The Choice Before APHC
9 July 2004
Karachi: The split within the ranks of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference has long worried everyone concerned with the Kashmir cause. If the resignation on Wednesday by the 26-party alliance chairman Maulana Abbas Ansari is a bid to reunite the breakaway faction headed by the Jamat-i-Islami chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani, it will be seen as a step in the right direction. It should enable the two Hurriyat factions to sit across the table and agree on a leader acceptable to all component parties and political and religious groups comprising the alliance. Hurriyat founder-chairman Mir Waiz Umar Farooq has hit the nail on the head by stressing the need for unity among Kashmiris' rank and file at this critical juncture. This is necessary to validate the claim that given the large number of parties and political and religious groups representing all shades of Kashmiri opinion in its fold, the APHC alone can speak for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Fissures began to appear within the Hurriyat ranks last year over whether to accept the invitation extended to it by the then Indian Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to enter into a dialogue with New Delhi. Whether causing a rift within the APHC was the real motive behind the BJP-led government's invitation for talks is anyone's guess. The split came when the erstwhile Hurriyat chairman, Maulana Ansari, opted for the dialogue through a majority vote, with Mr Geelani breaking ranks. Initial contacts between New Delhi and the APHC prior to the election in India earlier this year yielded no significant results, nor any concessions from the Indian side. Mr Advani refused to withdraw the draconian laws enacted under the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) or reduce the number of security forces - 700,000 troops - present in the valley. Doing so would have found wide public support for the APHC's decision to pursue a dialogue. But that should now be consigned to the past. With the ouster from power of the hardline BJP-led government in New Delhi, and the Congress-led ruling coalition's stated eagerness to pursue peace with Pakistan, there should be renewed, if cautious, hope among Kashmiris for a more meaningful dialogue this time round. New Delhi can help by announcing a number of confidence-building measures such as the scrapping of Pota, to which the Congress-led coalition committed itself during its election campaign, and a reduction in troops in the valley. This would weaken the extremists and strengthen the moderate leaders who, like the majority of the Kashmiris they represent, want to see an end to bloodshed and lawlessness that the armed insurgency and India's highhanded policy of suppression have confronted them with. Such measures will have a moderating influence on hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Maulana Ansari has made his own contribution towards reuniting the APHC by opting out of its chairmanship. This provides a face-saving opportunity for Mr Geelani and his supporters who have been opposed to the will of the majority within the APHC to return fully to the alliance's fold. A point has come in the Kashmiris' struggle for their right of self- determination when they have to speak with one voice. This alone will ensure the eventual possibility of holding a tripartite dialogue involving India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri representatives over the future of the disputed state.