Int’l media gives wide coverage to ‘charismatic’ Kashmiri leader Geelani’s passing

NEW YORK, Sep 03 (APP):International print and electronic media gave prominent coverage to the demise, while in Indian custody, of top Kashmiri politician Syed Ali Geelani, with a leading American paper calling him an “influential and uncompromising” leader.

“Mr. Geelani had long argued that the valley should fall under Pakistan’s control because of its geographical and religious affinity with that largely Muslim country,” correspondent Sameer Yasir wrote in The New York Times.

“He (Geelani) said India should remove its troops from Kashmir and hold a long-promised vote over whether Kashmir should be part of India or Pakistan, though he hinted in recent years that he would side with independence if that option were to prevail in a referendum led by the United Nations,” the report said, noting that for years he resisted dialogue with New Delhi over the future of the disputed territory.

“The Kashmir valley has long been under the control of Indian security forces,” correspondent Yasir wrote, adding that “In recent years, India’s Hindu-nationalist government has made taming Kashmir a top priority.”

The Times’ report, which included several photographs of Geelani sahib engaged in the struggle for Kashmiri people’s right of self-determination, said, “Even in death Mr. Geelani showed he could make the region’s Indian-led authorities nervous: They shut down the internet across the Kashmir valley when word of his death spread and beefed up security forces patrolling empty streets.”

According to the report, the police took his body away just hours after he died, leading to a quiet funeral for a resistance leader who could once summon thousands of people into the streets to protest, a fact highlighted by many media reports.

The Times report also carried Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tweet paying tributes to Geelani sahib who, he said, had “struggled all his life for his people and their right for self-determination.”

“A charismatic leader, Mr. Geelani was often called ‘Bab,’ or ‘father’ in Kashmiri, and he won popularity for his steadfast resistance to Indian rule. His followers would chant in demonstrations: ‘The one who doesn’t bow, Geelani! The one who can’t be bought, Geelani’!”

“He was the most recognized face of Kashmiri resistance against India and an iconic political figure,” Noor Ahmad Baba, a political analyst in Kashmir was quoted as saying in the dispatch. “No other political figure from the valley matched his popularity.”

“The authorities had long kept Mr. Geelani under watch. With only a few breaks, he had been under house arrest for 11 years,” the Times report pointed out.

“Mr. Geelani was imprisoned in 1962 for 13 months for participating in anti-India activities.

He was arrested again in 1965, accused of nurturing secret contacts in Pakistan, and spent another year or more in prison.

“The arrests and jailings continued after he joined an Islamist organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, and was elected to the State Assembly in 1972. The Indian authorities seized his passport in 1981 and never returned it, though they let him travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia in 2006 for the Muslim hajj pilgrimage.

“He began calling for public protests of Indian control in the 1980s, finding a receptive audience among angry Kashmiris. After violence broke out in 1989 — the beginning of more than 30 years of conflict — Mr. Geelani became perhaps the movement’s most visible leader. His calls for workers to strike could shut down activity in the Kashmir valley for days. He was a fixture at the funerals of those who died fighting Indian forces.

“His public profile may have reached its peak in 2008, when he became the face of resistance after a land dispute unleashed a new wave of demonstrations and violence.

“In 2016, protests and violence again erupted, this time after the Indian police killed a militant commander, Burhan Wani. In response, Mr. Geelani and other resistance leaders issued “protest calendars,” which dictated when demonstrations would be held and when shops would open and close. The Indian authorities tried to persuade him to help ease tensions, but he refused, calling the outreach a ‘mere optic for Indian media’.”

Despite his growing frailty, The Times report said, Geelani sahib remained defiant. The report referred to a video posted online in 2018, as he remained under house arrest, he is shown knocking at the door of his home from the inside, telling Indian soldiers outside to let him out so that he could offer prayers at the funeral of a relative.

“Open the door, I won’t fly away,” he tells the policemen. “We want to perform a funeral for your democracy.”

In a tribute posted on BBC website, Sumantra Bose, a political scientist who teaches at London School of Economics, said he met Geelani sahib in Srinagar in 1995, and pointed out that he spoke with absolute clarity, with no hedging or fudging on two points.

“First, he made it clear that although a proud Kashmiri, he considered his national identity to be Pakistani.

“Second, he was implacably hostile to the idea of an independent Kashmir.”
In conclusion, Bose wrote, “Geelani’s death comes at a time when many Kashmiris say that the region has become even more volatile since the federal government revoked its autonomous status.

“It was his steadfastness of character in the face of tribulations and adversity – rather than his Islamic orthodoxy and loyalty to Pakistan – that earned him a place of honour in the hearts of many Kashmiris.”

International electronic media also gave extensive coverage to Geelani sahib’s life and mission.