Srinagar.......In a significant development, hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani Sunday assured Kashmiri Pandits that 90 percent of the Muslim population in Jammu and Kashmir would protect their Hindu brethren if they returned to the Valley.
He also rejected the idea of setting up safety zones for Pandits because "this gives a sense of divide between the Muslims and the Hindus".
"With the help of Allah and on behalf of the 90 percent Muslim majority of the Valley, I assure you that your temples, lives, property and honour would be protected by us as you return to your original homes here," Geelani, head of the radical Hurriyat group, told people at a camp.
The separatist leader was addressing 142 families comprising 500 men, women and children, who welcomed him at the Vessu migrant transit camp in south Kashmir's Anantnag district.
"None of you will ever come to any harm from your Muslim brothers," he assured them.
Geelani was accorded a warm welcome by Sanjay Saraf, national youth president of Lok Jan Shakti Party and the patron of the Kashmir Pandit Amity Council, along with other members of the Pandit community at the camp.
"To be a good human being, one must have good character," he added.
The 142 Pandit families came to the transit camp a fortnight ago as part of their plan to return to the Kashmir Valley they had left in 1990.
Quoting from the Holy Quran, Geelani said Allah does not discriminate between human beings on basis of religion, caste, colour, creed, wealth or poverty, rural or urban origin.
"When I was released after two years from the jail in 1992, I made it clear that the Pandit brothers are a part of our great heritage and we have to coexist under all circumstances.
"I reject the idea of creating safe zones for the Pandit community. This gives a sense of divide between the Muslims and the Hindus here.
"You must appeal to the government to allow you to return to your original places in villages, towns and cities. We have centuries old traditions of sharing each other's joys and sorrows. Those traditions are dear to us and have to be re-established," Geelani said.
He told the members of the Pandit community: "Our fight with India is not because it is a Hindu majority country. Our fight against India is only because certain promises were made to us those must be kept."
Geelani said peace could not be achieved at gunpoint, but had to be established through justice alone.
Sanjay Saraf told SKS at the conclusion of the function that "today's development is a great milestone towards the removal of the misgivings between the two communities of the Valley".
"We have lived together in better and worse times in the past and we must continue to live alongside each other whatever the situation in the future," he added.
Kashmiri Pandits, an important part of Jammu and Kashmir's population, began leaving the Valley in the early 1990s following the escalation of terrorism and attacks against the community.
They promised to return after the restoration of normalcy. However, the displaced families have been waiting for the volatile situation in the Kashmir Valley to settle down before they could return.