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During the last few years, much water has passed under the Jhelum. And there are new currents today. End of Geelani should hint the beginning of something else. It is important for New Delhi and the rest of J&K to understand the implications of the end of Geelani (and the Hurriyat politics) and get ready face what is on the horizon. It may be worse than what Geelani stood far.

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IPRI # 77, 3 July 2020

Friday Backgrounder
The Rise, Fall and Irrelevance of Geelani. And the Hurriyat

  D. Suba Chandran

Facts on the ground

"I have decided to distance myself from the Hurriyat given the current situation," said Syed Ali Geelani in a voice statement to the media on 29 June 2020. ("Ailing Syed Ali Geelani quits Hurriyat Conference,The Hindu, 29 June 2020).

Geelani, now in his 90s, is one of the oldest and a most respected leader within the Kashmir Valley. For those outside the Valley, he is a hawk, hardliner and pro-Pakistan separatist, which he is.

A section in the media in India responded immediately highlighting the irrelevance of Geelani and his movement(s) – the Hurriyat and the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. Strangely, the media in Pakistan, that sneeze heavily even for a tiny evening wind in Kashmir has remained silent.

Geelani has been under house arrest for a long time. During the last few years, much water has passed under the Jhelum. And there are new currents today. End of Geelani should lead to the beginning of something else. Worse, the beginning of something else could be the reason for the irrelevance of Geelani. It is important for New Delhi and the rest of J&K to understand the implications of the end of Geelani (and the Hurriyat politics) and get ready face what is on the horizon. It may be worse than what Geelani stood far.

 

Focus Questions in the background

Is Geelani frustrated with the Hurriyat and alienated?

Multiple writings on Geelani's announcement underlined his frustrations with the Hurriyat, a loose forum that he helped to construct in 1993, and another faction, ten years later.

From the beginning, the Hurriyat was never a monolith. It comprised of different parties, groups and individuals that came together (both on their own and due to pressure from across the border) in the 1990s and politicked under the leadership of Mirwaiz Farooq. Abdul Ghani Bhat, Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah and numerous others along with their respective parties/groups became a part of the Hurriyat in the 1990s. The Hurriyat failed to become the "sole spokesman" of Kashmir, a position it coveted within India and at the international level. It has multiple spokesmen, and some spoke against each other.

In 2003, frustrated with the pace of the Hurriyat and the failure to find a constructive space within Kashmir valley, Geelani broke it, by forming his own faction. The Mirwaiz's faction came to be referred to as the moderate Hurriyat, and Geelani's as hardline.

Along with the formation of the Hurriyat (G), Geelani also moved ahead with his Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, that has found a space for itself (or given space) across the Line of Control in Muzaffarabad. Most of today's frustrations of Geelani, as reported in the media, seems to be emanating from PoK, than from Kashmir valley. A report in the Indian Express ("Geelani's resignation blows lid off Pakistan medical college racket and the shadow war within Hurriyat," 5 July 2020) links Geelani's frustration to a power struggle within the group's Muzaffarabad chapter. According to the report, Abdullah Geelani, (brother of SAR Geelani, who was accused in the Jaish attack and later died in a heart attack) a Hizbul Mujahideen member, accused the former convenor of Hurriyat's Muzafarabad chapter Ghulam Mohammed Safi, for selling the medical seats allocated by Pakistan for the students of Kashmir. The above report further states: "it was an open secret that both the Geelani and Mirwaiz factions of the Hurriyat held sway over who got the seats, according to a beneficiary."

Keeping the above, one could make sense of Geelani's complaint of corruption within the Hurriyat, and its leaders yielding to Pakistan for their personal benefits. In his letter, he was quoted to have written the following: "The leaders there were trying to be part of government and ministries. There was internal bickering, fear of losing posts, financial irregularities, and many other issues. Recently after investigations, some people were expelled, and as the investigations were going on against other people, the representatives of your parties started calling separate so-called meetings which led to the dissolution of the chapter till further orders." ("Behind Hurriyat boss SAS Geelani's exit, a bitter power struggle and greed," Hindustan Times, 2 July 2020).

Geelani is frustrated with the Hurriyat – both politically and organizationally. Certainly, this is not the legacy, he would like to leave.

Is Pakistan frustrated with the Hurriyat? And pushing Geelani (and other seniors) to the wall, replacing the old with new?

Pakistan sees Geelani as a spent force and wants to replace him with a new set of leaders, young and willing to take India head-on.

Geelani is in his 90s today. He is well respected within but is not getting any younger. Unfortunately, his health also has deteriorated. He has been under house arrest for the last few years. When was the last time he spoke to the media, with the fire that he is known for? When was the last time, thousands of young Kashmiris responded to his call? What was his response to what happened on 5 August 2019?

Pakistan, today seems to be looking beyond Geelani. And frustrated with not only him on the political front, but also leaders like Syed Salahudin, the leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen. For the Deep State in Pakistan, changing the leadership, while keeping the party intact is not a new strategy. Internally, it has attempted successfully with the MQM. It tried with the PPP, though it did not work; and now the "minus-one" debates on the PTI – will underline the strategy. There is a power struggle within the Hurriyat chapter in Muzaffarabad; the Deep State is reported to be supporting Ghulam Mohammad Safi, while Geelani has been supporting Abdullah Geelani.

According to Arun Joshi, a senior journalist from J&K, "cultivated by Pakistan, Geelani ultimately fell to Pakistan's machinations of rebuilding a parallel structure to the Hurriyat Conference in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, flattening his ambitions of presiding over his own creations and passing on the baton to persons of his choice." (Arun Joshi, "Syed Ali Shah Geelani, cultivated by Pakistan, then checkmated," The Tribune, 29 June 2020)

For Pakistan, replacing one group with another in Kashmir valley is not a new strategy. In the late 1980s, the JKLF became their blue-eyed boys. Even today, there is a JKLF in Muzafarabad; however, by early 1990s, the Deep State shifted its attention towards the Hizbul Mujahideen and later Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

The Deep State wants to control the militancy in J&K, and not just support it. Any individual or group with an independent objective would be excluded from its support. And replace it with another group or individual. Perhaps, Pakistan believes this is the era of Burhani Wanis and not Syed Geelanis.

Perhaps, this is where Geelani has mis-read the situation. Undoubtedly he is one of the tallest separatist leaders in Kashmir. But he is not irreplaceable. Or, perhaps, he has read the writing on the wall, and wants to fade away with grace.

Is the Kashmiri youth frustrated with the Hurriyat? Is the end of Geelani and Hurriyat equals the end of Separatism?

The most important question today is not about Geelani. But it should be about, whether the present generation is looking at the Hurriyat leaders as inspiration any more.

During the last few years, there has been an independent development within Kashmir Valley, led by the educated youths. While they may still have respect for the separatist leaders, they do not believe in their politics anymore. A majority of Kashmiri youths believe that the Hurriyat leadership is a spent force, and also corrupt.

The present movement is led by the Kashmiri youth, that looks beyond the Hurriyat leaders. For them, the separatists may be dead, but not separatism.

A new brand of separatism is evolving. It has no space for the Hurriyat. It is more hawkish. And, unfortunately, it is more radical.

Separatists are dead. Longlive separatism.


Also in the series:

J&K: Omar Abdullah complains, there is no space for mainstream leaders. Should there be one?, 31 July 2020

J&K: After the Hurriyat, is the PDP relevant in Kashmir politics today?, 24 July 2020

J&K: Four years after Burhan Wani, 10 July 2020

The Rise, Fall and Irrelevance of Geelani. And the Hurriyat, 3 July 2020

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