The Hurriyat Visit And Beyond
10 June 2005
New Delhi: The ongoing visit to Pakistan of several leaders of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has belied the negative expectations of those outside and inside government who felt the exercise might somehow compromise India's interests. Not only has this not happened, the visit has served to get a better focus on the peace process that is ineluctably taking shape. In all their public utterances across the Line of Control and in Pakistan proper, the Hurriyat leaders have conducted themselves with restraint and even dignity. By emphasising the primacy of politics over militancy, they have endorsed a key element of the April 18 joint statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf: terrorism must not be allowed to impede the peace process. Even as they sought to emphasise the need for the 'true representatives' of Jammu and Kashmir to be included in any discussion on the State's future, the APHC visitors avoided saying or doing anything that might derail or retard the current bilateral dialogue. The Pakistani leadership, for the most part, also appears to have stuck to a sober script. When General Musharraf met the Hurriyat leaders, he stopped short of reiterating Islamabad's earlier demand that the separatist grouping should be given a seat at the negotiating table. Instead, he said that any permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute would be possible only if the wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people were taken into account. The Hurriyat visit should also help shore up the domestic constituency for peace in Pakistan. The perception of a number of Pakistanis is that Islamabad is conceding 'too much' by way of normalisation in exchange for little or no change in New Delhi's position. This is, in fact, untrue. One instance of the new flexibility on the Indian side is the Manmohan Singh Government's virtual encouragement to the Hurriyat leaders to undertake their yatra to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Although there is still some residual resentment in South Block over Pakistan's violation of the intra-Kashmir bus agreement in allowing them to travel outside PoK, the Government would do well to move on. A far more important issue for New Delhi to work on is the pace and content of the internal peace process. The Hurriyat leadership will return to India politically rejuvenated and the indications are it is likely to accept the Government's invitation for talks. It is, therefore, essential that the Prime Minister's Office speed up the process of inter-ministerial consultation so that there is some internal clarity about what cards the Government can bring with it to the table. The only thing worse than not talking is to talk without being clear about what one wants. This is the mistake the National Democratic Alliance Government made - with the Hurriyat and, earlier, on the issue of autonomy. The United Progressive Alliance Government must learn from this experience, and learn quickly.