October 1998 News


The Withering of The Hurriyat

10th October 1998

The All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was set up in Kashmir by a conglomerate of about 35 militant outfits and their over-ground leaders in 1993, during the peak of militancy. The precise number of Hurriyat affiliates varied over time in tandem with the waxing and waning of militancy in Kashmir. Today, the Hurriyat has fewer affiliates and much less support than at any time in its history.

The Hurriyat's chief executives at one time prided themselves of being the true leaders of Kashmir with massive following. Despite claims and counter- claims, it was only the former Hurriyat chairman, Umar Farooq, who could claim to have a permanent mass base. This was chiefly due to the fact that he was Mirwaiz of Kashmir and this gave him the traditional support of large masses of Kashmiris. Two other Hurriyat chief executive members - Yasin Malik of the JKLF and Shabir Shah of the Peoples' League - were also popular leaders but never had the kind of following the Mirwaiz could command. The other four Hurriyat leaders - Abdul Gani Lone, Abbas Anasari, Abdul Gani and Syed Ali Shah Geelani - could not really claim to have mass popular support.

Abdul Gani Lone, for instance, mattered mainly on account of his seniority in politics and his ability to articulate himself in English. The latter quality proved ot be an asset because it enabled him to establish diplomat contacts, particularly with the Americans. Abbas Ansari found a place in the Hurriyat as the lone representative of the Kashmir Shia community which had otherwise stayed away from the secessionist politics of their Sunni brethren. Similarly, Abdul Gani was accorded a place in the Hurriyat executive because he happened to represent Muslim Conference, a party that is non-existent in the Indian part of Kahmir but which has ruled Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) for most of its history. Syed Ali Shah Geelani came into the executive because he represented the orthodox Jammat-e-Islami and had direct links with the Pakistani authorities. The Jammat and the Pakistanis together had floated a powerful militant organization called the Hizbul Mujahidden and for many years this organization had kept Kashmir in its thrall. Geelani's power thus flowed more from the barrel of the gun than from the masses.

The Hurriyat was never a friendly conglomerate either. Personal rivalries between Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah was endemic. In the end, their factional politics damaged them both. Shabir Shah ultimately quit the Hurriyat and now runs his won party. Malik, on other hand, has no party to speak of. The JKLF he heads has been decimated by the Indian security forces, by the rival Hizabul Mujahideen and Pakistani agents who did not want to see an independence minded organization like the JKLF to thrive in Kashmir. The Pakistanis starved and killed the JKLF while encouraging the pro-Islamic, pro-Pakistani outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen and later the Harkat-ul-Ansar and Lashkar-e-Toiba. The Pakistan based chief of the JKLF, Amanullah Khan, also broke off all ties with Malik, who then took resort to hunger strikes and similar forms of protest. Malik said these were Gandhian means of struggle. The Islamists condemned his methods while the truth was that Malik no longer had a mini army to go the Mujahideen way.

At any rate, over the years the Jamaatis systematically neutralized or isolated its rivals. Shabir Shah left the Hurriyat when he was suspended for meeting former US Ambassador, Frank Wisner, during the latter's visit to Kashmir. Yasin Malik was however suspended form the Hurriyat only for a short while. He returned after a patch up with Geelani and the agreement that his Gandhian ways would not be criticised.

The return of Yassin Malik, among other things, pointed to Geelani's growing importance in the Hurriyat. He had emerged as the kay player in the Hurriyat by virtue of the fact that he was the cheif conduit for the flow of Pakistani funds into Kashmir. Both Lone and Malik had grown dependent on him for cash. Meanwhile, only the pro-Pakistani groups remained operational in Kashmir. The others had been killed or forced to flee the Valley. Inter-gang clashes became so intense that often rival groups passed on information about the whereabouts of militants to the security forces. Having either eliminated or co-opted all rivals, Geelani's final target was the young Mirwaiz of Kashmir, Umar Frooq. This young man represented the institution of Kashmiri Islam, which has its own peculiar subtleties. The Jamaatis, of who Geelani is one, were purists and could not tolerate the notion of Kashmiri flavour of Islam. This is one reason why they are believed to have instructed their terrorists to assassinate the former Mirwaiz (father of Umar Farooq). The Jamaatis not only wanted to control the politics of the valley but also destroy all traces of Kashmir's distinct identity and character, which were rooted in strong secular traditions. Not surprisingly, Umar Farooq was removed as chairman of the Hurriyat.

He was however among the lucky ones. Many much less fortunate opponents of the Jamaatis had been physically eliminated. Their victims included Maulana Mohammed Saeed Mussoodi, one of the founders of the Kashmiri freedom movement; JKLF ideologues like Dr. A. A. Guru and Professor Abdul Ahad; and human rights activists H. N. Wakhloo and the Mirwaiz of south Kashmir, Qazi Nissar. All these killings evoked strong protests from the Kashmiri muslims. The young Mirwaiz too is angry. He is reported to have disallowed the use of Srinagar's main mosque, the Jama Masjid, which he controls, for the usual Friday address by the Hurriyat leaders. He is also said to be re-activating his own party, the Awami Action Committee.

The gameplan of the Jamaatis and their essentially fundamentalist nature today is apparent not just to the Kashmiris but even to international players, who feel they should have some role in the Kashmir problem. That the Jamaatis do not savour democratic processes was clear to all when the Hurriyat rejected the advice to contest the last state elections. This advice was given both by former US Ambassador Wisner and the pro-Pakistan British MP, Lord Avebury. The British MP. who has been the greatest champion of the Kashmiri cause in British Parliament, expressed regret at the fact that his advice was rejected and said the secessionist movement led by the Hurriyat had frittered away all the advantage it had gained over the years. The local Kashmiris too realized that Hurriyat leaders did not have the gumption to face local polls as it would reveal the true strength of their following. They wanted to rule by the power of the gun and not by democracy.

The Hurriyat's decision to bluntly reject the offer of unconditional talks made by former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, was also considered tactless by many of its followers. For, no government in New Delhi had ever agreed to talk to the secessionists unconditionally and it is very unlikely that any other government would ever renew such an offer. Indian liberals too were somewhat dismayed at the Hurriyat's complete refusal to initiate any sort of dialogue with New Delhi. Insiders claim that Umar Frooq was in favour of the talks because it suggested a major achievement on the part of the Hurriyat. But he was told to shut up and later relived of the Hurriyat's chairmanship.

The true reason for the Hurriyat's uncompromising stance has become evident in recent months. In short, the Hurriyat controlled as it is today by the Jamaatis have to ensure that no process is started in Kashmir that could lead to its independence or its continued existence with greater autonomy within the Indian union. Pakistani leaders have made it quite clear that they will not tolerate the independence of Kashmir or its continued presence within the Indian union. Kashmir must become part of Pakistan. This directive has been forced down the throat of all Kashmiri leaders who are the recipients of Pakistani and Islamist funds. The Pakistani High Commissioner is reported to have bluntly told Yasin Malik to fall in line with the pro-Pakistan line and Malik is reported to have tacitly agreed. Today he has no other choice given his complete dependence on Geelani. Thus Yasin Malik, the very leader who championed the cause of independent Kashmir and parted ways with pro-Pakistan agents like Amanullah Khan, today is forced to toe the Pakistani line. Not surprisingly, the average Kashmiri, who stood by the freedom (azzadi) movement, are more than a little bewildered - and a lot disillusioned.

Even sections of the militants gave been working against the Jamaatis and their allies. The burning down of the Chrar-e-Sharif shrine by the Pakistani, Mast Gul, was a clear signal that the purist Jamaatis had no feelings what soever for Kashmiri sentiments. If they could burn down the shrine of Kashmiri's patron saint then they could do anything to make Kashmir part of Pakistan. This revelation sparked off the revolt against the pro-Pakistani militants. One large group in north Kashmir led by Kukka Parrey and another in south Kashmir led by Ghulam Nabi Azad turned their guns towards Jamaatis and their militants. Hundreds were killed in the ensuring violences which is yet to completely die out.

The Hurriyat today is an open and undisguised mouthpiece of Pakistan. The Kashmiri wanted a leadership that would espouse their cause, their ideas and look to secure their aims. Instead, they have got the Hurriyat. They now also have pure Pakistani outfits like the brutal Harkat ul Ansar and the Lashkar-e-Toiba operating with impunity in Kashmir. The series of mass killings at Sangrama, Wandhama, Prankote, Champnari, Thakrai etc. are proof of the methods of the new masters from Pakistan. There is no regard for Kashmiriat, for Kashmiri traditions or basic human values. The struggle in Kashmir has became a no holds barred power struggle.

The Hurriyat leaders have for the most part become passive onlookers of a terrible movement turning uglier by the day. If they are inactive in any line, it is in amassing personal wealth. The Hurriyat leaders have publicly been accused of purchasing mansions and spending lavishly. None of these charges have been denied. At the same time, thousands of Kashmiris find that their future looks bleak with no end to the killings and political machinations wrought by the Hurriyat in sight. Not surprisingly, there is growing popular anger at the Hurriyat. It is sheer effrontery on the part of the Hurriyat to claim that it represents all the people of the state, including people of all communities and regions. The ordinary Kashmiri will ensure that the Hurriyat will either be engulfed by the same flames they lit in their state or else consigned to the dustbin of history.


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