01 September 2021

Leading Kashmiri separatist Geelani dies aged 92

01 September 2021

Syed Ali Geelani, a top separatist leader and one of the severest critics of Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir has died aged 92.

Mr Geelani died surrounded by family members at his home in Srinagar, the region’s main city, an aide said.

Shortly after the news broke, scores of Kashmiris converged at his home in the Hyderpora neighbourhood to mourn the death of Mr Geelani, who remained under rolling house arrest much of the time since 2008.

Authorities deployed heavy contingents of armed police and soldiers in the city to prevent the funeral from turning into an anti-India protest.

A Kashmiri child watches an Indian paramilitary soldier standing guard in Srinaga (Mukhtar Khan/AP) (AP)

Troops with automatic rifles blocked streets and the main road leading to Mr Geelani’s residence, while armoured vehicles patrolled the city’s neighbourhoods.

Despite restrictions on gatherings, mosques across the region’s towns and villages blared announcements of Mr Geelani’s death and urged people to come out on the streets.

Mr Geelani was an ideologue and a staunch proponent of the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan.

Over the years, he had repeatedly said no to any dialogue with New Delhi, asserting that “India can’t be trusted unless it calls Kashmir a disputed territory, demilitarises the region and releases political prisoners for a meaningful dialogue”.

The position was rejected outright by subsequent Indian governments, and he was often dubbed as a hardline politician.

The stunning mountain region of Kashmir has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent divided the territory between the newly created India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol a street in Srinagar (Mukhtar Khan/AP) (AP)

Kashmir’s fury at Indian rule has long been seething. After a series of political blunders, broken promises and a crackdown on dissent, Kashmiri activists launched a full-blown armed revolt against Indian rule in 1989.

India called the armed rebellion Islamabad’s proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism.

Most Muslim Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle and support the rebel goal that the territory be united, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

The region is one of the most heavily militarised in the world, patrolled by military and paramilitary soldiers. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the raging conflict.

Mr Geelani was seen as the face of resistance against India over the last three decades. He was also widely respected by the region’s pro-India politicians.

His maximalist and radical approach forced India to court so-called moderate separatist leaders in Kashmir, though with no apparent breakthrough in resolving the dispute.

“We may not have agreed on most things, but I respect him for his steadfastness & standing by his beliefs,” Mehbooba Mufti, the region’s former top elected official, said on Twitter.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened” by Mr Geelani’s death and the leader had “struggled all his life for his people & their right to self determination”.

“We in Pakistan salute his courageous struggle & remember his words: “Hum Pakistani hain aur Pakistan Humara hai (We are Pakistani and Pakistani is ours),” Mr Khan said in a tweet.

Mr Khan said his country will observe a day of official mourning on Thursday and the Pakistan flag will fly at half mast.

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