May 6, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Syed Ali Shah Geelani

'India has to accept Kashmir as a disputed territory'
'India has to accept Kashmir as a disputed territory'

The hawk in the Hurriyat flock, Syed Ali Shah Geelani is known for his pro-Pakistan and pro-jihad views -- significantly so after September 11 and the attack on Parliament on December 13.

A former chairman of the separatist conglomerate, the Hurriyat Conference, Geelani believes India should accept the disputed status of Kashmir and agree to tripartite talks for its resolution.

In an exclusive conversation at his residence in Srinagar, he told Basharat Peer that the "ball is in India's court'. Excerpts:

Recently two members of the executive committee of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Omer Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone met some expatriate Kashmiri separatist leaders and the chairman of the National Kashmir Committee of Pakistan, Sardar Abdul Qayoom, in Dubai. A controversy was generated by your comments on the meeting. Comment.

I did not debate the merits and demerits of the Sharjah meeting. After the meeting in Sharjah, the media asked for my reaction. I did not know about the participation of the Hurriyat leaders in the meeting. So I said that I did not have any knowledge about it. The two leaders had not taken me into confidence.

Mirwaiz Omer Farooq had said that peaceful talks were the only way out to solve the Kashmir issue and declared that militancy was not useful anymore. But reacting to that you had said jihad is the option.

I was speaking at a function in Srinagar and after the meet, the press asked my opinion about jihad. I told them that the order for jihad in Islam is a standing one. I did not talk about the specific context of Kashmir. But I was misquoted in that context.

But various Hurriyat leaders have been talking about the changed scenario post-September 11 and have been stressing on finding peaceful means to resolve the Kashmir issue. Do you see that change?

Some people have been saying that things have changed after September 11 and we need a new approach. But for me nothing has changed. In Kashmir the strength of the Indian Army has not changed. The custodial killings, rapes and arrests have not stopped. In this context we need to continue our struggle.

Do you mean the continuation of the armed militancy too?

Regarding armed militancy, one needs to understand its purpose. The militant movement has as its goal the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Every militant holds his life dearest, yet they are dying for the cause of Kashmir. But if that goal could be achieved through peaceful means why should the militants lay down their lives?

What needs to be done to resolve the issue through peaceful means?

India has to accept that Kashmir is a disputed territory and has to engage in negotiations with both Pakistan and the true representatives of the people of Kashmir for the resolution of the issue in the light of its historical background, the commitments made by Indian leaders and the resolutions of the United Nations.

The ball is in India's court. If India accepts, there would not be need for any further armed struggle.

It is being said that the government is trying to rope in the Hurriyat leaders to contest elections to show that some semblance of a breakthrough has been achieved on the eve of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's forthcoming visit to Srinagar. Has anyone from the government approached you?

Yes. An officer heading one of the Indian intelligence agencies in Kashmir approached me on March 24. He knew me, as he had interrogated me when I was in jail in Jammu.

What did he offer you?

He said 'help me in the peace process'. I told him Kashmiris have all the reasons to want peace. But it is not in our hands but in India's hands to bring peace by agreeing to the disputed nature of Kashmir and agreeing to tripartite talks to solve the issue.

Did he talk about the assembly elections?

Yes. He wanted the Hurriyat Conference to contest. I told him it would not help. It would not solve the problem. We have tried that method earlier in 1987, but it has failed. He left saying, 'I have failed to convince you.'

Why do they want you to participate in the elections?

It is not just me, but others too. By getting the Hurriyat to participate in the assembly elections, the Indian government wants to give legitimacy to the election process. But the Hurriyat stands by its decision of not participating in the assembly elections.

The Hurriyat Conference executive council members have been expressing varying opinions on various issues. What leads to this divided house?

The problem is that the Hurriyat leaders are not following the constitution [of the organisation] in letter and spirit. Different members are expressing different opinions. Such behaviour encourages India to approach them individually and rope them in. Unfortunately, some leaders are getting influenced and making statements that they should not make. India is not to be blamed for this, we are.

You did not participate in the recent executive council meeting of the Hurriyat Conference. Are the differences you have with other members so alarming?

No, it is not that. You can see, I am not well. I have been under medical supervision for some days. That was the reason.

Is there any chance of the Hurriyat Conference transforming from a forum into a single organisation?

No. Because the parties that form the Hurriyat Conference have different mottos. For instance, the Jamaat-e-Islami has as its motto the propagation of Islam and the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front on the other hand is a secular organisation believing in an independent Kashmir.

The Pakistan-based umbrella organisation of militant groups, United Jihad Council, and Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin has described you as the "leader of the movement". Comment.

They will support and co-operate with anyone who supports their cause.

Design: Uttam Ghosh

The Rediff Interviews

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