Syed Ali Shah Geelani, face of Kashmiri separatist politics, buried in quiet, pre-dawn funeral

Pro-Pakistan separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was buried in a tightly controlled pre-dawn ceremony on Thursday, after he passed away ...

Pro-Pakistan separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was buried in a tightly controlled pre-dawn ceremony on Thursday, after he passed away in Srinagar on Wednesday.

Geelani, who was a member of banned Jamaat-e-Islami and chairman of hardline Hurriyat Conference, died at the age of 92 following a long illness, and thousands of police personnel were deployed soon after to try and prevent unrest in the Union Territory.

The Kashmiri separatist leader was buried at 4.30 am on Thursday at a cemetery near his home in Srinagar, a source told AFP. Only a small number of his relatives were present, including two of his sons, the source added.

Paramilitary soldiers stand guard near the residence of Syed Ali Shah Geelani after his death at the age of 92 in Srinagar. AFP

Geelani, the most outspoken critic of India who spent several years in jail or under house arrest, had wanted to be buried at the Martyrs Cemetery in Srinagar. But authorities rejected that request, the police source said.

"We basically took control of the arrangements," the official said.

Residents said authorities acted out of fear of mass mourning turning into unrest.

"Troops are everywhere, there are barbed wire blockades on every main road," said one.

After the death became known, announcements were made from loudspeakers of the main mosque near Geelani's residence asking people to march towards the house.

But police said no one in the Kashmir Valley would be allowed to leave their homes.

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was among the first to pay tribute to Geelani, tweeting that he was "deeply saddened" at the death of the "Kashmiri freedom fighter" who had been under house arrest for most of the past 11 years.

Geelani had been ill for several months with heart and kidney problems.

Khan said that Geelani had "struggled all his life for his people and their right to self-determination. He suffered incarceration and torture by the occupying Indian state but remained resolute."

He declared a day of national mourning in Pakistan.

Geelani's death has brought to an end a chapter of anti-India and separatist politics in Kashmir.

Born on 29 September, 1929 in a village in Bandipora district, Geelani completed his education from Oriental College, Lahore. He worked as a teacher for few years before joining Jamaat-e-Islami.

Geelani, who was seen as a hawk among the separatist leadership of Kashmir, went on to become an MLA three times from Sopore constituency.

He won the Assembly elections in 1972, 1977 and 1987. Geelani, however, became an anti-election spearhead following the eruption of militancy in Kashmir in 1990.

He was one of the founder-members of the Hurriyat Conference, a separatist amalgam of 26 parties but fell out with the moderates who advocated dialogue with the Centre for resolution of the Kashmir problem.

He launched his own Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Kashmir in 2003 following a vertical split in the Hurriyat Conference that he is believed to have engineered. He launched his own faction of the Hurriyat after bickering with moderates over the allegations of proxy participation in 2002 Assembly elections by People's Conference led by Sajad Lone.

However, Geelani said goodbye to Hurriyat politics in June 2020 saying the second rung leadership did not rise to the occasion following the abrogation of Article 370 by the Centre in 2019.

He rejected any notion of direct talks with the New Delhi government unless it formally "accepts Kashmir as a disputed territory" and stopped describing the region as an "integral part of India".

Geelani was also a staunch critic of the sporadic but failed attempts at dialogue between India and Pakistan -- nuclear-armed rivals that fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir and came close to a fourth one in 2016.

He was suffering from kidney-related ailments since 2002 and had one of his kidneys removed due to problems. Geelani's health deteriorated over the past 18 months.

Despite being an anti-mainstream politician, Geelani was seen as well-cultured and a civilised politician. His death drew condolences from even Sajad Lone, who once accused Geelani of making instigating statements that led to his father Abdul Gani Lone's killing.

"Heartfelt condolences to the family of Syed Ali Shah Geelani Sahib. Was an esteemed colleague of my late father. May Allah grant him Jannat," Sajad Lone said.

Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Kashmir, said on Twitter: "We may not have agreed on most things but I respect him for his steadfastness and standing by his beliefs."

Inputs from agencies

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