Time Syed Ali Shah Geelani showed independent leadership

The top separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani inspires awe. Such is the impact of his personality cult that some are ever-willing to bare their chests to face bullets for him. Others hate him for his relentless pro-Pakistan campaign and wonder why he is not being stopped from his “anti-national activities” on the country’s soil. But in the recent months some changes have taken place in which he is seen more of a Pakistani than a Kashmiri.
A very strong feeling is running among many Kashmiris that this is the time for him to break open the Pakistani cage to engender legacy as a leader who can save Kashmir. That his heart beats for Pakistan has made many Kashmiris have a rethink about him and his qualities as a leader of Kashmiris.
Since he split the Hurriyat Conference in August 2003, he has seen many ups and downs. Today he faces the big challenge of steering people out of the dark alleys of frustration and uncertainty to the sunlight of promise.
There are some who see his role during the 2008, 2010 and 2016 street agitations as “accidental.” The Kashmir-centric parties stirred controversial issues during the Amarnath land row agitation in 2008, killing of teenager Tufail Mattoo in 2010 and through the 2016 unrest in the Valley. Geelani rode on street sentiment and guided the protests. The late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed used to call him an “accidental politician”.
Geelani, however, showed his own leadership by standing up against the high and mighty. He refused to visit Pakistan in June 2005 by the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route when Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and other separatists undertook the journey to the other side of the LoC.
By opting out of this cross-LoC journey, Geelani snubbed the then Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf over latter’s “overtures” to India. Later in 2006-2007, he called Musharraf’s four-point formula — which proposes making borders irrelevant, demilitarisation at both sides of the LoC, self-governance and the joint mechanism for Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan — a sign of insanity.
Geelani has always looked at the Kashmir issue from the two-nation premise of Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in which the “Muslim-majority Kashmir should have been part of Pakistan.”
He was swimming against the tide as that time India and Pakistan were moving to address the J&K issue in a positive fashion. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his speech in Akhnoor on April 25, 2008, had observed that “we have had a friendly dialogue with Pakistan on all issues that affect the lives of the people of J&K. We were making progress but internal developments in Pakistan (a reference to turmoil in Pakistan following the removal of Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhary) over the last one year have prevented us from moving forward”.
The 2016 agitation took away a bit of sheen from his image of invincibility. The protests were not only consuming precious lives of young boys but also killing the economy. But he did not halt the protests because he was under some pressure.
The situation turned worse when militant Zakir Musa challenged the separatist leadership and warned it of executing leaders at Lal Chowk – the main crossing in Srinagar. Further when Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin announced his own plan to observe the first death anniversary of iconic militant Burhan Wani, who was killed last year, further damaged his reputation. Later, the Hizb withdrew its programme, but the damage had been done.
A fact is that the view of ordinary Kashmiris towards Pakistan has changed. They know that three generations of Kashmir have been lost because of Pakistan’s proxy war.
Now it is for Geelani to read the pulse of the people and save Kashmir for Kashmiris as his legacy. This is the best time for him to rise above his traditional script-reading and stand as a tall leader who can honour his word on “dialogue as the only option to resolve the Kashmir issue”.
It is incumbent upon Geelani to convince Delhi how the matters can be addressed in a dignified manner. He has to show that he has the capacity and will to do so before people ask him why he didn’t stand as a leader when it was time to do so.