Last year, many young boys died in a cynical version of a Kashmiri intifada. They died at the hands of the Kashmir police, falling to rubber bullets at close range, some in police firings. But they were all murdered by one man: Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the paterfamilias of terror in the Valley.
As he realizes that a life spent fighting the Indian state is coming to a close—Geelani is 82 years old—he may have misread the Kashmir gestalt. Having based his politics on the Kashmiri Muslim platform for decades with generous Pakistani patronage, he is stubbornly resisting the idea that the Kashmiri can be a Global Muslim. Just like the Pakistani establishment thinks that the Global Muslim is not Benazir Bhutto, Salman Haider or Moni Mohsin, but someone like Hafeez Saeed or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Osama wanted the Global Muslim to be a faceless, illiterate, unwashed trigger-happy man who sends children strapped with explosives out to blow up Pakistani soldiers—just like Geelani used to send the children of Kashmir with stones to be thrown at the army and the police.
Geelani, in his dotage, maybe has a prescience that his dream is crumbling. So he held a prayer meeting in Kashmir for Obama. “By killing him the fight will not end, but thousands of Osamas would appear within the US and Britain,” Geelani said on May 3, the day after US Special Forces killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. “As long as disputes such as Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iraq were unresolved, resistance would continue.” The Hurriyat mobilized its cadres, but the ordinary Kashmiri stayed at home.
Last week he accused his old enemy—the Indian Army—for raping Kashmiri women. It failed to get any response from ordinary Kashmiris.
This week, he decided to flout India and charged off to meet the Pakistani foodie-turned-foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar. Returning to Srinagar, he was put under house arrest. The Kashmiri on the street decided to get on with his life: shopping, eating, sleeping, sending children to school, making love, drinking coffee as Geelani fumed helplessly.
The ordinary Kashmir, it seems, is sick of Geelani. He wants jobs—the hated J&K police was hiring a few months ago, and hundreds turned up to apply; many of them were part of the former intifada.
So what has changed in a year?
Last year, this was a man so powerful that whenever he called for a shut down, Kashmir came to a standstill. He even had a calendar named after him—the Geelani Calendar—that marked protest days for the year. Shops shut; traffic on the streets vanished; schools were closed. The inexperienced Omar Abdullah tried to buy peace, but that wasn’t something Geelani understood.
Geelani’s peace was peace dictated by Pakistan for Kashmir. An Islamic Kashmir. Khar wasn’t having any of it—she loves Robert Cavalli more than Osama. Privately, so does General Kayani.
Geelani has no clue that the ordinary Kashmiri hates Pakistan. In a recent intercept aired on Indian television, two jihadis trying to cross into Kashmir last week were being instructed by their handler who spoke in Punjabi: “Kill any Kashmiri who crosses your path. They need to be taught a lesson.”
Geelani, sadly needs one, too. Kashmir has had enough of violence; enough of shops shut for months; school buses stoned by his supporters, injuring small children. For him, the jihad will never end.
Last year, immediately after his movement was broken, Geelani was sitting on the green lawn in his courtyard, warmed by the balmy winter sun. He looked frail and gentle, the friendly neighborhood grandfather. We spoke at length. To understand Geelani, it is important to understand his defeat and not his early victories. Below, read some unpublished excerpts from the interview:
Q: Your demand for Azaadi, what does it mean?
A: Complete independence for Kashmir.
Q: Does that include POK also?
A: It is part of Kashmir. I mean the whole of Kashmir
Q: You have expressed the opinion that India and Pakistan should sit together to solve the Kashmir issue. Why Pakistan? You have a reputation of being pro-Pakistan.
A: All three are involved parties. You cannot have a dialogue on Kashmir without Pakistan.
Q: But the majority of Indian Muslims do not favor an independent Kashmir.
A: It was the choice of the majority of Indian Muslims to stay behind in a secular India. But that doesn’t mean the interests of Kashmiri Muslims should be held hostage by the rest.
The last sentence is the key to understanding Kashmir. The ordinary Kashmir doesn’t like India. It’s obvious on the streets, in restaurants, in conversation. But they don’t also like Pakistan.
Geelani’s violent politics has made Kashmiris not like themselves much either.
Kashmir is a state of mind. In its tranquil chinar glades through which silver brooks skip along on stones and pebbles, a restless peace waits for its moment. It is waiting for Kashmir to rediscover itself. Srinagar has no desire to become another Kabul.
Ravi Shankar is Executive Editor of New Indian Express in Delhi. He can be reached at: email@example.com