The veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was an icon of resistance against Indian occupation, has passed away at the age of 92.
Geelani, who died on Wednesday, had been unwell for some time, his family said.
Among the most prominent political leaders in Kashmir, Geelani for years led an umbrella alliance of secessionists, known as the Hurriyat Conference. It used civil disobedience in the form of shutdowns and protests as a tactic to counter Indian occupation.
Following his death, Indian authorities imposed a communications blackout to prevent protests. Around Geelani’s home and elsewhere in Srinagar, armed troops lined main roads and manned checkpoints.
Geelani’s family said he was buried in a quiet funeral organised by the Indian authorities under harsh restrictions. They said his body was forcibly taken at 3am to be buried and they were only allowed to visit his grave at 10am today.
Geelani was a thorn in India’s side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for the territory’s merger with Pakistan.
He was jailed for nearly 10 years after 1962 and was often restricted to his home after that.
The Hurriyat Conference split in 2003, when a group of separatists led by Geelani walked out after others decided to hold talks with New Delhi. Geelani strongly opposed any dialogue with India.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened” to learn about Geelani’s death.
“He suffered incarceration and torture by the occupying Indian state but remained resolute. The Pakistan flag will fly at half-mast and we will observe a day of official mourning,” the premier announced.
Pakistani President Dr Arif Alvi had last year conferred Nishan-i-Pakistan, the country’s highest civil award, on Geelani in recognition of his decades-old struggle for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.
Former chief minister of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, also expressed sadness at Geelani’s passing.
“We may not have agreed on most things but I respect him for his steadfastness & standing by his beliefs,” she said.
And Mehmood Hussain, from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, told 5Pillars: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon, we are all very saddened, we are very upset and in a state of morning as we have lost one of our great Kashmiri leaders who gave all his life for the struggle for the freedom of the people of Kashmir, and despite being very ill in his latter years he continued that struggle.
“He spent very many years in prison and these are the kind of people who motivate the masses. People like him aren’t born every day, they only come once in a while and we can only pray that Allah grants him Jannatul Firdaus. And we just pray that his work continues and the people of Kashmir will never forget what he did for us.
“He was one of those leaders who was always brave and always stood firm. He never shied away from telling the truth and from calling out oppression and atrocities, he was so committed to the Kashmiri people. And this is just a message to all Kashmiris to unite and to continue his work. He will be sorely missed.”
And Shakeel Afsar, of the Kashmir Liberation Organisation, told 5Pillars: “Syed Geelani was a true son of the Kashmiri soil. He was always in favour of the Kashmiris and whatever they choose for their self-determination, and was a pivotal person in the Kashmiri struggle. I think it’s a great loss to the Kashmiri people.
“What is most disgraceful is that the barbaric Indian regime has enforced an immediate lockdown on the area where Syed Geelani lived and has forced a small and silent funeral. This is somebody who is very well recognised and well supported, whether you are pro Pakistani or pro independence, and of course Western powers allow this barbaric government to exist and thrive.”