Cross border peace meet on Kashmir a non-starter
15 March 2001
The Asian Age
Srinagar: Notwithstanding the optimism being expressed by former chief minister G.M. Shah, his otherwise fabulous idea of bringing the leaders from all shades of life on both sides of the border together to discuss the vexed issue of Kashmir at a meeting in Jammu next weekend is unlikely to take off. At least, the invitees from across the border may not be able to attend it. The Union ministry of external affairs is reported to be reluctant to issue visas to the invitees from Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir for varied reasons including their involvement in anti-Indian activities at home and abroad. The invitees include among others JKLF faction chairman Amanullah Khan against whom a number of criminal cases are registered in India, including abduction and subsequent murder of the then Kashmir University vice chancellor Professor Musheerul Haq, his personal assistant Abdul Gani and general manager of HMT’s watch factory at Srinagar H.L. Khera by militants in early 1990s. The other prominent invitee from PoK is its “prime minister” Barrister Sultan Mehmood. He is reported to be enthusiastic about the conference and equally eager to attend it. But since India does not recognise the status of what Islamabad calls Azad Kashmir, the question of issuing a visa to its “prime minister” does not arise. Comparable reasons are being cited for the MEA’s denial of the facility to the other aspirants from the PoK and Pakistan. Back home, doubts are being expressed about the real motive behind Mr Shah’s convening such a meet. Hurriyat Conference, the main alliance of the various Kashmiri secessionist organisations, has put a question mark before the very purpose of the meet. The group’s leaders have not only refused to attend it but publicly ridiculed Mr Shah for “carrying forward his Indian agenda” by organising this meet. The Hurriyat Conference leadership may have a reason in saying so, particularly when the Centre is unsettled on whether to allow it to visit Pakistan for holding discussions with relevant people there as a prelude to the proposed comprehensive dialogue on the issue of Kashmir. Few others believe that the meet is a deliberate attempt to marginalise the Hurriyat Conference. Also, several other Kashmiri outfits outside the Hurriyat Conference are somewhat ambivalent whether to attend the meet or not. Pakistani official media has also criticised Mr Shah’s move in the “belief” that it is actually being sponsored by the Indian home ministry. Dismissing the criticism, the former chief minister’s son, Mr Muzaffar Shah said: “It is a humble exercise aimed at finding practically workable and politically feasible recommendations for an amicable resolution of the Kashmir problem.” Latest reports, however, suggested that Mr Shah has decided to postpone the meet, once again. He is planning to explain the reason to the media in Jammu later this week. Earlier on Tuesday, the Hurriyat Conference while accusing Mr Shah of deliberately trying to revert the trend set in by it and other secessionist organisations asked its constituents not to attend the proposed conference. The junior Shah asked about the refusal of the Hurriyat Conference leaders to attend the meet said “the loss is totally theirs if they won’t participate.” He would not agree to the notion that their refusal and publicly questioning the bonafides of the organisers of the meet has placed a question mark before the event itself. He said that the meet was postponed twice in the wake of the Hurriyat Conference’s proposed Pakistan visit. Taking a dig at the Hurriyat Conference, Mr. Muzaffar said that the amalgam has miserably failed in suggesting and identifying a commonly acceptable solution to the Kashmir problem. “No doubt, the Hurriyat Conference is a force, yet it has failed in determining whether it is a political or religious body and is undecided even on the issue of starting the process of dialogue,” he said. The dilemma within the Hurriyat Conference, he asserted, had caused suspicion and misgivings about its ideology and representatives character. Mr. Shah’s Awami National Conference, therefore, felt it necessary to bring people from all walks of society, regions and different ideologies including the Hurriyat Conference together to hold free discussions on the issue of Kashmir and all available options to recommend solutions. The junior Shah made a passionate appeal to Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Pakistan’s chief executive, general Parvez Musharraf to render all necessary help and cooperation for making the conference a success. Asked if the meet would be cancelled or postponed in case the Indian authorities refuse to issue visas to the invitees from the other side of the border or Islamabad denies them permission to travel to Jammu, the junior Shah said the final decision would be taken by his father who is the president of the ANC.