DELHI, June 21: The first formal visit of a faction of the
separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) to Pakistan between
June 2-16, 2005, was projected as a major event and 'development'
in the process of 'solving' the 'Kashmir issue', and was dominated
by lengthy photo-ops and vigorous reiteration of the Pakistani
line on the peace process and the Kashmiri jihad.
the visit strongly reiterated the fact that the APHC continues
to be a faithful Pakistani proxy, although its dramatis personae
may be gradually changing.
conferring a 'one-to-one' audience on the Hurriyat faction
chairman Mirwaiz (a hereditary title of one of Kashmir's important
religious seats, and also head priest of the Jamia Masjid)
Umar Farooq, President Pervez Musharraf, anointed the 'moderate'
separatist leader as Pakistan's new surrogate, suggesting
that Syed Ali Shah Geelani, head of the 'hardliner' faction
of the Hurriyat (who refused to travel to Pakistan by the
Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus) may have finally fallen out of
his meeting with the President, Umar Farooq declared that
discussions had covered "two-three proposals in great
detail", though he refused to elaborate on the Hurriyat
roadmap. He did, however, add that, "We want Kashmir
to be divided on geographical grounds. We don't want Kashmir
to lose its identity....we support his [President Musharraf]
May 2005, Musharraf had told a conference of South Asian Parliamentarians
in Islamabad that: "We do understand the Indian sensitivities
of their secular credentials therefore it (the solution to
the Kashmir issue) cannot be on any religious basis…
Therefore it should on a people basis and on regional basis."
he had earlier pointed out at a meeting with editors and senior
journalists in October 2004: "The beauty of these regions
is that they are still religion-based even if we consider
them geographically." He outlined his 'formula' further:
"To identify a region, allow maximum self governance
to the people, de-militarize and take some actions to make
further endorsement of the Pakistani position was discernible
in the claim of Bilal Lone, son of the assassinated Hurriyat
leader Abdul Ghani Lone, that Kashmiris should have no problem
with the thinking of President Musharraf on Kashmir as long
as there is a consensus.
Musharraf was quoted as saying in Canberra on June 14, 2005,
that an 'autonomous Kashmir' was his 'earnest desire' and
that complete independence for Kashmir would not be acceptable
to either India or Pakistan.
visit broke little new ground, and Hurriyat leaders have been
routinely airing these views, and have been meeting visiting
Pakistani leaders on a routine basis in Delhi, even as they
have tended to receive their instructions, and at least on
several occasions, substantial sums of money, from the Pakistani
High Commission in India's capital.
only novelty, as Pakistani analyst Mariana Baabar noted, was
that the Mirwaiz impressed the people of Pakistan with his
sartorial elegance, sporting a new outfit for every public
appearance, although he seemed devoid of ideas.
biggest gainers of this inflated public relations exercise
have been the Mirwaiz, Bilal Lone and JKLF chief Yasin Malik,
the last of which created some space for himself with his
controversial statements on Pakistan's Minister for Information,
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who Malik claimed played host to at least
3,500 Kashmiri terrorists who received training at his farm
house and lands at Tarnol near Rawalpindi in the end 1980s
and early 1990s.
disclosure was subsequently confirmed by, among others, the
ex-Army Chief of Pakistan, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, a statement
from the Pakistan People's Party, former Interior Minister
Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Naseerullah Babar, and Choudhry Nisar Ali
Khan, acting president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz
(PML-N). The other visiting Hurriyat leaders, including Abdul
Ghani Bhatt and Maulana Abbas Ansari, were completely sidelined,
both in the talks and the media.
Farooq's new pre-eminence implies that a new equation is emerging
in the separatist camp in Srinagar. This may lead to Geelani's
marginalization. Geelani, who once described himself as a
proud Pakistani, has of late been as critical of Pakistan's
Kashmir policy (too flexible, he alleges) as of Delhi.
the Mirwaiz endorsing the Pakistani line unequivocally, a
war of claims and counter-claims has already begun, with Umar
Farooq announcing at the Jamia Mosque after Friday prayers
on June 17 that the leadership in Pakistan has recognized
his faction as the "true representatives" of the
people of J&K.
Hurriyat leaders also met Mohammad Yousuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin,
'Chief Commander' of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and 'chairman'
of the United Jihad Council. Although Salahuddin, a Kashmiri
from village Soibagh in Budgam district, has in the more recent
months hinted at possibilities of a ceasefire, he is reported
to have told the Hurriyat that India must first withdraw troops
from the State. Salahuddin also asserted that he would only
support the Hurriyat moves or any future solution to the Kashmir
issue if Geelani is also taken on board.
their return, the Hurriyat leaders have set about the task
of convincing their miniscule support base in Srinagar that
they now have Islamabad's endorsement, and have also 'offered
to talk to' Delhi.
despite efforts by the Hurriyat and their handlers to present
a united face, fissures within the separatist conglomerate
were unambiguous. The Hurriyat faction led by the Mirwaiz
claimed that their 'historic' visit had made a solution to
the Kashmir issue more likely in the 'immediate future'.
JKLF, led by the terrorist turned over ground separatist Yasin
Malik, however, reiterated that Kashmiris alone would decide
their fate, an euphemism for an 'independent Jammu and Kashmir'.
While the Mirwaiz-led faction seeks a place in a triangular
process of talks with India and Pakistan, Malik seeks a central
place for 'Kashmiris' at the negotiating table.
Hurriyat-JKLF visit to Muzaffarabad, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad
has, however, also drawn some criticism on the grounds that
the delegation should rather have spent time in Gilgit and
Skardu, to meet other Kashmiris as well as some of the refugees
and Baltistan in the Northern Areas are, in more ways than
one, integral to any eventual solution of the Kashmir issue.
However, these areas, with their Shia majority and their cultural
proximity to the Kargil region of Indian J&K are an embarrassment
both to Pakistan and the Sunni hardliners within the Hurriyat.
Hurriyat leader Abbas Ansari has maintained a studied silence
on the issue as well. While Islamabad's control over 'Azad
Kashmir' is fairly complete, its position vis-à-vis
the Northern Areas is relatively fragile. By ignoring this
troubled region and focusing on posing for shutter-bugs at
Lahore and Karachi, the Hurriyat has merely re-established
its primary identity as a Pakistani surrogate.
any event, their claims to be the 'real representatives' of
the Kashmiris have been wearing thin, with the reversal of
the relative collapse of civil governance in J&K and the
successful conduct of elections at all levels - Parliamentary,
State and local. Nevertheless, with the progressive delegitimization
of terrorist violence, Islamabad's options are shrinking,
and its efforts to retain a hold on actors like the Hurriyat
can only strengthen in the foreseeable future.
writer is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
and Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict &