Moderate GM Bhat Is Jamaat-e-Islami Chief

29 August 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Azhar Qadri

Srinagar: Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a moderate who reversed Jamaat-e-Islami's hardline policy and delinked its association with the region's militant movement, was on Saturday re-elected as the new chief of the influential group. Bhat was elected as the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami in a vote that replaced the incumbent Mohammad Abdullah Wani as the head of Kashmir's most prominent socio-religious group, which once served as the incubator for militants. The outgoing chief, Abdullah Wani, confirmed Bhat's victory. Bhat's election as head of Jamaat-e-Islami, after a gap of 12 years, will further strengthen the dominance of peaceniks within the group and propel its current policy of engaging in social and educational work. It is Bhat's fourth term as the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami after being first elected in 1985. He also served as the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami for two consecutive terms from 1997 to 2003, when he was replaced by Nazir Kashani, who followed his predecessor's moderate policies. During his earlier tenures, Bhat had a bitter face-off with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who then represented Jamaat-e-Islami's hardline section and headed its political office. On November 14, 1998, Bhat had announced the Jamaat-e-Islami's decisive U-turn on armed insurgency by denying any linkage of his group with militant outfits, including Hizbul Mujahideen, which was then described as its armed wing. A year after the eruption of militancy in Kashmir in mid-1989, Jamaat-e-Islami cadres and senior leaders openly associated with the militancy and took over the reins of armed movement after the formation of the Hizb. Hizb cadres were ideologically affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami and its second and incumbent chief commander Syed Salahuddin was a senior member of the group. Bhat's November 1998 announcement, however, ended a decade long covert association between the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Hizb and changed the party's course to pre-militancy era. Two years later in 2000, Bhat defeated Geelani's close aide Ashraf Sehrai to lead the Jamaat-e-Islami for another term and continued the transition away from active separatism. Bhat's election as the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami in 2000 had cast a shadow over Geelani's influence within the group. In August 2000, days after his re-election as the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Bhat had endorsed the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Hizbul.