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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

INTERVIEW: Syed Ali Shah Geelani

Geelani: Our struggle will continue inspite of Pakistan 

The Milli Gazette Online

All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has split into two groups. BJP government’s pre-election dialogue ended with a whimper and the new government at the centre is not ready to play ball. Pakistan has mentally accepted that the game it started in the Valley in July 1988 is practically over and consequently General Musharraf is coming up with one idea after another every few weeks while India thought it opportune to conduct municipal elections in Kashmir for the first time in 27 years and has pressed a new strategy of rapproachment with the Valley based on the revival of the autonomy which New Delhi diluted over the years. MG editor Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan spoke to the main political spokesman of militancy in Kashmir, Syed Ali Shah Geelani who heads the hardline Hurriyat faction. Geelani has also floated a political front which means that electoral politics too may be an option in future. Excerpts:

Municipal polls were held recently in J&K. You and other organisations opposed these elections but still the polls took place and many people, from 45 to 70 percent according to various estimates, took part. What would you say about this exercise?

As far as the participation of the people in elections is concerned, this does not affect our movement. First of all, you should know that there are eight lakh soldiers, troops have bunkers everywhere, they have influence in every locality, they force people, especially at such times. They think that if they coerce people to queue for voting, photograph them, this will give an impression to the world that these voters are with India and against the movement. Coercion alone produces these results and therefore these things make no difference. We do not take notice of such things because we know from personal experience that people are subjected to force. I received telephone calls from Sopore during the elections in Kupwara and Baramulla that people were forced to go out for voting. Some youths were even beaten up and mediapersons there saw this.

Same thing happened at other places. It is said about Hindwara that the voters’ percentage was very high. A minister lives there who had won assembly elections in 2002 and now he is the forests minister. He pressurises people, offers sops to them, people have their problems and the army is present in huge concentration. Even I am trapped when I go there for Friday prayers. Once I was expelled from the town after offering Friday prayers. Shamelessly they told me: go out, we will not allow you to stay here. Even during Ramadan I was not allowed to offer the Farewell Friday prayers. I had planned to go to Baramulla but I was placed under house arrest in Srinagar. During Eidul Fitr prayers, one hundred and fifty thousand people in my hometown of Sopore were waiting for me because it is my custom to offer Eid prayers there. An announcement was make that Eid prayers will be offered only in the Eidgah and not in local mosques. A police posse at Hanjiwara near Pattan stopped me from proceeding to Sopore. People who can speak about the movement are not allowed even to offer Friday and Eid prayers. Whenever we have a programme, they place us under house arrest or arrest us while we are on our way to the venue. The same happens at the time of elections. The boycott shows that there is alienation, that people hate India’s authoritarian rule and its excesses but this is not mentioned anywhere. Media does not cover that we do not accept accession to India.

If your representatives are elected in assembly and municipal elections, will they not be able to say inside what you are saying from outside?

We have experimented with this too. Perhaps you know that I myself was a member of the J&K assembly for 15 years. We started taking part in elections since the panchayat polls of 1969. I was a candidate from Baramulla in 1973 while Congress was ruling the state. My opponent was a Congress candidate who surpassed all limits in wrong-doing. You can gauge his shamelessness from the fact that in the counting hall a Congress MLA placed a packet of forty ballots into the ballot box. He did not even bother to unpack them. The then Congress leader Ghulam Rasool Kar told the candidate, one Tantray, “Shameless man, you do not even know how to steal.”

Even you were elected...

Not during that election, as that was a parliamentary election. I was elected in 1974 for the assembly. At that time we suffered excesses, ballots were stolen. Even here they tried everything but there was huge popular pressure and therefore they did not succeed. Likewise, in the 1972 elections we barely won five seats. Thereafter until 1987 we continued fighting elections. I can tell you that whenever elections are held there, the administrative machinery is badly misused. You cannot prove that any election was held there without rigging, without misusing the administrative machinery.

But it is generally said that the previous assembly elections were fairly alright..

No. No election was ever alright there. Drums sound beautiful from afar. Here in Delhi you may get the impression that the elections were free and fair but this perception is wrong and the ground reality is different from this propaganda which is purveyed through the media. 

Now the situation has changed during the last two to three years. Pakistani stand too has changed. President Musharraf comes up with statements every few days showing that the Pakistani policy has changed. What would you say about all this?

As far as the changed situation you are talking about, nothing has changed at our end. The situation will change only when the Disturbed Area Act is withdrawn, when the special powers given to the army come to an end. Innocent people are arrested for no reason. They are kept in jails without trial since there is no need to prove them guilty. They are kept in jails for two years without trial. After two years the Public Safety Act is slapped against them. So many of our youth are languishing in jails since the last five years under the PSA. Many terms pass, yet they remain in jails. Even courts set them free but they are not let off. This is the situation which has not changed. People are subjected to injustices and this has not changed. You must have read what newspapers published that in October 2004 soldiers from a nearby camp in Handwara entered a house at 11 o’clock and stayed there until 2 o’clock. They gang-raped a lady and her 10-year old daughter. Likewise, Rasheeda Khatoon of Mattan area was gangraped. Thousands of such incidents have taken place there and this has not changed. Therefore, we feel it strange to be told that the situation has changed. We are not observing any change in the ground realities. 

You are telling me that Pakistani policy vis-a-vis Kashmir has changed as seen in Musharraf saheb’s statements. I would like to say that his first statement in which he said that we can bypass UN resolutions and talk to settle the Kashmir issue, he should not have said it because that statement ran against the fundamental policies of Pakistan. Our case is based on the UN resolutions and we will never be ready to bypass them. But what he meant was that he is being flexible, that perhaps India will reciprocate that flexibility and come forward to settle the issue. Thereafter, he came up with the 7-zone formula for Kashmir about which he said that it is not an official formula but a thought which may be deliberated upon to see if it is workable. 

Our reaction to such situations is that if India is influenced by our flexibility, it’s well and good. What we are interested in is the solution of the issue. We are not stubborn and rigid people. But this approach has demonstrated no progress. Musharraf presented a number of formulas but India is adamant. Therefore, even Musharraf now thinks that his flexibility has led to no elasticity in the Indian stand. 

As far as our struggle is concerned, it is our own struggle. Kashmir has 500 graveyards full of our martyrs. There is no home left untouched by the events of the last 15 years. So many people were martyred. So many were arrested. So many sustained injuries. Whereabouts of ten thousand arrested people are not known. Fifty to sixty thousand people have been rendered disabled in jails. You will not believe how badly our youths are treated inside interrogation centres in the era of democracy. 

There is no change in the situation as far as we can see. If India responds positively to the Pakistani flexibility and cooperates in the solution of the problem, that is exactly what we want. We have kept a provision in the constitution of the APHC that if India finds it difficult to implement the UN resolutions, another way out is for the leadership of India, Pakistan and Kashmiri people to sit together to settle the issue in a way acceptable to the people of J&K taking into account the historical perspective of J&K and taking also into account that the solution should be long-lasting and complete. This alone will cure this abscess. We are ready for this treatment also.

It seemed during the Vajpayee government that India is ready for negotiations and settlement, but it appears after the advent of the new government that all those hopes were misplaced. What is your comment on this.

Vajpayee government did talk to us, rather to that section of Hurriyat which has been separated now in a cleansing operation necessitated by the bilateral dialogue itself. The provision of dialogue in our constitution is not for bilateral but for a three-party dialogue. Whenever India talks to Kashmiris it says that we are talking to our own people who have some complaints and demands. When India talks to Pakistan it says that we are talking about the part of Kashmir with you which is ours and when and how you are going to vacate it. There is no sincerity in their talks. Since these talks do not conform to facts, they do not lead to any result. They had started a dialogue when I was in Ranchi jail in 2002 and our colleague Yasin Malik too was imprisoned. Elections were being held then and they [Hurriyat people] were supposed to campaign for boycot of polls, but they did not do so. Ramjethmalani came to Kashmir. His sole purpose was to prepare Hurriyat to take part in elections. They talked to him. Thereafter they held two rounds of talks with Advani too. On 27 March 2004, when the second round of talks was held, Advani was asked about the result of his talks with the Kashmiri leaders. He said that these people who have come from Srinagar to have talks with us, spoke only about two things, human rights violations which should be checked and freedom for people in jails. “When these people will raise the Kashmir issue, we will respond to them,” he said. The meaning of this statement was that when they will raise the Kashmiri issue we will show them their place. This was his body language. So, if anyone thought that Vajpayee government was inclined to solve the problem, it is his vain hope.

As far as the issue of Kashmir is concerned, both the NDA and UPA have no different policies. They look at it as a matter of national interest and national honour. During these 57 years, they never thought that this is a problem of human beings who are demanding their birthright, that we have made pledges both on the national and international levels. India is intoxicated by power. They say that Pakistan does not have the power to take Kashmir by war. That the people of Kashmir are defenceless, they do not have the power to take Kashmir from us by force. Therefore, we will keep Kashmir on the basis of power as long as we can. This is their policy which has no justice or reverence for values. There was no hope during the NDA era that they will solve the problem. Now there is Congress government and Natwar Singh has said that Kashmir is a symbol of our secularism and therefore there is no question of accepting its separation. What a contradictory policy is this when secularism is invoked in the context of Kashmir! We have seen the true face of secularism during the last 57 years. Forty thousand anti-Muslim riots took place in India in which not only rioters and extremists took part but governments too had a hand in them. Forces took part at every stage. Then came the martyrdom of the Babri mosque and soon Gujarat tragedy followed in 2002 when 3000 Muslims were butchered. When Vajpayee and Uma Bharati were leading mobs during the anti-Babri campaign, Congress was playing spectators. Mobsters were not even lathi-charged. And when Muslims protested, two thousand of them were killed. Bullets were fired. In 1984 when two Sikhs assassinated Indira Gandhi, what happened to the Sikh people? Khushwant Singh has written that 3500 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone and in other places in north India another ten thousands were killed, that is a total of 13500 Sikhs were killed. Yet no mobster was tried and no one punished. Here secularism has been subject to such mockery at the hands of its votaries. Now they are using secularism to justify holding Kashmir under armed control.

There is some truth in the picture you paint of India. But Pakistan’s picture is worse than this...

We present India’s picture when we speak of Kashmir. We do not have to present the picture of Pakistan in this context. Pakistan is a different country which is supporting us politically, diplomatically and morally. Angels do not live there so that everything there will be perfect. I have been criticising its policies and other things taking place there. But when we speak in the context of Kashmir, it is the Indian role which is paramount here. Tell me what Pakistan has to do with the pledge of self-determination given to us by India? When Late Hari Singh presented the Instrument of Accession, both Jawahral Nehru and Lord Mountbatten wrote that this is conditional and provisional and that it will be referred to the people of Jammu & Kashmir who will decide if they want to be with India and only then it will be accepted and the instrument will take final shape. It is India which took this issue to the UN. As much as 18 resolutions were passed by the UN about the people of J&K, in which it has been accepted that J&K is a disputed territory and that it is not an integral part of India or Pakistan, that plebiscite should be held to offer the chance to the people of J&K to decide themselves if they want to live with India or want to go to Pakistan. These are the pledges India made. Pakistan does not fall in this category. 

But General Parvez Musharraf says that plebiscite is no longer necessary?

What Musharraf saheb says its upto him. I will say that Pakistan helps us morally, politically and diplomatically. God forbid, even if Pakistan backs out, I assure you, our struggle for self-determination will continue. I say this with full confidence.

Read the second and last part of this
interview in the next issue.«

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