Visa Power

The US visa regime is grilling and sometimes problematic for some, but hundreds of Kashmiris visit America every year. The leaked US embassy confidential cables mention three Kashmiri politicians and offer four testimonies about how the process is linked to politics and policy, a Kashmir Life report.

Almost all the big shots in Kashmir politics have had jaunts to the US. For many a constant motivation is to see their close relations who are settled there. For every VIP from Kashmir, there must be a long communication between US’s New Delhi office and the State Department. But leaked confidential cables from US embassy officials offer details about three visa applications from Yasin Malik of JKLF, Syed Ali Geelani of  Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and Usman Majid of erstwhile pro-government counterinsurgent militia, Ikhwan.

During his detention between 1990 and 1994, Malik suffered serious injuries that led to certain crucial problems in his hearing capabilities. He got a US visa in 2001 and underwent specialised medical procedure and a follow-up operation by Dr Sanjay Prasad in Bethesda, MD in March and September on his right ear.  

For attending OIC meeting in New York and a follow up visit to his doctor, Malik applied for a fresh visa. By then he had already secured a UK visa. In a cable dated September 2, 2005, US ambassador informs his seniors in Washington that in capacity of being the president of “the oldest and most prominent Kashmiri separatist organization”, Malik can play a large role in the peace process in Kashmir and between India and Pakistan.  It says the leader could also have “an influence on the peace talks between PM Singh and moderate Kashmiri separatists that are set to start September 5” though he was not personally invited.

“The GOI (government of India) considers him important enough to the Delhi-Srinagar peace talks that it allowed him to travel to Pakistan last spring as part of the delegation of moderate separatists who met with GOP (government of Pakistan) and Pakistani Kashmir officials,” the cable added.

Supporting Malik’s application for a visa, the cable says that although “Malik was no saint in the past” his “transformation from a terrorist to a political activist is a useful example of a committed militant channelling his ideology into more acceptable tactics.” It goes o to say: “Malik’s non-violent views resonate in Kashmir, as evinced by the 1.5 million signatures he collected on a petition calling for an independent Kashmir through non-violent means.” US embassy, by then, had sought a go-ahead of New Delhi through Wajahat Habibullah who had told the diplomat that “while the GOI would frown upon Yasin’s attendance at the OIC gathering, it would likely not block him from travelling.” Malik visited the US from November 27, 2005 to January 5, 2006.
In April 2006, Malik sought visa again which was granted to him on medical grounds.

On March 16, 2007 Syed Ali Geelani applied for a visa for US. He wanted to go to the Ohio Community Hospital in Barberton that runs a comprehensive cancer care program to get his single cancer infected kidney laser treated. The same day the embassy sent, perhaps one of the most detailed visa related communications to the state department and a number of missions across the world that is sub titled: ‘Seeking Medical Care from the Great Satan.’

Terming Geelani as “a rejectionist hardliner”, “a rigidly uncompromising”, “outspoken advocate for violence and terrorism”, “a sharply polarizing figure in the Kashmir”, the cable says that he has rejected even President Musharraf’ proposals and has vowed to go to his grave without compromising on his insistence on Kashmir’s independence or accession to Pakistan. “In doing so, he has undermined the Indo-Pak peace process and the moderate Mirwaiz Hurriyat,” the cable says, adding: “Geelani’s doctors say he has approximately one year to live due to kidney cancer.”

Barring permission to perform Hajj, Geelani never had a passport since 1981. This time, however, according to the cable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally intervened to issue him a passport for one year to permit him to seek medical treatment abroad.  The rider, however, came from the apex court that ordered him to refrain from participating in political activity.

The cable offers the responses to the issue from all quarters. Embassy’s political staff informed the officials that in the South Asian cultural context, “all of a dying man’s evil deeds should be forgotten so he can receive the care he is asking for”.  That is why, they averred, that “the RSS and BJP did not attack the PM for giving Geelani a passport.” Though the treatment was available in Singapore, Dubai, or Europe, they said, a denial of visa would give him yet another platform to denounce the US “as he dies as a “martyr” for the Kashmir cause”.  

Interestingly, the cable records that the US embassy in New Delhi was asked why Yasin Malik – who is known to have killed several people during his “freedom fighter” days, was granted a visa for less urgent medical treatment, when Geelani has never killed anyone with his own hands.  And the author of the cable answers it within the brackets: “(Answer: Because Yasin Malik has become a proponent of peace.  Geelani has not and likely never will.)”  
When the embassy raised the issue with PMO, they were told the “matter of extreme sensitivity” be raised with MEA. The MEA talked about Ghulam Nabi Fai’s March 28 conference and “took a very dim view of it and Geelani’s possible participation”. They promised of offering a “considered opinion as soon as possible” but never actually did. Former RAW boss said he should not engage in any political activity and N N Vohra “would not be drawn when asked for his opinion”.
Interestingly, the cable notes that JKLF leader Yasin Malik was the lone separatist who contacted embassy staff to advocate for Geelani to get a medical visa, arguing “that the Muslim community in the Kashmir Valley will respond positively to this kind of gesture”.

“Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has also, tellingly, been silent, despite indications that he would weigh-in on Geelani’s behalf,” the cable notes. “When we met Mirwaiz in February, he said it would be a big mistake for the GOI to issue Geelani a passport to travel, because he would stir up trouble.”

The cable writer felt offended as well. Geelani’s spokesman, according to cable, “attacked us in the press for telling Geelani’s son that a visa decision could take some time and might have to be made in Washington, leading us to believe he set us up to look bad no matter what we decide.” He mentions again: “Geelani has already started attacking us in the press for delaying his visa issuance.  In that sense, he has already positioned us perfectly to be the fall guy and the villain of this bit of Kashmiri political theatre.”

Counting the “compelling” counter-argument, the cable accuses (on basis of the information by Dr Ajai Sahni) Geelnai of financing Hizbul Mujahideen and other terrorist groups through hawala channels, money laundering, openly advocating violence, and ordering the assassination of several political opponents.  “Although we have no evidence of his having ever been convicted in India of any crime, Geelani has been jailed multiple times in India for financing terrorism and inciting violence, including from 1965 to 1966, 1990 to 1992, and in 2002 until he was released on humanitarian grounds to receive medical treatment in Mumbai during his first bout with cancer,” the cable notes.  Terming him a “close associate of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin” the cable says he is “pressuring Salahuddin not to declare a cease-fire or open talks with India” even though the “Indians have been courting the Hizbul leader for some time”.

The cable says Geelani has “a brutal reputation” among Kashmiri separatists because “Sajjad and Bilal Lone have openly accused Geelani of ordering the assassination of their father”, Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002 “after Lone travelled to Pakistan to renounce violence and signalled his interest in running for office in Indian Kashmiri elections”.  Mirwaiz, the cable adds, “also blames Geelani for ordering the death of his father, Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq in 1990”.  
Interestingly, the cable acknowledges that though Geelani “has a wealth of information about terrorists in the Kashmir Valley and Pakistan”, he is “probably of little intelligence value for the US, since he is flush with financial assistance from his supporters and uninterested in compromising to resolve the conflict”.

In the cost benefit analysis, the cable mentions that giving him visa would mean: “Mirwaiz will not have Geelani breathing down his neck in a delicate political moment in the Valley” and says it might be “more useful to India to have Geelani outside of the country” given his rigid opposition to Indo-Pak peace efforts.

And for denial, one reason listed is: “Kashmiris will spin harmful conspiracy theories if he dies under the surgeon’s knife in the US”. The cable says, a bit later “denying Geelani his dying request will diminish our perception as helpful players in the Kashmir dispute.  It will also further erode the longstanding (if unrealistic) belief among Kashmiri extremists — propagated by Geelani — that the US supports their separatist aspirations”. The cable, in fact, sought guidance to get “robustly” defended “against attacks that will surely emanate against us in the Kashmir Valley newspapers, many of whose journalists are sympathizers of Hizbul Mujahideen and the Jemaat al Islami”!  

While adversely commenting on the issue, the cable suggests that Geelani can be diverted to Singapore for treatment. “Ultimately, letting him die not-so-quietly while receiving medical care elsewhere — preferably in Singapore or some other country where he cannot engage in as much grandstanding or fundraising supported by the local Kashmiri community — may be the best option available to try to ensure that his murderous and rejectionist legacy fades far from the spotlight into history,” the cable sums up. But does, however, offer another option: “If Geelani endorses the peace process underway between
India and Pakistan and renounces terrorism as a means of achieving his aims, we may reconsider our visa decision, as we have for other Kashmiris.”
In another case, Usman Abdul Majid, then a lawmaker had applied for visa in May 2007 because he had to attend functions hosted by the United States Institute of Peace.

Mulford in his brief cable communication said the applicant being a leader of the pro-GOI Ikhawan-ul-Musilmeen paramilitary group, he can get a visa. The group, he explained was formed by India’s security forces to combat terrorism in the Kashmir comprising terrorists who have surrendered and agreed to fight against their former brethren. It said Ikhawan has a reputation in the Valley for committing brutal human rights abuses.

“In light of our rejection of the Geelani visa, we will not be able to maintain our record of neutrality in the Kashmir dispute if we grant this visa,” Mulford wrote. “Nonetheless, denying his application may have some repercussions with GOI officials, especially those from India’s Intelligence Bureau who have been close to his case.”

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