24 May 2004
Lahore: AS there had been no indication that Maulvi Abbas Ansari was having any qualms about the rejection of his pro-Indian quisling policies at the hands of the APHC's rank and file, his announcement that he was stepping down from the chairmanship of the Hurriyet faction he was leading, has come as a surprise. The significance of his declared reason, 'if that could help forge greater unity in the freedom struggle,' has to be seen in the light of changes the Indian political scene has just undergone. His group had emerged as a consequence of the BJP government's persistent behind-the-scenes wooing of elements, which were showing signs of becoming convinced that there was little likelihood of India changing its mind, whether about granting the people of Kashmir their legitimate right of political choice or toning down repression. They were thus considered ready to fall for any face-saving formula devised by New Delhi. Maulvi Ansari, who was elected Chairman of the united 25-party APHC in July 2003, soon showed willingness to hold talks with India without Pakistan's participation. This stand against the amalgam's declared policies led to a revolt in the executive and, once ousted from its leadership, he formed his own faction in September. The Ansari group held two rounds of inconclusive talks with the Indian leadership now sitting on the opposition benches in the Lok Sabha. Not only the change of guard at New Delhi but also the Kashmiris' poor interest in the just-concluded electoral process might have contributed to the Maulana's decision. Dr Manmohan Singh has also hinted at his readiness to hold talks with all parties in Kashmir. Maulvi Ansari's move to nominate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is on his faction's executive, to take his place could prove more responsive to the people's wishes, though it would be difficult to predict at this stage what precise course of action the Mirwaiz adopts. There can be no doubt about his nationalist credentials. According to press reports, the Mirwaiz has expressed the wish for India and Pakistan to hold negotiations about the future of the disputed state at Srinagar. While the proposal holds only symbolic significance in the context of the issue's final outcome, it is most important that both factions of the Hurriyet should avail of the changed situation to iron out their differences through talks and seriously consider coalescing together again. Only by putting up a united front against a cunning and manipulating adversary would the Kashmiris be able to secure their right to freedom. Standing apart, they would fall an easy prey to its machinations. Islamabad should exercise its influence with leaders from both sides and help them resolve their differences. Implicit in Maulvi Ansari's resignation is the realisation that his faction's solo flight has failed to make any headway towards a just solution.