Veteran Kashmir leader causes political storm after quitting pro-freedom alliance

Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. (AP)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Veteran Kashmir leader causes political storm after quitting pro-freedom alliance

  • Geelani, 90, accuses Hurriyat Conference members of plotting against him, failing to tackle New Delhi over disputed territory

NEW DELHI: A veteran politician in Indian-administered Kashmir, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has quit as head of the Hurriyat Conference after accusing members of the pro-freedom alliance of not doing enough to counter New Delhi’s efforts to tighten its grip on the disputed region.

In a two-page resignation letter on Monday, the 90-year-old leader said: “Keeping in view the present situation in Hurriyat Conference, I announce my decision to part ways with it.” He added that several members had conspired against him and “lacked discipline and accountability.”

Geelani’s decision could further weaken the pro-freedom movement in the region which came to a boiling point after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government last year.

The move resulted in the scrapping of Article 370, a decades-old constitutional provision which gave the disputed state special rights. In the run-up to the announcement on Aug. 5, hundreds of pro-freedom leaders and activists were arrested and detained in jails throughout the country.

A few, however, were placed under house arrest.

Blaming these leaders in his letter for failing to take a stand against the elimination of Kashmir’s special status, Geelani said: “After Aug. 5, the leaders who were not arrested were expected to lead the people, give them hope. Despite my house detention and government curbs, I searched hard for you, but you were not available. I couldn’t do much because of my ill-health and detention.”

There has so far been no reaction from other constituents of the Hurriyat to the development.

However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blamed Geelani for “ruining the lives of Kashmiri youth.” In a tweet on Monday, BJP Secretary-General Ram Madhav said: “This man was singularly responsible for ruining the lives of thousands of Kashmiri youths and families; for pushing (the) valley into terror and violence. (He) now resigns from Hurriyat without giving a reason. Does it absolve him of all the past sins?”

Another senior party leader, Avinash Rai Khanna, described Geelani’s resignation as the “biggest benefit of the removal of Article 370.”

Within Kashmir, Geelani was the most prominent face of the pro-freedom movement against the Indian government and has been living under house arrest since 2010 after New Delhi charged him for sedition.

Geelani began his political career in the 1970s after being elected three times to the local assembly.

However, at the height of militancy in the 1980s and 1990s, he left mainstream politics and joined anti-India protests.

That was when he formed a conglomerate of small, political, and religious groups and inaugurated the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993, demanding freedom and a separate state for Kashmir.

Part of his approach included adopting a hardline stance against any talks with India, leading to a schism in his group in 2003 and resulting in Mirwaiz Umar Farooq becoming the leader of a separate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, known as the moderates. After the group split, Geelani became the lifelong president of his conglomeration.

Commenting on his resignation, Geelani’s granddaughter Ruwa Shah tweeted on Monday that, “one cannot resign from an ideology, a political stand, belief, and faith.”

Radha Kumar of the Delhi Policy Group think tank, who also served as a government interlocutor in Kashmir in 2010, on Tuesday told Arab News that Geelani’s resignation at this stage “raises more questions.”

She said: “One impact I feel is going to be the downgrading of the APHC. It could be that Geelani is trying to push himself as the only voice that stands for Kashmiri sentiment. That way he is trying to regain some credibility for himself by trying to say that others in the group failed to take a stand on Kashmir after Aug. 5.”

Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhatt, who has been part of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat, disagreed. Declining to comment on Geelani’s resignation, he told Arab News: “So long as Kashmir is a dispute, no Kashmiri can be rated as irrelevant. Beat of hearts never change, despite the fact that your tongue speaks a different word.”

Bhatt called on India to stop looking at Kashmir “as geography.” He said: “Kashmir as a problem has to be understood with reference to political psychology rather than political geography,” adding that he favored talks with Pakistan.

“I wish both India and Pakistan hear the beat of our collective heart and rise to the occasion and resolve the problem in Kashmir for a brighter tomorrow for the South Asian region.”

Meanwhile, Prof. Ghulam Mohamad Shah of New Delhi-based Jamia Millia Islamia central university, said that the move might be an indication of churning politics in the valley.

“It’s possible that Geelani is trying to position himself as a core nationalist voice of Kashmir who is resisting the designs of the Indian state.

“He might be a rallying point where mainstream political and pro-independence voices come on a single political platform to raise the collective voice against New Delhi which has been trying to alter the political character and special status of Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.


Indian soldiers unarmed and caught by surprise in China clash, families say

Soldiers await a visit by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India's Himalayan desert region of Ladakh, India, July 3, 2020, in this still image taken from video. (REUTERS)
Updated 06 July 2020

Indian soldiers unarmed and caught by surprise in China clash, families say

NEW DELHI: Indian soldiers who died in close combat with Chinese troops last month were unarmed and surrounded by a larger force on a steep ridge, Indian government sources, two soldiers deployed in the area and families of the fallen men said.
One of the Indian soldiers had his throat slit with metal nails in the darkness, his father told Reuters, saying he had been told by a fellow soldier who was there.
Others fell to their deaths in the freezing waters of the Galwan river in the western Himalayas, relatives have learned from witnesses.
Twenty Indian soldiers died in the June 15 clash on the de facto border separating the two armies. The soldiers all belonged to the 16th Bihar Regiment deployed in the Galwan region.
No shots were fired, but it was the biggest loss of life in combat between the nuclear-armed neighbors since 1967, when the simmering border dispute flared into deadly battles.
Reuters spoke to relatives of 13 of the men who were killed, and in five cases they produced death certificates listing horrific injuries suffered during the six-hour night-time clash at 14,000 ft (4,267 meters) amid remote, barren mountains.
Reuters contacted the military hospital in India’s Ladakh region where the bodies were brought. The hospital declined to comment on the cause of death and said that the bodies were sent to the families along with the death certificates.
Reuters also spoke to two soldiers of the Bihar Regiment deployed in the area, who were among those who accompanied the bodies of fallen colleagues to their homes in the area. They were not directly involved in the melee.
The soldiers cannot be named because of military rules and all the families asked for anonymity because they said they were not supposed to speak about military matters.
The Indian defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the fighting on June 15.
In response to a Reuters query, a China foreign ministry spokesperson repeated previous statements blaming the Indian side for crossing the de facto border and provoking the Chinese.
“When Chinese officers and soldiers went there to negotiate, they were suddenly and violently attacked by the Indian troops,” the spokesperson said. “The rights and wrongs of the incident are very clear. The responsibility absolutely does not lie with the Chinese.”
China has not provided evidence of Indian aggression. China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

’ARTERIES RUPTURED’
Three of the dead men had their “arteries ruptured in the neck” and two sustained head injuries caused by “sharp or pointed objects,” the death certificates seen by Reuters said.
There were visible marks on the neck and forehead, all five documents said.
“It was a free-for-all, they fought with whatever they could lay their hands on — rods, sticks, and even with their bare hands,” said a government official in Delhi briefed on the clash.
The Indian government has said that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) acted in a premeditated manner, but it has not provided a full account of the clash that stunned the country and stoked popular anger against China.
China has dismissed an Indian government minister’s claim that China had lost 40 soldiers from the PLA’s western theater command deployed in Galwan.
Its envoy to Delhi suggested in remarks to local media and posted on the embassy website that there had been losses on both sides.
“The Indian army suddenly and violently attacked the Chinese officers and soldiers who went for negotiation, causing fierce physical conflicts and casualties between the two sides,” Sun Weidong said.
Indian government officials have told Reuters that the conflict began when the commanding officer of the Bihar regiment led a small party to Patrol Point 14 to verify whether the Chinese had made good their promise to withdraw from the disputed site and dismantle structures they had built there.
But instead they came under attack by Chinese soldiers using iron rods and wooden clubs with nails studded in them on a narrow ledge barely four meters wide overlooking the Galwan river.

BODIES FOUND IN RIVER
In recent weeks the world’s two most populous countries have mobilized more forces along the 3,488 km Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the renewed hostilities have triggered a diplomatic and commercial spat that threatens to escalate, experts including former Indian military officers say.
The possibility that unarmed Indian soldiers were overrun by a larger force could further fuel resentment against China and raise questions about why Indian soldiers were sent to a tense frontline without being armed.
“How dare China kill our unarmed soldiers. Why were our soldiers sent unarmed to martyrdom?” Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party wrote in a tweet, demanding the government provide a full account.
A relative of one of the soldiers who accompanied Col. Santosh Babu, the commanding officer, to the site of two tents erected by the Chinese troops told Reuters that members of the Indian patrol were unarmed.
They were confronted by a small group of Chinese soldiers and an argument ensued over the tents and a small observation tower the relative said, on the basis of conversations with two other soldiers who were present.
Reuters was unable to establish all of the details of what happened, but government officials in New Delhi briefed on the incident said that at some point Indian troops took down the observation post and the tents because they were on India’s side of the LAC.
Soon after the Indian side came under attack from a large Chinese force that pelted them with stones and attacked them with sharp-edged weapons, according to the families of three dead Indian soldiers, based on conversations they had with survivors.
Some soldiers retreated to safety on the ridgeline in the darkness, but when they could not find the commanding officer, they re-emerged and came under fresh attack, four family members said.
Babu was among those killed in the fighting, the Indian government said. One of the soldiers deployed in the area that Reuters spoke to said the Indian patrol was outnumbered by the PLA.
“The Chinese side overwhelmed our people by sheer numbers,” said the soldier, who overheard radio messages seeking reinforcements being sent to regional headquarters in Ladakh.
Three of the Indian families said they had been told by soldiers who were commissioned to bring the bodies back to them that some combatants pushed each other into the fast-flowing Galwan river.
The government official in Delhi also said bodies of some soldiers were fished out of the river the next morning. Some had succumbed to hypothermia, the official added.