Hurriyat Heir Apparent Sour About Pakistan3 June 2011
Times of India
Srinagar: For some months now, Srinagar is curious about one man: Dr Naeem Geelani, son of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the man Hurriyat insiders say is tipped to take over from his father. Naeem spent 10 years in Pakistan, and he now says, 'My Pakistani friends are brutalised by what's going on there. They are scared for their lives. There's no justice or accountability. It's a land of big men. If you have power you are insulated from everything.' Naeem left the Valley in 2000, first for a few months to the UK and then to Pakistan. 'I worked as a doctor in the health department in J&K, but things were tough. I faced constant harassment from the Ikhwanis. There was threat to my safety, so it was decided I should leave,' he said. Along with the timing ^ Naeem returned after last summer's unrest, in December 2010 ^ it's also the manner of his comeback that was noted. Naeem's Indian passport had expired in 2005, but in 2010 the Indian embassy in Islamabad quickly issued him a fresh one. Nor did he face any trouble once back. No arrest or debriefing. 'It's strange, it's as if he spent the last 10 years in Bombay,' says a Srinagar-based journalist. Naeem is calm, almost diffident, in sharp contrast to his father. But when he begins to speak, it's clear why he, and not his scientist brother Naseem, is the heir apparent. His 10 years in Pakistan ^ he got his MD in surgery from Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences ^ seem to have left their mark. For a man who grew up in a house where 'Kashmir banega Pakistan' was gospel, the time spent there has cooled his ardour for that country. Endless sectarian strife and collapsing economy penetrated the bubble in Islamabad where he lived. 'There is no Islam there. I used to imagine that Pakistan would be more Islamic. Life would be more in accordance with the tenets of Islam, but it's not like that.' Is there anything he likes about Pakistan? 'The ardour of Ramzan, more women wear veils, and unlike in Kashmir it's not considered backward. If you use public transport, men and women sit separately,' says the Pakistan-trained surgeon. He adds, 'People pay zakat or 2.5% of their earnings to help the poor. In the hospital I worked, there were so many poor patients whose treatment was funded through zakat.' About Kashmir he says, 'People here are suffocated. They should get a chance to decide their own future. Why Pakistan, when as a Kashmiri if I go to Delhi, I feel free. There's no tension.' So despite the violence, poverty and lack of democracy in Pakistan, India still doesn't appeal to Naeem. 'Yes, India is peaceful, is one of world leaders. But a man needs much more than economic progress.' It's the same as far a militant violence goes. While the spiral in Pakistan worries him, in Kashmir he isn't about to denounce the gun. 'We were pushed to the wall. A desperate man will do anything. You say Lashkar doesn't care about Kashmir. But who made Kashmir turn to Lashkar? Why doesn't the Indian government talk to Syed Sallahuddin? He is a Kashmiri, he is Kashmir centric, he doesn't want to break up India.' Insiders say Naeem shares close friendship with the Hizbul chief and his return had his blessings. Naeem is keeping a low profile, at pains to rule out all talk of him succeeding his father. 'I am a common man. It isn't easy to fill such a big man's shoes.' Has he met other young politicians like Omar Abdullah, Sajjad Lone, Mirwaiz Omar or the other eloquent English-speaking leader from his father's party, Masrat Alam? 'These are leaders. Why should they meet me? I am a common Kashmiri and if that sounds like a politician's answer, then I'd say that after 60 years of all this, all Kashmiris are politicians.'