February 10, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ Hurriyat leader Syed Geelani

'Cease-fire is only for propaganda'

There's one question that former chairman of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani -- or, for that matter, any APHC leader -- hates to answer:

Given the right of self-determination, what will you choose for? India, Pakistan or independent Kashmir? did not put that sensitive query to Geelani. Still, an interview that began on very cordial terms -- "Son, how are you?" -- ran into rough weather when we brought up his relation with Hurriyat executive member Abdul Ghani Lone, and his hardliner status.

The 71-year-old chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a major constituent of the separatist APHC, has been a member of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly thrice.

His party spokesman Qazi Ahadullah describes the former schoolteacher as "a religious-minded politician, one who believes that he is answerable for his political decision to the Almighty."

In an interview at his home in Srinagar's Hyderpora, which wound up with a generous helping of tasty murg musalam [fried chicken] and tea, Geelani spoke to Assistant Editor Chindu Sreedharan about the cease-fire, his impounded passport, and the differences within Hurriyat.

After two extensions of the cease-fire, what prospects do you see for a solution to the Kashmir problem?

The main purpose of any cease-fire is to address the causes of that war. During this cease-fire they should have looked at why this fight is going on in Jammu and Kashmir. Why people are killing and being killed. Why Bharat's 700,000 soldiers are stationed here. Why Kashmiris have taken to the gun.

That should have been looked into, but has not been. So the cease-fire does not serve any purpose.

The problem of J&K has been on for the past 52 years. The first cease-fire happened in 1949. After that it was conveyed that the Kashmiris want the right to self-determination. The cease-fire was respected. But self-determination, which is part of the UN resolution, was not implemented.

Hindustan got a long period of peace -- from 1949 to 1965. But it did not solve the Kashmir issue.

And the current cease-fire...

You cannot understand the present situation unless you go into the past. For 53 years we have experienced the Indian attitude. It is in this light that we say, like how that cease-fire did not serve any purpose, this one too have not served any.

Does that mean you see the cease-fire as a move that is not sincere or positive?

You can say you are sincere with your tongue, but what matters is what you do on the ground. I will give you some statistics.

In December, 78 civilians were killed and 53 injured. Three died in custody, eight people disappeared, and one house was damaged. Against this in January, there were 76 civilians killed and 147 injured, 15 custodial deaths, six rapes, 10 disappearances and 20 houses blasted.

This shows the highest casualty during this period was civilian. As this is a unilateral cease-fire, one that is not respected by militants, can you blame the government entirely?

Why should mujahideen target civilians? What is the justification for them? Hindustan can do such propaganda through the media. It can change black into white and white into black.

By the same token, why should India target civilians? Wouldn't it be undermining itself if it did that?

They are killing civilians, definitely. They consider every Muslim here a militant or a supporter. You must have heard it yourself.

Bilal Ahmad Khan was arrested and killed. In Shaheed Ganj, they killed Shakeel Ahmad. Bilal Ahmad Mir [the forest department driver whose vehicle militants used to attack the Srinagar airport] has also been killed. He was not a militant. In Nagbal, Tral, a 70 year old was dragged out from his home and killed mercilessly.

Your proposed visit to Pakistan, what is the status on your travel documents?

My passport has been impounded in 1981. After that I have filled the forms. But I have not been given a passport till date because I am a political servant of the nation.

But we are not worried about that. People have given their precious lives, their honour, their dignity, their property, their everything for freedom, for self-determination. So what's a passport? The heavens will not fall if we are not given passports.

What precisely do you hope to achieve with your visit to Pakistan?

The Hurriyat wants to create a congenial atmosphere for the three parties concerned to sit round the table and try to resolve the 53-year-old dispute.

Who all would you meet there?

The Hurriyat will meet the people, the government, the [United] Jehad Council [the apex body of militant outfits headed by Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin] leaders... we will meet every person.

If you are not provided travel documents, would you advise the rest of the delegation to carry on without you?

[Laughs] The Hurriyat has decided that unless all members of the delegation are issued passports, it will not go to Pakistan. Now it is up to them [the Indian government].

My question was, would you advise the delegation to carry on without you?

No. Why [should I]? I am a member of the delegation. I should also go... according to the decision of the APHC.

By insisting on that point, don't you think you are thwarting the journey to peace?

No. You have to ask the Indian government why they are not giving us passports. Our stand is the joint stand of the APHC.

Is it because the Hurriyat thinks that without Mr Geelani a solution is not possible?

No, the reason is simple. The Hurriyat constituted a delegation to go to Pakistan. When we did that we had decided that unless all members are given travel documents, Hurriyat would not go. We are sticking to that.

Even though what is at stake is a solution to Kashmir problem?

India does not want to resolve Kashmir dispute by peaceful means. Its policy is to occupy this land till they can. Cease-fire is only for propaganda purpose.

The Hurriyat as a whole had welcomed this cease-fire. But you are said to be supporting elements that are against it.

When you say Hurriyat as a whole, I am also part of the Hurriyat. Why are you excluding me? In that case, you should say the Hurriyat as a whole has not supported the cease-fire.

I was in the executive meeting in which the resolution was passed. Our support was conditional -- if the cease-fire is a step towards the permanent settlement of the situation, then we see it as a positive approach. I was also a party to that decision.

Then the Hurriyat decided that a delegation should go to Pakistan and the date was also fixed, on January 15, but till date India has not given travel documents.

There seems to be a move on to stop you from going. What do you think is the reason for that?

[Laughs.] How I can know? This should be asked to Mr Advani and Mr Vajpayee.

You are clueless about that?

[Geelani laughs again and his party spokesman Qazi Ahadullah says: "The Hurriyat had welcomed the cease-fire conditionally -- provided India takes the next step. And the next step was to allow the Hurriyat to travel to Pakistan. But the Government of India is reluctant to take that step on the pretext that Syed Ali Shah Geelani is in the delegation. So what can be the reason? There are personal liking and disliking."]

Do you agree with that, Mr Geelani?

Not only personal, but political disliking too.

A consequence of the cease-fire, it has been reported, is that it has brought to the fore differences within the Hurriyat. Please comment.

What differences?

For instance, your criticism of Mr Lone and his statement in Pakistan.

Yes, there are differences.

Have those been sorted out?

No, there are ideological differences as far as the working style is concerned. Yeah, there can be difference and there are differences.

Talking to soon after his return from Pakistan, Mr Lone was confident that once he talks matters over with you, the differences would be sorted out.

We have discussed all these. After that, yes, there are differences [still].

So how do you look upon his statement in Pakistan now?

What statement he has made?

The statement that guest militants should make way for a political process.

Mr Lone was the first person to welcome the Taleban here. He invited them. What was his view point then? The situation is the same, when he invited the Taleban and now. There is no change.

Are any of the Hurriyat members under threat from any quarters?

Only from India. From the Indian forces, Indian government, Indian agencies.

Mr Lone reportedly said he was apprehensive about his safety. Do you think he faces any threat from the militants?

No, he has said that he has no threat from the militants.

How do you view the Mehjoor Nagar incident?

We have condemned that. The killing of civilians is a very grave sin. Whoever is involved in that, whether they are security forces or any other group, it is condemnable... You see, the Indian forces are routinely killing civil people.

You see the hand of the Indian forces in this?

There are so many agencies working for the Indian forces.

Why do you think the peace offer this time has not received any response from the militants?

There is 53 years of history before them. And they know very well that India is not ready to resolve this dispute by peaceful means, by negotiations.

One more question about your proposed Pakistan visit -- how confident are you of creating a situation for talks if you are allowed to go?

Pakistan is supporting the people of Jammu and Kashmir and they will continue their support till the problem is resolved, whether we go there or not.

I would like your comments on two reports. One, a recent article in the media says that the Pakistan high commissioner has asked you to 'back down and not vitiate' the peace move.

It is baseless.

The second one is about the claim that during the July cease-fire, which the Hurriyat had not supported, you were under threat from the Hizbul Mujahideen cadres in Srinagar to back off.

[Visibly angry.] The Hurriyat statement [not supporting the cease-fire] was a joint statement. It was not my personal opinion.

It is not that I am vitiating the situation. How can the Hizb or Pakistan high commissioner or you assume that I am vitiating the peace process? These are all baseless.

Design: Lynette Menezes

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