March 2002 News

Hurriyat shops for face-saver

14 March 2002
The Indian Express
Muzamil Jaleel

Srinagar: US pressure on the Hurriyat Conference to participate in the assembly elections has brought the contradictions within this separatist body to the surface. The situation has reached such a pass that the Chairman, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, yesterday threatened to resign. The drama is being enacted in New Delhi, away from the media glare that’s now focused on Ayodhya. Bhat, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, Jamat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, People’s League’s Khalil Ahmad and People’s Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone have been camping there for sometime now. Sources in Hurriyat say they are under tremendous pressure from the US for participating in ‘‘free and fair’’ elections and establishing their credentials through the democratic process. In this connection, former US ambassador to Bangladesh, Haward Schafer, had a meeting with Bhat in New Delhi on March 11, soon after the leaders arrived the capital. Earlier, senior diplomats from United Kingdom, Canada and Germany had visited Srinagar on a similar mission. Although the diplomats had not indicated any change in their policies on Kashmir, their thrust for participation in the electoral process was quite obvious. Pakistani daily Dawn, quoting an unnammed senior state department official, said that ‘‘the United States would like to see a free and fair election in J&K in which every one could participate’’. The official has been briefing a select group of South Asian journalists at the conservative thinktank, Heritage Foundation. The Hurriyat executive — the seven-member policy-making body of the conglomerate — is divided on the issue. Sources said Bhat threatened to resign after a verbal duel with People’s Conference leader Abdul Gani Lone. Lone had shown his displeasure over not been taken into confidence when the Hurriyat announced its own ‘election commission’ recently. Lone and former Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq are said to be in favour of a review of the Hurriyat’s long-standing ‘No election’ policy. A source said that the two leaders have called for contesting elections, saying the global situation had changed after the 9-11 events. The leaders, sources said, have been arguing that the conglomerate needs to think of innovative ideas to confront the changes in global politics Umar, sources said, had even mooted the idea of symbolic participation by fielding candidates in select constituencies to show their political strength. Even contesting all the assembly constituencies in Srinagar district was proposed; the Mirwaiz reportedly felt they would easily win becuase of his own support base in the area. Bhat, Malik and Geelani are the hardliners whose strategy to fend off all the pressure by launching the impractical plan of an ‘election commission’ seems to have backfired. It is learnt that the Americans are also offering to help lift the travel restrictions on the Hurriyat leaders if they embrace the democratic process although the US policy of no mediation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir remains unchanged. This, sources said, will make it easy for these leaders to manage a Pakistan trip, earlier denied by the Centre. Bhat, it is said, has been responding to all these moves with a demand for a public assurance that the elections will be held to talk about the final solution to the Kashmir dispute rather than governing the troubled state.


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