April 2002 News

Mirwaiz Farooq is Kashmir’s last and greatest hope: Time

24 April 2002
The Daily Excelsior

New Delhi: Senior Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has been named by the international Time Magazine in its April 29 issue as one of the 25 outstanding Asians for his most moderate and pragmatic views on peace in Jammu and Kashmir. The magazine described him as Kashmir’s last and greatest hope, who goes in the name of peace. ''To his enemies, he is a traitorous separatist. To his Kashmiri allies, he is an upstart ... To his people, he is simply the bearer of hope. But almost everyone makes the same grim prediction about 29-year-old Omar Farooq: One day, his straight talking is going to get him killed,'' it said. Consider the parties that Mirwaiz Farooq, Kashmir’s top Muslim leader, has a habit of offending. The senior Hurriyat leader calls the Indian security forces as ''killers and looters with a license'', Pakistani militant groups as ''virtual thieves, using the Kashmir conflict to solicit funds, of which almost nothing is passed to the people''. About the fundamentalist Muslims he says, ''I do not see a balance between Islam and modernisation anywhere''. Mirwaiz Farooq could utter such truths because he is beholden to no one except his God and his people, Time said. ''You have got to worry about him,'' the magazine quoted a western diplomat as having said about him. ''Every time we meet, I am just a little relieved he is still there,'' the diplomat said. Mirwaiz Farooq never wanted to be there in the first place. As a 17-year-old with a passion for computers, his father Mohammad Farooq’s work as the Mirwaiz — the high priest of Kashmir and a figurehead for the separatists — held no interest. The Hurriyat leader remembers how on a clear morning in May 1990, he went to see his father in his office in the Mirwaiz’s palace in Srinagar, only to turn away when he heard the familiar sound of heated religious discussion behind the door. Then, shots rang out. Five ... Six ... Seven, loud as cannons, spaced and deliberate. ''I, my mother, sisters and the servants ran to the outhouse. He was lying down ... There was blood, there were wounds ... The doctors did their best, but...'' The funeral drew four lakh people. ''They were coming to me and saying, ‘are you ready to take over?''’ grief-stricken and suddenly facing an inheritance Mirwaiz Farooq barely understood and, which appealed even less, he followed his father’s body to the mosque. The enraged crowd clashed repeatedly with the security forces. Farooq alleges that the Indians shot dead 65 mourners. ''But even as they were hit and fell, new ones appeared. Nobody let my father’s body drop.'' Farooq had never seen such devotion. A few days later, ignoring his distraught mother’s pleas, he hesitantly accepted his birthright as the 15th Mirwaiz. That was 12 years ago, when militancy was just five months old in the state. Today, Mirwaiz Farooq is a plain-speaking preacher trying to win a war without firing a gun. From the start, he has used the moral authority of his ancient office to display a thoroughly modern pragmatism in the search for a solution, time said. In 1993, Mirwaiz Farooq united 23 separatist and militant groups in the Hurriyat Conference, which he has led into negotiations with India, Pakistan and diplomats all over the world. ''Some people say we must join with Pakistan, others that we must have independence,'' he says. ''I am not going to set any target that another side can dismiss outright. I will go for any solution that restores the dignity of the people of Kashmir.'' Youth, instead of inexperience and immaturity, has given him energy. Crucially it also gave him a flexibility that contrasts well with the tired intransigence and blood-feud intrigues endemic to Kashmir. Diplomats and militants alike have found themselves able to accept his no- nonsense attitude, backed by his unquestioned credentials as the true voice of Kashmir, the magazine said. Frank as ever, Mirwaiz Farooq admits he was not always happy with his ordained position as a man of peace. As he grew into adulthood, the former Hurriyat Chairman watched the rebellion turn into one of the world’s bloodiest. ''I would visit houses where a child had been killed by the Undians or where the father had died in custody and I would think, ‘why not pick up the gun? why not fight? I could form the biggest army in Kashmir.''’ That Mirwaiz Farooq did not ''when he could have'' is why there was still hope for Kashmir, Time said.


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