm stance on azadi or freedom of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian rule, a stance that he has never wavered from. Geelani’s popularity among vast numbers of Kashmiri Muslims rests principally in the fact that he is seen as one Kashmiri leader who has never compromised with India, and who has had to face considerable personal privation, including long bouts of imprisonment, for denouncing what he, like many Kashmiris, regard as India’s illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir and its violation on a massive scale of human rights in the region. With Kashmir up in flames again, Geelani’s word is now almost law to the intrepid Kashmiri youth out in the streets defying the might of the Indian state with stones. The overwhelming response to his calls for strikes and demonstrations that have rocked the Kashmir Valley for several weeks now in protest against the killing of youths by Indian armed forces clearly indicates that Geelani is back at the centre-stage of Kashmir politics. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that he is regarded by many Kashmiri Muslims as the unparalleled icon of their resistance to Indian rule.

Geelani is one of the few Kashmiri leaders to have written extensively on the Kashmir conflict, authoring over a dozen books (all in Urdu) on different dimensions of the issue.[1] A collection of press statements, letters to Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers and other leaders (many written during long bouts in various Indian prisons), interviews given to Kashmiri, and, especially, Pakistani journalists, and public addresses, Geelani’s Kashmir: Nava-e Hurriyat(‘Kashmir: Voice of Freedom’) deals with various aspects of the Kashmir issue as he views them. [2]

Based on an analysis of Nava-e Hurriyat, this article lays out Geelani’s understanding of the genesis of the Kashmir conflict, his critique of Indian rule, his advocacy for Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, his opposition to independence for Jammu and Kashmir or the ‘third option’ his understanding of the relationship between Islam, politics and the state, and his views on jihad, nationalism and inter-community relations within what he deems as the normative Islamic paradigm—all issues very central to the ongoing conflict in and over Jammu and Kashmir. The article also discusses a central paradox: If, as numerous surveys indicate, only a minority, and a diminishing one at that, of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir support the state’s accession to Pakistan, why is it that Geelani, who has consistently advocated the state’s merger with Pakistan, continues to be regarded as the icon of the Kashmiri Muslim resistance movement? Related to this is another paradox: If many, if not most, Kashmiri Muslims, do not agree with, or even vehemently oppose, the Islamist version of Islam, as represented by Geelani and the Jamaat-e Islami, what accounts for Geelani’s charismatic appeal among many non-Jamaat Kashmiri Muslims?

Geelani on the Genesis of the Kashmir Conflict 

Throughout the book Geelani reminds us that the roots of the Kashmir conflict lie in the Partition of India, when the then Indian princely states, which numbered almost 600, were given the choice of deciding between joining India or Pakistan. In making this decision, the rulers of these states, of which Jammu and Kashmir was one of the largest, were to be guided principally by the wishes of the majority of their subjects, which, in turn, were seen to be determined by their religion. Thus, if the majority of the population of a princely state were Muslim, the state was seen to be rightfully part of Pakistan, while states with a Hindu-majority were to join India. In addition, the decision of these states was also to be determined by other factors, such as geographical contiguity with either India or Pakistan, as the case might be, the direction of the flow of rivers that ran through them, and the presence of routes connecting them with either India or Pakistan.
On all these counts, Geelani argues, Jammu and Kashmir ought to have acceded to Pakistan. It had an overwhelming Muslim-majority that enjoyed not just religious, but close historical, economic and cultural ties with the inhabitants of Pakistan. The only land route connecting the state with the outside world throughout the year led to Pakistan. The rivers that passed through the state all flowed into Pakistan. All the factors that needed to be taken into account in determining the princely states. future political status—accession to India or Pakistan—therefore, logically demanded, Geelani stresses, that Jammu and Kashmir join Pakistan. [3] Hence, he writes, India’s repeated claims that the state is an ‘unbreakable part. (atoot ang) of India are without any merit whatsoever. [4]

Further building his argument that Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir should have formed part of Pakistan, rather than what he calls ‘Hindu’ India, Geelani claims that Muslims are a community/nation (qaum) wholly separate from the Hindus. He equates India with Hindus, overlooking the fact that India’s Muslim population outnumbers that of Pakistan. He projects Muslims (as he does Hindus) as a monolithic, homogenous community, defined by a singular interpretation of religion, and bereft of cultural, ethnic, and other divisions. He depicts Muslims as radically different from Hindus, and as allegedly having nothing at all in common with them. ‘It is absolutely true’, he wrote in a letter written in 1994 to the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, ‘that the Muslims are a complete separate nation on the basis of their religion, culture, civilisation, customs and practices, and thought. Their nationalism and the foundation of their unity cannot be based on their homeland, race, language, colour or economic system. Rather, the basis of their unity is Islam and Islam alone, and their belief that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s prophet.’ Hence, he insisted, Hindus and Muslims were ‘two different nations’ [5], implying, possibly, that they were simply incapable of living together amicably. That is why, he argued, the Muslim League had demanded, and had won, a separate Muslim Pakistan based on this ‘two nation theory’. This is also why, he suggested, Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir must be a part of Pakistan, rather than India.

With Muslims and Hindus being seen as by definition opposed to each other on virtually every count, Geelani argues that the logic of the ‘two nation theory’, which he claims even Hindu leaders had finally accepted by 1947, demands that Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir should become part of Pakistan. On the other hand, he suggests, if the state were to be part of India, it would be tantamount to a virtual apostasy for the Kashmiri Muslims, who would, so he claims, have to give up their nationality, based on Islam, for one based on Indian-ness, which he implicitly equates with Hinduism. Given the underlying Hindu framework on which Indian nationalism is based, Geelani seems to argue, this would result in the Kashmiri Muslims losing their sense of separate identity based on Islam. Accession to India would result, he claims, in the Kashmiri Muslims having to live perpetually under ‘Hindu slavery’.[6]

In order to further reinforce his argument for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan, Geelani indicates what he regards as the inconsistencies, indeed contradictions, in India’s stance on Kashmir by comparing its policy with regard to two other erstwhile princely states in 1947 which, like Jammu and Kashmir, were ruled by princes whose religion was different from that of the majority of their subjects: Hyderabad and Junagadh. Both these states had a Hindu-majority but were under Muslim rulers. Both the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Junagadh chose to join Pakistan, but India protested, arguing that this would be a violation of the wishes of the majority of their subjects, who were Hindus, and that, therefore, both the states were logically part of India. With regard to these two states, Geelani points out, India’s claims rested in the argument that the factor of paramount significance in their deciding between India and Pakistan was the religion of the majority of their subjects. That being the case, Geelani contends, India’s claims on Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir are illegitimate and clearly contradict the principle it adopted in order to annex Hyderabad and Junagadh. [7]

Challenging the Claim of Kashmir’s Accession to India 

Despite what Geelani argues was the compelling case for Jammu and Kashmir joining Pakistan, events dictated otherwise. Geelani’s description of critical events in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the Partition provide an interesting and compelling counterpoise to the official Indian narrative, highlighting various aspects that are ignored in the latter in order to build the case for justifying Indian control over Jammu and Kashmir. By excavating numerous developments that are conspicuously absent in the official Indian narrative—the slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims in Jammu by Hindu mobs, anti-Muslim Hindu chauvinist groups and the Hindu Maharaja’s forces, the perceived Hindu and anti-Muslim nature of the Indian state, the pathetic conditions of India’s Muslims, and India’s refusal to act on its promises to the international community to allow the Kashmiris to determine their own political future—Geelani’s counter-narrative brings out vividly the underlying roots of the pervasive and continuous opposition to Indian rule among many Kashmiri Muslims.

Geelani argues that the ‘Hindu’ rulers of the newly-independent Dominion of India plotted to prevent what he regards as the natural and logical accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. To begin with, he writes, they prevailed upon the departing British to have the district of Gurdaspur, in present-day Indian Punjab, to be given to India although it then had a Muslim-majority and, therefore, ought to have become part of Pakistan. The reason for this departure from the logic that informed the partition of the Punjab was, he argues, to provide India land access to Jammu and Kashmir, the road to Jammu leading through Gurdaspur. [8] Then, in July 1947, a month before the Partition, he goes on, the Hindu Maharaja of Jammu, in league with Hindu chauvinist forces, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha, ordered the disarming of all Muslim soldiers and policemen in the state and confiscated all weapons owned by Muslims. The Maharaja, Geelani relates, ‘left no stone unturned in order to suppress and destroy the Muslim-majority in Jammu and Kashmir’. [9] Shortly after, on the orders of the Maharaja, the state’s army, working in tandem with these viscerally anti-Muslim Hindu groups, set about slaughtering Muslims in the Jammu province on a vast scale. In this orgy of violence, tens of thousands of Muslims lost their lives, and many more were forced to flee across the border to Pakistan. Geelani notes that even as this dance of naked violence was taking place in Jammu, calm prevailed in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, where the small Hindu minority remained unaffected by the horrors of the Partition, being protected by their Muslim neighbours.

Following the disarming of the state’s Muslim population, who, for over a century, had labored under heavy disabilities under Hindu Dogra rule, and the large-scale violence directed against them, Geelani writes, Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan’s northern regions entered Kashmir in order, as he puts it, ‘to save their Kashmiri Muslim brethren’. In contrast to Indian authorities and scholars, who term this as a ‘tribal invasion’ and as having been motivated by the lust for loot and plunder, Geelani describes this armed incursion as a well-meaning response of the tribesmen to the plight of ‘their oppressed Kashmiri Muslim brothers’. [10] Indian accounts focus on widespread destruction wrought by the tribesmen, including rape, robbery and murder, but this is completely absent in Geelani’s account. Presumably, this is too embarrassing for Geelani to admit, or else he considers the Indian account to be false and motivated. Indian accounts portray the tribesmen as having been mobilized, armed and facilitated by the Pakistani army. In contrast, Geelani sees them as spontaneously rushing to the rescue of the beleaguered Kashmiri Muslims. While Indian sources attribute the failure of the tribesmen to capture Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital, to their being diverted by engaging in widespread loot and mayhem, Geelani claims that this was because ‘they were not organised. and that, therefore, ‘their actions were not effective’. [11]

In the wake of the tribal incursion/invasion, Geelani writes, the Maharaja fled Srinagar and headed to Jammu, appealing to India for help. India agreed to do so only if the Maharaja acceded to India. Thereupon, the Maharaja is said to have signed the Instrument of Accession, but whether this actually happened, so Geelani claims, is ‘doubtful’. [12] Even if one supposes that the Instrument of Accession were at all genuine, he says, it was, in any case, ‘conditional’ ‘temporary. and ‘limited’. Even Indian leaders agreed, he relates, that this was a stop-gap measure and that once peace were restored in the state the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be given the right to determine their political future through a free and fair plebiscite. In other words, he contends, the Instrument of Accession did not mean that Jammu and Kashmir had become an integral and permanent part of India. Further, Geelani argues, the Maharaja’s decision to join India did not represent the desire of most Kashmiri Muslims, who, if given the chance, would have opted for Pakistan instead. [13]

Reminding his readers of undeniable historical facts that the Indian establishment might no doubt now find embarrassing, Geelani notes that it was India—and not Pakistan, nor the people of Jammu and Kashmir—that took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. [14]  In late 1948 and then again in early 1949, the UN Security Council passed two resolutions, which were accepted both by India and Pakistan, calling for the settlement of the Kashmir conflict through a free and fair plebiscite in which the people of the state would be allowed to decide for themselves to join either India or Pakistan. Geelani points out that Indian leaders repeatedly issued statements wherein they promised to hold such a plebiscite. He quotes several public statements of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in this regard, including one in which Nehru is said to have solemnly declared, ‘with the whole world as witness’ that India would uphold its promise to the people of Jammu and Kashmir of allowing a plebiscite to choose between India and Pakistan, and that India ‘would certainly fulfil this promise even if the people voted against India’. If the majority of the people of the state voted against India, Nehru added, India would be saddened but would still accept the peoples. verdict. [15]

Despite this, Geelani notes, in 1954 India’s rulers began singing a different tune, reneging on their promise to the international community to grant the people of Jammu and Kashmir the right to determine their political future through a free and fair plebiscite. In that year, he says, India maneuvered to seek to incorporate Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India and to bring it under what Geelani terms ‘Indian imperialistic control’.[16] This, he says, it sought to do by instigating what he considers the unrepresentative Jammu and Kashmir state assembly (elected, he suggests, through widespread rigging of votes so as to form a pro-India government) to declare the state’s permanent accession to India.[17] Since then, he says, India has used this action as its main argument to justify its control occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.

Contradicting the official Indian stance, Geelani argues that the declaration of permanent accession to India by the state assembly cannot be said to have any validity at all. The state assembly, he claims, was not representative of the people, and in any case it did not have the mandate of the people to make a declaration of this sort. In other words, he contends, this declaration cannot in any sense be a substitute for the plebiscite that the UN Security Council Resolutions call for and that Indian leaders, till 1954, repeatedly promised to hold in the disputed state. [18] Furthermore, Geelani points that according to the 1951 UN Security Council Resolution on Jammu and Kashmir, the state assembly did not possess the power or prerogative to alter the political status of the state, and so its step did not have any validity in international law. He quotes the then Indian representative to the UN, BN Rao as having affirmed before the Security Council in March 1951 that no opinion of the state assembly on the political status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir would impact on the issue of plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir that India had agreed to hold. [19]

It is for this right of self-determination through plebiscite that what Geelani repeatedly refers to as ‘the people of Jammu and Kashmir. or, simply, ‘the Kashmiri people’ have been consistently demanding ever since 1947. This is something, he says, that the world community, as represented by the UN, and India itself have solemnly promised them. It is also a basic human right, he insists. By continuing to deny the Kashmiris this right, which, Geelani says, is their birth-right and a basic human right, India’s claim of being the ‘world’s largest democracy. is very evidently a complete sham. [20]

1. I have discussed some of these writings in my essay, ‘For Islam and Kashmir: The Prison Diaries of Sayyed ‘Ali Gilani of the Jama’at-i-Islami of Jammu and Kashmir’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol.18, no.2, 1998, pp.2413-45. 

2. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Kashmir: Nava-e Hurriyat, Mizan Publications, Srinagar, 1995. The book, written in Urdu, was originally published in Pakistan by the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies, an affiliate of the Jamaat-e Islami of Pakistan.

3. Ibid., p.61.
4. Ibid., p.15.
5. Ibid., p.14.
6. Ibid., p.13.
7. Ibid., p.15.
8. Ibid., p.17.
9. Ibid., p.16.
10. Ibid., p.132.
11. Ibid., p.132.
12. Ibid., p.61.
13. Ibid., p.15.
14. Ibid., p.51.
15. Ibid., p.66.
16. Ibid., p.61.
17. Ibid., p.63.
18. Ibid., p.108.
19. Ibid., p.97
20. Ibid., p.111.


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. [21] 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. [22]

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. [23] 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]. [24]

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. [25] 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? [26] 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. [27] 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’. [28] 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’. [29]

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. [30]

21. Ibid., p.49.
22. Ibid., pp.119-20.
23. Ibid., p.51.
24. Ibid., p.49.
25. 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.
26 Ibid., p.49.
27. Ibid., p.172, p. 254.
28. Ibid., p.54.
29. Ibid., p.109.
30. Ibid., p. 178.

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 ofazadi 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’. [31] 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’. [32] 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). [33] 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 [34], 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’. [35] 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)’. [36]

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 Muslimummah to the desired extent’. [37] 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.[38] 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’. [39] 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’. [40]

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. [41] 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’. [42] 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’. [43] 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‘. [44]

31. Ibid., p.119.
32 Ibid., p.76.
33 Ibid., p.76.
34 Ibid., p.160.
35 Ibid., p.85.
36 Ibid., p. 134.
37 Ibid., p.85.
38 Ibid., p.134.
39 Ibid., p.191.
40 Ibid., p.193.
41 Ibid., p.22.
42 Ibid., p. 224.
43 Ibid., p.226.
44 Ibid., p.223


About Al Shaheed

writing wounds without the trace of blood
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