Kashmiri Separatists Go Down Slain Moderate's Path
2 June 2005
Islamabad: The last time a separatist leader from Indian Kashmir went to Pakistan and advised militants it was time to end the armed struggle and begin negotiating he was assassinated six months later. Abdul Gani Lone, a senior leader in the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, in May 2002 as India and Pakistan came close to a fourth war. Three years on, with South Asia's nuclear rivals' seeking lasting peace, Lone's torch has been picked up by other members of the Hurriyat alliance of separatist parties, who began a trip to Pakistan-held Kashmir on Thursday. 'It is Lone's message. There is more and more recognition among moderates and within the Hurriyat that a negotiated settlement is preferable to armed struggle,' said Samina Ahmed, Pakistan director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank. Ahmed saw the visiting Hurriyat leaders firstly seeking to forge a stronger sense of unity with moderates in Pakistan's side of Kashmir, and the next step would be to take the message to militants to wind down a conflict that has cost more than 45,000 lives since it began in 1989. The United Jihad Council, a loose alliance of around a dozen militant groups, ruled out meeting the Hurriyat leaders, who are coming without Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the leader of its hardline faction. But the Hurriyat moderates can still meet leaders of the insurgency individually, a council member told Reuters. 'If the group has a meeting with leaders of militant organisations, it could be really important,' commented a Western observer familiar with the India-Pakistan peace process. Certainly, the timing to get across any message is more propitious than when Lone made his pitch to Pakistan's jihadis, or holy warriors, two months after al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Whereas the Hurriyat leaders visiting the Pakistan side go with India's blessing, Lone was permitted to go for the marriage of his son Sajjad to the daughter of Amanullah Khan, chairman of the Pakistan-based Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). After the feasting in Pakistan's army garrison city of Rawalpindi was over, Lone met militant leaders. 'Abdul Gani Lone told them that militancy had done its job by re-invigorating the issue of Kashmir. It had given new life to the issue at national and international levels. They should now proceed towards the political process,' Khan recalled. The jihadis were too stirred up to heed Lone's words, incensed by President Pervez Musharraf's decision to join Washington's global war on terrorism - a decision that brought his government into conflict with several militant groups it had supported in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Less than two weeks ago, thousands of Kashmiris commemorated the anniversaries of the killings of the popular Lone and Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq, the spiritual leader of Kashmiri Muslims, who was killed by unidentified gunmen in 1990. Both were killed on May 21 - though 12 years apart. Sons of both slain men, Bilal Gani Lone and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, were on the bus to Pakistani Kashmir on Thursday. 'We will try to talk with political and militant leadership across the other side and seek their opinion,' Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of Hurriyat's moderate faction, told Reuters earlier this week.