A matter of timingnews
04 May 2007

Despite the challenges it faces, the Hurriyat is best placed as an interlocutor between India, Pakistan and Kashmir to ensure durable peace in the region. By Prem Shankar Jha

Prem Shankar JhaA month ago, when Pakistan''s prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, visited Delhi to attend the SAARC meeting, Mirwaiz Umar Farouq, the chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, drew down the wrath of New Delhi''s officialdom upon his head by agreeing to meet him to discuss the Kashmir issue.

Two weeks ago, he did it again by seemingly having agreed initially to participate in the prime minister''s third round table conference on Kashmir, and then backing out, exactly as he did a year ago.

Coming on top of his meeting with Aziz, this has been taken as a calculated insult to the Indian prime minister and to the Indian State. Commentators have therefore vied with each other to denigrate the Hurriyat and the Mirwaiz. He and his colleagues have been described as ''small men'', incapable of winning more than a handful of seats in any Kashmiri election and therefore unwilling to participate in them for fear of being exposed. Indeed these are the least impolite of the many slings and arrows that Hurriyat has to suffer.

The Mirwaiz cannot entirely escape the blame for this. Although stlill young, he is a seasoned enough, and a wise enough, politician to know that his capacity to influence the final outcome of the Kashmir negotiations depends not only on his standing in Kashmir and Islamabad, but perhaps most of all on how he is regarded in New Delhi.

For this is the State where the effective power to meet or reject Kashmiri aspirations resides.

All that the Mirwaiz needed to have done, if he had wanted to avoid provoking such a strong reaction in Delhi, was to send a senior Hurriyat leader to each of the RTCs as an observer. That would have enabled him to fulfill his initial promises to the prime minister and his emissaries, and keep his channels of communication with New Delhi open, while keeping his distance from the mainstream Kashmiri political parties. But the Mirwaiz chose not to do this, and thereby raised doubts on what he really wants in, and for, Kashmir.

Two wrongs do not, however, make a right. The Mirwaiz may have missed a step, but that does not mean the Delhi should trump him by missing two more. The least our policy makers should do is to try and understand what is making him do such flip flops. To do this one needs to remember some of Kashmir''s recent history.

Hurriyat was created by Pakistan in 1991 by merging 31 motley insurgent groups to create an ''above ground'' political formation that could give voice to the demands of the separatists, and to end an increasingly bitter struggle for supremacy that had broken out between the pro-independence and the pro-Pakistan groups in the valley. Under its foirst, and for a long time also its second chairman, Ali Shah Geelani and Professor Abdul Ghani Butt, the organization remained closely linked to Pakistan. But the tension between the independence and pro-Pakistan groups never wholly subsided. Eventually Geelani was dethroned, and Butt who is far less dogmatic and has a far more subtle intellect, responded to overwhelming Kashmir sentiment and brought the organization gradually around on the side of independence. The pivotal moment when this change occurred was July 2,000 when the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen announced a three-month cease -fire and the Indian government immediately agred to meet its emissaries secretly in Kashmir. But originally criticized the Hizb''s move as ill-considered, but was taken aback by the vigorous support it received from all Kashmiris of all strata. That was when the change in him began.

By 2002 the Hurriyat was firmly in the hands of the pro-independence faction, now labeled the ''moderates''. Geelani had been virtually ejected from the executive committee and had begun to tell the Hurriyat''s minders in Pakistan that it was necessary to set up a new organization around him as all the current leaders had sold themselves to New Delhi.In 2002, the Hurriyat even considered taking part in the elections, but thiswas scotched by the assassination of Abdul Ghani Lone, symbolically on May 21, the dath anniversary of Maulvi Farouq''s death 11 years earlier. Professor Butt, who was the chairman, got the message. But his determination to continue moving the party towards the centre did not waver.

Many analysts in Delhi are not convinced by Hurriyat''s moderation and do not need much instigation to start looking at the party through a veil of suspicion. The Hurriyat leaders themselves tend to provoke doubts about their motives and goals because of the alacrity with which they go to Pakistan and meet its leaders, in contrast to their reluctance to meet Dr. Manmohan Singh, Mr. N.N. Vohra, or his predecessor, Mr. K.C. Pant. But one would have to know little or nothing about Kashmir to entertain the idea that either the Mirwaiz or Professor Butt, or the third key member of the executive committee Bilal Lone, would ever agree to becoming pawns in pakistan''s hand once again.

Maulvi Farouq, the Mirwaiz''s father was killed on orders from Pakistan on May 21 , 1990. The Mirwaiz''s uncle, whom he was exceedingly fond of, was killed and his family''s more than century old school was burned not long after he refused to succumb to telephonic threats from Pakistan and back out of his second meeting with Mr. L.K.Advani in the winter of 2004. By the same token, Professor Butt''s brother was killed, and a grenade with its pin partly pulled out attached to his car, as a warning to him not to deviate from the course that had been charted out for Hurriyat in Islamabad. And when, despite all this the Hurriyat briefly toyed with the idea of fighting the 2002 elections, the masterminds in Muzaffarabad engineered the assassination of Bilal Lone''s father, Abdul Ghani Lone. Before accusing such people of treachery, we need to ask ourselves whether we would have been able to get into bed with the murderers of our parents.

But this only deepens the perplexity. If all this is true why are the Hurriyat still boycotting the RTCs, and why are they so eager to meet visiting Pakistani VIPs? One part of the answer is to be found in the convoluted politics of Kashmir. Hurriyat''s achilles'' heel has always been its insistence that its struggle is not for change in Kashmir valley alone but for the whole of Jammu and Kashmir- indeed for the whole of the erstwhile princely state of Maharaja Hari Singh. But this has forced it to face the unpalatable truth that neither in Ladakh nor in Jammu is there any significant demand for secession from India.

Infact if the results of a poll carried out in April 2004 by MORO international are to be trusted, there is a significant level of ambivalence in Kashmir itself. Over the years this has brought the pro-independence elements who now control Hurriyat to accept that they will have to accept something less than full independence if they do not want the state to fall apart. But this position is uncomfortably close to the present federal dispensation, which the mainstream parties have already accepted. Hurriyat therefore has a compelling need to keep its identity distinct from that of other mainstream parties. That was why, after agreeing to attend last May''s RT conference, the Mirwaiz backed out. He was forced to do so by his party cadres who warned him that sitting with the mainstream parties would spell their end.

This is not the only threat Hurriyat has to ward off. For the mere fact that it has accepted the Delhi agreement between Dr. Singh and Gen. Musharraf and is willing to accept less than full independence, has opened it to the charge of having sold out not only to New Delhi but also Islamabad. This is the accusation that Geelani hurls at them day after day in speech after speech, from mosque after mosque.

And, against all expectations, Geelani is gaining in popularity once again. There is in Kashmir now, a new generation of youth at that volatile age when militants are born. They have known nothing but war, insecurity and terror. They have been fed on stories of Indian atrocities since their birth, and they find in the romance of a freedom struggle a welcome shelter from the anomie that hits students when they leave school or college without an assured future. This generation also considers Pakistan to be traitors to their cause. They are therefore rebels robbed of a cause, and possibly the most dangerous political group-in-embryo on the Indian sub-continent.

Hurriyat therefore faces a daunting triple challenge. But it is prcecisely its awareness of them, and its willingness to confront them, that makes it India''s, Pakistan''s and the Kashmiris'' best bet for the future.

* The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China, and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular columnist with several leading publications.

(The author''s articles can be read at www.premshankarjha.com)


also see : Other articles by Prem Shankar Jha

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A matter of timing