Released two months before former RAW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat’s explosive account on Kashmir titled Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, the third volume of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s memoir Wular Kinare (On the Banks of the Wular) has received little media attention. This, despite the fact that this book, too, contains its due share of important revelations on the state. Geelani’s book not only puts the spotlight on the intrigue and mutual distrust in the separatist ranks but also talks about Pakistan’s complex relationship with the author and other separatists.
An interesting and important aspect which the book covers is the Vajpayee years. It had seemed then that peace talks between General Parvez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee would offer the possibility of an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution for Kashmir. Geelani had doggedly opposed this as he felt that any outcome arising from such interactions would be a climbdown from the demand for the implementation of the United Nations Resolutions in the state.
The book recounts in great detail the authors own engagement with Islamabad through the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh years. It gives an insight into crucial events which took place at the time such as Musharraf’s 2005 visit to India in which he had tried to persuade Geelani to support his much talked about four-point proposal for the Kashmir settlement. Geelani had bluntly refused to this, forcing the General thereafter to turn his back on the pro-Pakistan leader.
Following are some excerpts where Geelani recalls his conversation with Musharraf at the Pakistan High Commission:
Musharraf: India is a large country with a population of more than one billion people. It is a nuclear power with Western powers backing it. You people (Kashmiris) have also sacrificed. We have also fought three wars. But nothing was achieved. Now, we must adopt a path of compromise and reconciliation.
Geelani: Our stand is based on truth. We have faith in Allah and want to get on with our struggle. We should never be disappointed.
Musharraf: Bush and Tony Blair are with me on this.
During the exchange, Geelani brings up the issue of Pakistan’s ‘use of force against its own people’ and Musharraf reprimands him for ‘speaking the language of the Pakistani opposition’.
“There was no point talking to Musharraf. He looked subdued and defeated. So we left,” writes Geelani. In the subsequent meeting with the then foreign minister of Pakistan, Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri, Geelani was once again told to compromise. He writes, “When I refused, asking them to leave us alone to carry forward our own struggle, he (Kasuri) lost his cool and left the room in a huff.”
Geelani mentions how Musharraf openly expressed his displeasure on not being able to appropriate him for his fourpoint programme. “On reaching the presidential palace, he called the media and told them that people like Geelani will not let us move forward. But, on the intervention of Sheikh Rashid Sahib, Musharraf’s remarks were not carried by the media.”
Later, in 2006, when Geelani was, quite surprisingly, allowed to go for Haj by the Indian government, Pakistan renewed its efforts to rope him in. His pilgrimage journey was marked by many meetings being held to discuss the Kashmir issue. Geelani recounts some of these meetings and their major outcomes in his book. There was the meeting with Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin and the once prominent Jamaat-i-Islami leader Ghulam Muhammad Safi who had crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) in 1989. The then executive director of the Kashmir American Council Ghulam Nabi Fai — who was later arrested by the US government on charges of being an ISI agent — had travelled all the way from the US to meet Geelani in Saudi Arabia. “We discussed and deliberated on the freedom struggle in Kashmir,” writes Geelani.
Geelani also met with present Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, then living in exile in Saudi Arabia. According to Geelani’s account, Sharif was very critical of Musharraf’s flexible Kashmir policy.
The memoir also talks of a meeting of great importance held with ‘unidentified’ senior officials from Pakistan. “The meeting was held at a sky-scraping hotel with three senior officials from Pakistan. The official cited many arguments in support of the policy of their government, and I, in the light of my stand, disagreed with them and told them that Pakistan was stepping back from its traditional position on Kashmir. I made it clear that Kashmiris, after sacrificing so much, will not backtrack,” writes Geelani.
In the book, Geelani criticises his Hurriyat counterparts, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, for falling in line with Musharraf’s policy and supporting his proposals on Kashmir. The memoirs reveal that mutual suspicions were rife among the separatist ranks from the initial days. It becomes clear when Geelani quotes his Hurriyat colleague Abdul Gani Lone — the assassinated father of now separatist-turned mainstream leader Sajjad Gani Lone — telling the Hurriyat constituents that he was not bothered ‘where they went and whom they met in the night as long as they were with the Hurriyat in the day’.
“This gave freedom to everybody. Our members could now maintain behind the- scenes contacts and it wasn’t supposed to matter to us,” writes Geelani. “This sort of arrangement turned Hurriyat into a loosely-held coalition where though heads [were] banded together, the hearts and minds were disunited. We all had grudges and prejudices against one another dating from the past. These originated from our diverse histories and ideologies.”
Geelani reveals that his colleagues in the undivided Hurriyat did not want to see him take over as the chairman in 1998. He writes, “The selection was done through a draw of lots. Mirwaiz Sahib wrote the names of the seven executive members on slips and randomly picked up the one with my name on it. But nobody was happy as none wanted to see me as the Hurriyat chairman.”
His disapproval of Abdul Gani Bhat’s appointment as chairman of the Hurriyat in 2002, is made apparent in the book. He regards Bhat as: “A past master at debates and discussions but little inclined towards the rigours of practical politics.” He would have rather liked Abdul Gani Lone to take over. “Lone Sahib had a long experience of the thorn filled path of politics but it was professor Sahib who was elected,” writes Geelani, adding that it adversely affected the Hurriyat’s activities as Bhat brought the organisation’s public contacts to a halt.
Geelani deeply laments the fact that he was seen as responsible for the 2002 assassination of Lone. “Lone Sahib had been invited to address the rally with Mirwaiz Sahib on 21 May on the martyrdom anniversary of Maulvi Farooq Sahib (Mirwaiz’s father) where some unknown gunmen shot at him and his bodyguard,” he writes. “I had not been invited to the rally despite being in Srinagar at the time, reason being that at an earlier speech I had blamed the Hurriyat leaders for fanning the impression in the media that there was a ‘hardcore’ and ‘moderate’ divide in the organisation.”
He says that he received the news about Lone’s murder from the latter’s house. “When I went to his house to meet the family, I was stopped at the gate by a police officer who told me that going inside would not be safe for me as Sajad Lone had blamed me for Lone Sahib’s killing. When asked by the media about my reaction, I replied in a choked voice that one of my most selfless friends had been snatched from me,” writes Geelani.
The media has tended to focus on Geelani’s comments; therefore, the silence on the key separatist leader’s memoir and the disinterest in what he has to say on Kashmir is a little too loud. Especially in contrast with the focus on the former raw chief’s book.