Hurriyat visit suits Indo-Pak, not Kashmir’

By Gowhar Geelani

Some moderate leaders of a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] — an amalgam of various political and social organisations favouring ‘palatable’ resolution to the Kashmir issue — are making claims like they will be visiting Pakistan “as owners and not slaves” and “will talk business there”, but some keen Kashmir watchers are not sounding as sanguinely hopeful about the outcome of such an exercise and perceive it as “remote controlled”. The delegation of the APHC [M] led by Kashmir’s head priest, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, is visiting Pakistan later this year where it is scheduled to hold talks on Kashmir with country’s top leadership.

Pakistan has extended an invitation to Hurriyat’s top brass to visit the country this month. The issue of Kashmir may indeed be popular, but listing it as the “core issue” in any negotiations with India after 2008 Mumbai terror attacks does not suit Pakistan by any stretch. Kashmir is no more a priority for Pakistan. Pakistan government remained over cautious when Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of Mumbai attacks, was secretly hanged in Pune, India.

It seems that both India and Pakistan have learned to move forward with time. Pakistan has its own set of problems ranging from worsening security situation to economic instability. Country’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar is on record saying that Pakistan was more concerned “what is in the long-term and medium-term interest than what is more popular”. This she told the Aljazeera Television in August.

Presently, the Mirwaiz camp is busy holding consultations in a phased manner with members of civil society, journalists, lawyers and traders in the Kashmir Valley to get feedback on its upcoming visit to Pakistan. But deep fissures within the moderate Hurriyat are perhaps its worst kept secret. Senior leaders like Shabir Shah and Nayeem Khan have overtly expressed their displeasure over the “dictatorial” functioning of Mirwaiz Hurriyat’s executive council on many previous occasions.

On the other hand, Kashmir experts believe that such visits by the Hurriyat only suit India and Pakistan but bring nothing for Kashmir.

Is this proposed visit by the Hurriyat “business as usual” or there is something more to it?

Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches international law at the Central University of Kashmir, believes that Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat faction easily gets ready to act as “facilitator” irrespective of whether its decision is being in line with aspirations and interests of Kashmiris.

“Moderates act as proxy of Pakistan and Indian political establishment and are ever ready to be the facilitators,” Dr. Showkat wrote in his e-mailed response to my questionnaire. “Eventually what happens is that actually moderates get marginalized in Kashmir through such acts, and are being viewed as controlled by Indo-Pak remote control,” he adds.

Senior journalist Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor too shares this perspective to a certain degree. “Well, I think the visit comes with ‘Ashirvad’ [the blessing] of India. Also, the home work done by both India and Pakistan is to convince the moderate Hurriyat leaders to join the mainstream politics so that pre-1953 status of Kashmir can be negotiated with all the major stakeholders. This perhaps sets the tone for upcoming elections in both these countries,” the veteran broadcaster opined in her response.

Many Kashmir observers think this way and some argue that Hurriyat’s visit to neighbouring Pakistan will be sold by the governments in India and Pakistan to their respective constituencies during election time. “Since both India and Pakistan are going for parliamentary elections they want to sell some thing to their constituencies and moderates remain ready facilitators,” feels Dr. Showkat, Associate Professor at the University.

Bashir Manzar, one of the senior political analysts in Kashmir, also does not think the Hurriyat trip will achieve anything significant. “I don’t see much happening. This is not the first such visit. More important, what these guys are going to discuss with Pak leadership? To India they ask revoke AFSPA, release prisoners, demilitarize, etc. What are they going to ask Pakistan? They have been drumming all the time that Pakistan is extending moral, political and diplomatic support to Kashmir movement, what else they expect from that country? Yes, their visit will help the Pakistan Peoples’ Party [PPP] to make some noise on Kashmir ahead of forthcoming elections there,” Manzar, editor-in-chief of a local English daily.

However, the main opposition in Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Democratic Party [PDP] led by Mehbooba Mufti is sounding cautious on Hurriyat’s upcoming trip. Naeem Akhtar, the chief spokesperson of the pro-India PDP, believes consultation is the only way forward. “Right or wrong, consultation is the only way. There are no other options,” says Akhtar.

The fact remains that on various occasions the moderate Hurriyat has shown too much flexibility in its stand on Kashmir, which has irked the Hurriyat led by the popular octogenarian leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Not long ago, a senior member of moderate Hurriyat Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat dropped a bombshell by terming the United Nations Resolutions on Kashmir “irrelevant” and “impractical”. The maverick professor had also hinted at “exploring options of forging an alliance with the pro-India mainstream politicians to give shape to an unclear and undeclared Common Minimum Programme [CMP]”.

This statement by Bhat earlier this year had prompted Nayeem Khan and Shabir Shah to demand the professor’s expulsion from the Hurriyat on charges of “violating the Hurriyat constitution”. After this controversy, the exchange of blows between the supporters of Mirwaiz Umar and Nayeem Khan at a seminar titled ‘Blood of Martyrs: Our Role’ organied by the Hurriyat Conference on May 20 this year was a clear indicator of how profound the cracks are in the moderate faction. The Hurriyat seminar ran into rough weather when Khan challenged ‘silence’ of Umar over the controversial comments made by Bhat in a public rally held in his native hamlet, Botengo in North Kashmir’s Sopore town.

“I have every right to ask my chairman to take action against a person who has violated and challenged the Hurriyat constitution,” the chief of the National Front [JKNF], Nayeem Khan was quoted by the local media as having said at that time.

Some commentators think India has succeeded to a degree to take moderate Hurriyat on board in its “plan to weaken” Kashmiri resistance movement.

“Because of its weak position at the centre, the Congress party wants to play Kashmir card, this time having the Hurriyat on board with an apparent objective to win Indian voters who want peace to prevail so that the pace of economic prosperity continues. So, in a way, this is one more exercise to keep Kashmir issue ‘alive’ and the ‘pot boiling’,” says Nayeema, who has served as editor with the BBC Urdu in London for over a decade.

Geelani’s Hurriyat is not on board as it believes India needs to fulfil certain conditions before any meaningful dialogue could take place. Is there any deliberate attempt being made by India and Pakistan to sideline Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference?

Dr. Showkat is of the view that such possible tactic by India and Pakistan actually proves counter-productive. “It is not Geelani’s Hurriyat which is getting sidelined but the people of Kashmir as well. The previous experience shows that it will eat up the support base of the moderates at grass root level. It happened at the time of reopening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road [April, 2005] and General [Retd.] Pervez Musharraff’s four-point Kashmir formula,” he claims.

Meanwhile, the Hurriyat [M] chairman has said that Kashmir issue has different dimensions such as social, economic and political. He said his amalgam will work out a “legal sanctity” with the leadership in Pakistan so that the impression of Kashmir being a bilateral issue ends. “Besides talking about the resolution of Kashmir issue, we need to talk about the plundering of our water resources, power generation and various other things,” Mirwaiz said.

“We will not ride a blind horse and keep all our antennas on during talks,” Bhat has reportedly told the audiences during feedback sessions in North Kashmir.

During early 1990s, Bhat had remarked in his passion arousing speech in a mosque in Srinagar: “….Kashmir Ki Azadi Ka Sooraj Tulu Ho Chuka Hai; Ab Sirf Ee’laan Karna Baqi Hai… [The sun of Kashmir’s freedom has risen and now only the formal announcement is to be made].” As a child, I had listened to this speech of his with much interest. Twenty years down the line, the same leader terms the UN resolutions on Kashmir “obsolete” and advocates “palatable” solution to the issue of Kashmir.

Some Kashmir observers say there should be no surprises if some key members of the Mirwaiz Hurriyat seriously decide about swimming in the waters of the Assembly Election pool in 2014 either directly or through proxies. It seems the moderate Hurriyat has given up on its earlier stand on Kashmir, they perceive.

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