Is Kashmir’s protest leader gaining popularity?

September 20, 2010

Separatist militancy has waned over the years in Kashmir, but now a radicalised young generation which has grown up in over two decades of violence and strife is driving the massive anti-India demonstrations across the disputed region.

Senior communist leader Sitaram Yechury (R) prepares to shake hands with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the hardline faction of Kashmir's Hurriyat Conference, during their meeting at Geelani's residence in Srinagar September 20, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailWho is leading months of freedom demonstrations in Kashmir, a fresh unarmed uprising that is proving a huge political challenge for the Indian government?

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the 80-year-old hardline Kashmiri politician who is hated by India and backed by Pakistan, has emerged as the leading face of the present separatist campaign in the region.

Since the crisis started on June 11 when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a tear gas shell during a protest, Geelani weekly issues a protest calendar that calls for protest marches, strikes and sit-ins.

More than 100 people have now been killed in more than 100 days of protests, the biggest since an armed revolt against New Delhi’s rule broke out in 1989.

The death toll so far includes children, women and teenagers, nearly all killed by police bullets.

Many Kashmiris are not happy with Geelani’s protest plans because the continuing cycle of strikes and government curfews has shut down schools, colleges and offices, made food and medicine scarce and has brought untold misery to the people.

Political separatists in Kashmir have been unsettled ever since hardliners, led by Geelani, walked out years ago of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella alliance of political groups, opposing peace talks with New Delhi.

With moderate separatist politicians in disarray and peace talks with New Delhi stalled, Geelani’s hawkish stance has boosted his popularity among young generation.

The signals have been coming for some time now.

When a Muslim guerrilla is killed by Indian troops, Geelani is often there leading his funeral prayers.

When a Kashmiri hamlet is burned down during fighting between militants and troops or people grieve over relatives killed in violence, Geelani is there to console them.

Recently Geelani laid down five conditions to end protests or enter into dialogue with New Delhi. The conditions include India accepting Kashmir as an international dispute, revoking laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and demilitarising the region. So far New Delhi has not responded.

“Up to my last drop of blood I will not let the sacrifices of martyrs go waste, Inshallah,” says the white-bearded Geelani.

Once a lawmaker in the state legislature of Kashmir, Geelani, unlike most separatist leaders, believes the crisis in the region is a religious issue and not a political dispute between India and Pakistan.

According to him, the only solution to the half-a-century problem is the merger of Kashmir — predominantly Hindu India’s only Muslim-majority state — with Islamic Pakistan.

The Kashmir territorial dispute is at the heart of enmity between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan and has triggered two of their three wars.

Indian authorities, and even some Kashmiris, brand Geelani a Pakistani “propaganda machine, who perpetuates violence and anarchy and is not flexible”.

“The entire population of 13 million should decide their future according to the United Nations Security Council. Time and again we have declared that if the majority decides to be with India, we will not be glad to accept this situation but we will,” says Geelani.

“We will accept the decision of the majority and be a part of India.”

Is Geelani, who has only one kidney, suffers from a chronic heart ailment and has spent nearly 14 years in Indian jails, rising as Kashmir’s main separatist voice? Or is he risking his “credibility and leadership” by leading anti-India protests because similar protests in 2008 eventually died down.

India successfully held local elections in Kashmir a few months later and New Delhi showcased the election as an endorsement of its rule over the region.


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At times it is really confusing whether people follow G section or the M section of the separatits.The fact is on eid thousands of people marched with mirwaiz.But equally people have been following the calendar given by Gellani Sahib.It is also true that the separatist movement which was bit dim has gained momentun,at this junture geelani sahib to a larger extent is model which young generation is following.But how far the calendar approach adopted by G section will sustain is very important question.

Posted by Adilmsw | Report as abusive

if Geelani has emerged as sole voice of Kashmiri aspirations then Indian state is to be blamed only as they discredited dialogue process themselves….indian state failed to capitalize on Musharaf’s four point formula or its own formula of making borders irrelevant ,that would have made all hard-line elements of subcontinent irrelevant.but failure on external front of kashmir problem we got Mumbai attack & near talibanization of Pakistan & allowed big powers to poke their nose in region’s affairs. Atal-jee had rightly said that we can’t change our neighbor so it is prudent to keep pakistan constructively engaged .on internal dimension of problem India discredited moderates & made them irrelevant.i think without wasting time India should begin dialogue process simultaneously on internal & external front in a sustained & result oriented manner.

Posted by waleekamil | Report as abusive

Actually Mr.Geelani is seeing a silver lining in his bad health condition just like JINNAH who was suffering from tuberculosis and was about to die when he betrayed Indian leaders by demanding Pakistan for Muslims.As the health of Mr.Geelani will deteriorate so you will see a rise of unrest in Kashmir of India. I bet it……………..!!!

Posted by RAJEEVHERBAL | Report as abusive

India has a weak leadership at the central government. Manmohan Singh is an honest and soft spoken person. But he does not have the capability to make bold decisions. He can play the faithful servant role very well. His background is economics. Governing a nation needs very different aptitude. A number of issues have been met with inept approach and silence. There is a lot of wavering and indecision on the part of Manmohan Singh and his colleagues. They have done well as far as economic liberalization and growth are concerned. But there are other pressing issues that need a very different type of leadership. Unfortunately, we have the wrong leaders at the center. With Pakistan down hard with its own issues, India does have a golden opportunity to settle the issue with Kashmiris on its own. The reality needs to be recognized and bold steps need to be taken.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

If stone throwing is the only peaceful way of protest Geelani and his supporters know, then perhaps it is only prudent to make peace with them in the language they understand. The stone-throwing youngsters shouting azadi on the streets of Kashmir should ask themselves whether they would like to be a part of democratic India or want to be ruled by the ISI of Pakistan. If it is the later, the road to Muzzafarabad can be opened for those willing to leave their land! As far as India is concerned, it should hold an all-India referendum about the timing to scrap Article 370. That is the only referendum they need.

Posted by Windturner | Report as abusive

Mr. Mushtaq,
“Or is he risking his “credibility and leadership” by leading anti-India protests because similar protests in 2008 eventually died down.”
****Question is not about risk. Leaders sometimes have to take risks for a good cause. But I seriously think that he is misdirecting the Kashmiris, giving a religious color to the movement that would not do do good in the longer run. Geelani can provoke panic from Indian govt but not a solution.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive

In a short-sighted bid to curtail the political effectiveness and longevity of the ageing Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the charismatic pro-Pakistan and anti-India mobiliser, the authorities in Kashmir have allowed the new crop of leaders of the violent protests, notably Masrat Alam Bhat, a free run.
Mr Geelani is seen as a “moderate” far right ideologue, but effective, obdurate and consistent. The ambitious Mr Bhat, a former militant commander who is seeking to replace Mr Geelani as the new face of the Kashmiri jehad, is of course, “extreme” but doesn’t carry the authority and weight of Mr Geelani. According to a prominent Srinagar figure, the government’s objective appears to be to “outflank” Mr Geelani, rather than check the rapid spread of right-wing Islam through the vehicle of violent protests, in the expectation that this will cause a setback to the pro-Pakistan constituency. Secular and moderate people in the Valley see such an approach as “outrageously naïve”.
Bashir Manzar, the founder-editor of the Kashmir Images, a Srinagar English daily, believes that the government, as well as the national and the state parties, singularly failed between 2002 and 2005 (after the first post-militancy election) to take advantage of Mr Geelani’s disregard by Pakistan — and consequent downscaling in the valley — to boost secular and democratic

Posted by Imititaz | Report as abusive

if india fails to deleiver this time, they will have to face 1,000 geelani in future.

Posted by Imititaz | Report as abusive


Let me bring this up again. But nobody at Reuters is listening. Why doesn’t anybody discuss Pakistan occupied Kashmir?

When Pakistani’s talk of azadi for Kashmiri’s do they mean that Pakistan will also vacate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir? or does it mean that Pakistan will claim Kashmir to be all its own territory under the false flag of Kashmiri self-determination.

We want a fair open discussion on Kashmir, not just a narrow story or flavor of the week, we want discussion on the 1948 Resolutions, we want discussion on Maharaja Hari Singh and his ascension of all of Kashmir to India, we want discussion on Pakistan not fullfilling its obligations of the UN 1948 Kashmir Resolutions, we want discussion on Pakistan Army fomenting militantism and training camps and doing proxy war on India, we want discussion on genocide of Hindu Pundits.

Is this fair Sheik? What do you think, can we have a truly level discussion on Kashmir, our attention spans are quite long, not merely focussed on the last break of violence between idle, dropout Kashmiri youth and Indian soldiers.

It is fair to discuss the legitimacy of Indian footprint in Kashmir, but to give the Kashmir issue true legitimacy and true awakening of an issue internationally, the legality of Pakistan’s army, terrorist camps, militants and forced settlements there have to be questioned within the context of International law.

Until that happens, the status quo WILL remain and Kashmiri’s will never be free from India or Pakistan.

The discussion on Kashmir, the articles completely lack depth and balance. The focus is only on India and that is not fair.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

it is question of time factor, if this uprising fails, Geelani will loose of course his all credibility. but present geelani is kashmir undisputed separatist leaders/

Posted by drshugufta | Report as abusive

Whether Mr Geelani is credible and powerful to whom youth listen can be gauged from the recent happening when New Delhi and the state government led by Omar Abdullah failed to stop youth from burning down all state symbols ‘ police beats, check points, police stations, revenue offices and crime branch building’, Mr Geelani was realsed from jail. Backed by delhi-media, both delhi and state government sought Geelani’s help to reduce tension and call for peace. It matured and worked. Geelani’s call came to Delhi’s benefit and youth irked by the state-violence that had left over 50 dead then, stopped burning down the state symbols. Delhi and omar had a sigh. Media channels from delhi and across India aired packages over how 80-year-old Geelani managed the angry youth from destroying police posts and check points.
Even after this if we don’t realise Geelani’s stature and the only person Delhi needs to talk to, then we’re all fooling ourselves.
Don’t forget when Omar took an oath after becoming CM, he admitted that he never managed to assemble more than 40,000 crowd in any of his political speeches. This remark was made after Geelani’s hurriyat managed to bring over 1000000 (I million)people at the martyr’s graveyard in srinagar in 2008.
There is a popular joke on every tongue these days in the valley. It says ” let’s have a vote on whether people want to live with India or not. On one side it’ll be Ahad Jan (who hurled a shoe at CM on Aug 15 function here and demanded freedom) and on the other side it’ll be Omar Abdullah vouching for India. The joke says that Omar will get only 5 per cent of votes and Mr Jan will get more than 80 percent, yet India will install Omar as the State’s CM and will reject any voice that calls for end of India’s control of Kashmir.

Posted by KashmirViews | Report as abusive


Do you think Omar Abdullah is INSTALLED by Delhi as CM? What we know is that he won the elections. But that may be half the truth. This puzzles me no end why don’t separatists or freedom seekers fight the election and breeze into CM office rather than facing Delhi-installed govt. If Geelani can manage 1000000 at martyr’s graveyard, no one can stop him from winning. Has there ever been an isolated case where separatists contested the election?

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive


You would be surprised to find out that a lot of these uprising or so-called “separatists” or “freedom fighters”, a lot of them, at the top are actually paid agitators, usually paid to incite violence and dissention from outside state agencies, it is like that in countries all over the world and Kashmir is not different.

They organize well and it gives the bored, disenfranchised, low-self esteem youth a mission in life and these things take on a life of their, like a mob mentality and many of the times, actually has little to do with the true issues at hand, but fighting makes people feel alive, the adrenalin, it is really no different than a riot outside of a bar, where patrons challenge the police.

Therefore, Indians, Kashmiri’s and Pakistan need to have a collective three way discussion, free from agitators, free from Pak State agency duress, free from militant duress and have several third parties dissect the Kashmir issue from the context of international law, 1948 resolutions, ascension of Maharaja Hari Singh and of course involve a sensible discussion with the educated, calm-minded people of Kashmir, those with a vision of peace and vision of collaberation.

Azadi can come to Kashmiri’s from BOTH Pakistan and India, but trying to nail any true leaders with sane voices from any party currently seems like nailing jelly to the wall.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

@Sheik, Bloggers, Minister Krishna of India tells Pakistan to vacate regions of PoK, if it wants discussion on Kashmir….read on….. cleshow/6617179.cms

This is the sort of equal discussion on Kashmir we need to ask Sheik.

What do Pakistani’s think of Pakistan illegally occupying parts of PoK?

Pakistani’s eerily go silent on that issue…if India should vacate India, why should Pakistan not do the same and give true azadi to Kashmiri’s?….the real fact is that Pakistan is using Kashmir as a false flag trojan horse operation to grab more land from India.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Till date true answer to kashmir problems was found by Mr. Vajpayee only. He almost got pakistan into accepting LOC as border. The day that happens the pakistan will be forced to stop its so called JIHAD against India or at least India will have legitimate reason to pre-empt a strike inside Pakistan to stop anti-India activities. And then India can go on doing progress work inside its Kashmir and youth will have jobs and work. Even now central government should scrap Article 370 and let there be investment in Kashmir and let youth get job and progress. But trouble is again Pakistan backed militancy. So problem from India’s viewpoint is NOT Kashmir instead problem for India is Pakistan. If India can somehow make Pakistan accept LOC as international border then Kashmiris will be more happier in Indian Union and may be 3-4 generation later they will not even recognize themselves with Pakistan.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive


Cementing the LOC as the defacto border would be another great solution.

Unfortunately the creed of Pakistani and Islamic politics in the region does not support a discussion based on precedence, historical ownership of Kashmir and international law. Herein lies the problem. Pakistani State agencies use the militants as agents to foment trouble in Kashmir and create agitation to such a level that a proper discussion becomes impossible to even initiate.

The youth of kashmir have been perverted to throw bricks, rather than use the minds that God gave them to get involved in the political process, get educated.

There is nothing indicated, nor any sort of olive branch indicated by Islamabad that they want a peaceful solution on Kashmir, that is why the militancy is vibrant and almost self-sustaining now.

Islamabad has successfully created and fueled the cycle of hate and violence in Kashmir and destroyed another generation of youth to throw bricks at Indian soldiers, in that respect, Kashmiri youth have been used as a cheap basis to conduct assymetrical warfare on India, with little financial resources.

The Kashmiri’s have to start using their own mind and decide if they want their children and teenagers to become proxy war fodder for Pakistan by throwing bricks and getting shot at, or do they want to keep them home, educate them and teach them a moderate, civilized approach to dealing with their problems, because in the end, this approach will gift the Kashmiri’s with the tools to legitimately tackle their self-determination and azadi issues.

Until Pakistan offers a compromise on Kashmir, from the top, involving the Army, they will continue to hide behind Kashmiri youth fodder. Unfortunately, everytime Kashmiri youth throw bricks, this prompts the India soldiers to retaliate, to maintain security and the results are never good for Kashmiri youths.

India has been willing historically to compromise, but the Pakistani’s much take a more conciliatory approach, rather than hoarding all of Kashmir for itself.

The fair compromise, right off the bat would be making the LOC the defacto border and endorsing it in writing.

Until pakistan becomes politically more coherent and better governed, it will continue to use the Kashmir issue as a tool of national unity. Therefore, currently it is not really in the interest of Pakistan to seek compromise on Kashmir, because it would mean losing a tool of national unity at a time when Pakistan is politically fragmented and weak.

Kashmiri’s will continue to suffer as Pakistan remains politically fragmented as their cause is needed to keep Pakistani politics united, with respect to India.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

“Until pakistan becomes politically more coherent and better governed, it will continue to use the Kashmir issue as a tool of national unity.”

It is not a problem with politics. Bhutto was ready to put India on backburner and move on to build Pakistan. Needless to say anything about her popularity and chances of winning general elections. But putting Kashmir on back burner would have severely undermined importance of PA in Pakistan and musharaff did not wanted it so he went on to get Bhutto murdered. So problem is not with politics it is with PA. Problem is Pakistan is same as that was is USSR. In USSR KGB started to call shots and in Pakistan its PA. PA is a Frankenstein created initially as a political tool but now its out of control and virtually rules Pakistan. Ever wondered why Army only and why not Pakistan navy or airforce is in news. That tells the whole story.

And then the people of Pakistan have to understand that by shouting “Kashmir banega Pakistan” they become easy fodder for corrupt politicians who fool them in name of enmity with India and then when elected suck their own people’s blood. And to top it all there are people like Rex who say Pakistan should not accept aid from India and that illegal activities by PA and ISI are just illusions.

But i firmly believe that India should do solid ‘Danda’ to Pakistan as was done by Vajpayee and get Pakistan on talking table constantly. As I said before Kashmir is not a problem for India, it is Pakistan that is the real ache in head.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

Our Govt. is too weak. Instead they should have been pressurizing to get POK in our control. Long back demographic situation was changed by Pakistan backed militants, leaving scores of pandits leaving behind their property and now they cry hoarse that Indian Govt. is trying to change the demography. Scrap immediately Article 370 which in fact is giving protection to Pakistan backed people. Also forcefully ask for our Kashmir which is now controlled by Pak. Leaders like Gilani and M or any leaders who are anti india should be publicly hanged in Srinagar chowk. We are tolerating them beyond limits.
Withdraw our issue posted with UN and tell the world that we will take care of our land on our own. Enough is enough.

Posted by ypmhaskar | Report as abusive

vpmhaskar, you said:

“Leaders like Gilani and M or any leaders who are anti india should be publicly hanged in Srinagar chowk.”

–>Wrong answer. Violence begets violence and this will turn public opinion against India and create him into a martyr.

The best way to deal with Geelani’s is avoid them and ignore them and focus on building Kashmiri infrastructure, give them jobs, food, water, and the necessities to live a good life, none of those Geelani’s can offer such things and neither can Pakistan.

You cannot lose if you take the higher road. We have to give to Kashmiri’s a little more to keep them happy and a part of India. It is those inequities which make them turn to religious stooges sent by Pakistan.

In a democracy, it is a necessary evil sometimes to allow those to talk, who are poisonous and create disunity. India can certainly change the laws. For example, Pakistan makes all PoK politicians swear allegiance to Pakistan, before they run in politics. Perhaps India can do the same.

The UN is an impotent entity and have not mustered the political or moral will to stop genocides, let alone enforce the 1948 kashmir resolutions. India is alone and always will be, unless they have something the west wants.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

“The best way to deal with Geelani’s is avoid them and ignore them and focus on building Kashmiri infrastructure, give them jobs, food, water, and the necessities to live a good life, none of those Geelani’s can offer such things and neither can Pakistan.”

HOW?? U c whenever India tries development in Kashmir the militancy doesn’t let it take roots. There cannot be progress without first getting rid of militancy. So to get around with militancy we need military. With military comes Geelani. So its a deadlock and only way to break it is do ‘Danda’ to pakistan while not touching Geelani. If Pakistan is set right then India can very easily go on with development work in Kashmir but NOT before that even if we want to.

Use your head man and not heart. Killing Geelani would lead to rioting all over country which will be a huge huge setback for India’s economic progress so far. As I said problem for India is Pakistan and NOT Kashmir. Whenever u have to kill evil start from top!

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

Kashmir belongs to whole of India and we oppose the separatist agenda of taking it away by force. We will rise against this democratically. We will mobilize the masses. India will not allow this to happen. We invite our separation demanading citizens to live with us peacefully. Our opinion is becoming vocal and India shall fight this false claim of a separate identity of Kashmir: kashmir.html  /08/red-fort-address-of-prime-minister- aug.html

On YouTube: Uw

Posted by RajeevDubey | Report as abusive


As long as Pakistan and India have the notion that Kashmir belongs in totality to one or the other, circustances will always keep militancy alive into Indian Kashmir and Kashmiri’s will always get stuck in the middle.

India must win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people and they will wholeheartedly choose the Indian union over Pakistan. India has the time, money, the resources and patience and above, intelligence of ideas. A heavy hand will not win the hearts of Kashmiri’s only a gentle, methodical, intelligent and persistant approach will work.

Kashmiri leaders must be kept constantly accountable and at the table and those leaders must hold their people accountable as well. Concurrently, India needs to do a better job of policing the LOC, educating Kashmiri youth and creating jobs and infrastructure for them and bring the down the hammer of justice on militants that cross the LOC.

With enough time, Kashmiri’s will realize that India is the ONLY one, that cares to preserve their culture and their state and language, because if India does not, Pakistan will swallow, assimilate, displace Kashmiri’s by settlements.

Indian politicians need to take a more pro-active role in this regard and start creating a more friendly atmosphere and put these idle, useless mouthpieces like Geelani out of business for good.

India can take Kashmir by winning Kashmiri hearts, force will create more separatism and militantism. Again, India has the resources, money and patience, just lack of political will to engage this issue with some greater vision and spine.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive