SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Syed Ali Geelani, an icon of Kashmir’s disputed resistance to Indian rule and one of the top separatist leaders who has become the emblem of the region’s challenge against New Delhi, died Wednesday night. He was 91 years old.
Geelani died surrounded by family members at his home in Srinagar, the region’s main city, an aide and a relative told The Associated Press.
Shortly after the news broke, dozens of Kashmiris gathered at his home in the Hyderpora neighborhood of Srinagar to mourn the death of Geelani, who lived the last decade of his life mainly under house arrest and suffered from various ailments.
Authorities have announced a communications blockade and restriction of public traffic, a common tactic employed by Indian officials in anticipation of anti-India protests. They quickly deployed heavy contingents of armed police and soldiers across the Kashmir Valley to prevent people from attending Geelani’s funeral.
Troops with automatic rifles also blocked the roads leading to Geelani’s residence, while armored vehicles patrolled the neighborhoods of the city. Despite the restrictions, many mosques in the region’s towns and villages have loudly announced Geelani’s death and urged people to take to the streets.
Geelani was an ideologue and a staunch supporter of the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan. Over the years, he had repeatedly said no to any talks with New Delhi, stating that “India cannot be trusted unless it defines Kashmir as a disputed territory, demilitarizes the region and releases political prisoners for dialogue. significant”.
The position was rejected outright by successive Indian governments, and he was often dubbed an uncompromising politician.
Kashmir has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent divided the territory between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.
Kashmir’s fury against Indian rule has long been simmering. After a series of political mistakes, broken promises and a crackdown on dissent, Kashmiri activists launched a full-scale armed revolt against Indian rule in 1989.
India describes the armed rebellion as Islamabad’s proxy war and state sponsored terrorism. Most Muslims in Kashmir see it as a legitimate struggle for freedom and support the rebels’ goal of the territory being united, whether under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
The region is one of the most militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces were killed in the violent conflict.
Geelani, an Islamist author and fiery speaker, began his career as a teacher and later joined Kashmir’s largest religious and political party Jamat-e-Islami in the 1950s. He participated in local government elections three times, but resigned as a legislator to join the anti-India campaign in the late 1980s, becoming the face of Kashmir resistance until his death.
He spent nearly 15 years in various Indian prisons and was also a member of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of various Kashmiri political and religious groups that formed in 1993 to lead a movement for the region’s right to self-determination. The group used civil disobedience in the form of arrests and protests as a tactic to counter Indian rule.
In August 2019, when India stripped the region’s semi-autonomy, Indian authorities severely cracked down on the group’s leaders, detaining dozens of them and preventing them from leading public protests.
A holy figure in Kashmir, Geelani’s popularity was catapulted almost to reverence after 2008, when the region witnessed mass civil uprisings and emerged as an important resistance leader among the new generation of Kashmir. In the years that followed, hundreds of young people were killed by Indian forces in street protests.
As civilians’ challenge to Indian rule increased, Geelani, along with two other prominent anti-India politicians, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who remain in detention, formed the “Joint Resistance Leadership” in 2016. The group he challenged India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and tried to give direction to people’s anger.
During the last few years of civil protests in Kashmir, the slogan “Na Jhukne Wala Geelani! Na Bikne Wala, Geelani! (Geelani, what cannot be folded and cannot be bought!) ”Became almost a war cry in the streets. He was widely revered by Kashmir, which gave him a nickname of “Bub”, which means “the father”.
“Even though his death was of natural causes, we must remember the immense physical and psychological toll his continued detention and torture has had on his health,” said Stand With Kashmir, an international solidarity group led by the Diaspora. Kashmir based in the United States.
Geelani was also widely respected by pro-India politicians in the region.
“We may disagree on most things, but I respect him for his steadfastness and convictions,” Mehbooba Mufti, the region’s former senior elected official, said on Twitter.
Geelani’s maximalist approach forced India to court the so-called moderate separatist leaders in Kashmir, albeit with no apparent progress in resolving the dispute.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened” by Geelani’s death and the leader “fought all his life for his people and their right to self-determination”.
Under Khan, Geelani was awarded the “Nishan-e-Pakistan” in 2020, Pakistan’s highest civilian honor, an award previously received by figures such as Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro and Queen Elizabeth II.
“We in Pakistan salute his courageous struggle and remember his words:” Hum Pakistani hain aur Pakistan Humara hai (We are Pakistani and Pakistani is ours), “Khan said in a tweet.
Khan said his country will observe an official day of mourning on Thursday and the flag of Pakistan will fly to half of the staff.
“Without a doubt, Geelani was emblematic of our challenge to India that began in 1990,” said Siddiq Wahid, historian and former vice president of a Kashmiri university. “This is his legacy.”
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