Kashmir Separatists Face Key Choices
14 June 2005
Karachi: The main separatist alliance in Indian administered Kashmir, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), has reached a crucial juncture. As members of the group prepare to head back to Srinagar - the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir - after an historic two-week visit to Pakistan, two key challenges confront them. One is to convince hardliners back home that their visit will not have a negative impact on their fight against Indian rule. The other is to ensure that the current split within the APHC - between moderates and hardliners - does not linger for long enough to fritter away whatever gains were secured. QUICK GUIDE Kashmir dispute Failure on either count may have crippling consequences for the fledgling peace process which both the Indian and Pakistani leadership are already - and perhaps prematurely - calling 'irreversible'. Contrary to expectations, the two-week visit seems to have thrown up more grounds for optimism than many would have anticipated in the beginning. For the first time, the separatists talked about looking at options beyond those stipulated under UN resolutions - which is a major departure from their previous position. Significantly, this is no longer seen as a betrayal by other groups or Kashmiris. Nothing is known about these other options at this stage, but the public statement of APHC leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq that the UN has 'failed Kashmiris' is indicative of a growing desire to broaden the search for a solution. This statement raised few eyebrows in Pakistan, a country which until recently was a vociferous advocate of a UN- sponsored solution. It is being seen as further evidence of a growing desire for peace above everything else. Far more important, though, is the fact that the visit seems to have set into motion a triangular - if not exactly a tripartite - peace process. This is the first time in the history of this 58-year-old conflict that the three parties involved in the conflict - India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris - are talking directly to each other. 'Radical change' Until now, India has been discussing the issue with the Kashmiris and the Pakistanis separately. And Pakistan has never had a chance to talk to the Kashmiri leadership openly and publicly. Kashmiris, meanwhile, have resolutely insisted on tripartite talks involving India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Many analysts believe that this is a radical change in the realities surrounding the Kashmir imbroglio. Among other things, it may mean greater clarity within the Kashmiri leadership regarding what it can legitimately expect from Pakistan. From being the staunchest ally of the Kashmiris for over half a century, Pakistan has recently come under accusations of having betrayed the 'Kashmir cause'. Peace has proved elusive in Kashmir for longer than a decade In fact, many in Pakistan were inclined to interpret the differences within the APHC regarding the visit - which led hardline Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani to stay away - as a reflection of the differences within the Pakistani establishment. Of the two opinions that greeted the nine leaders as they arrived in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the dominant view was that Pakistan's powerful military establishment was itself not clear about the merits of the initiative. It was argued that the hardliners could not have stayed back without a nod from Pakistan or at least a part of Pakistan's policy making structure which has in the past supported the militants. Two weeks later, visiting Kashmiri leaders seem convinced that renouncing militancy is not quite a betrayal - only a tactical shift. One obvious consequence of this shift is the temporary side-lining of the militants and the growing stature of the moderates. Mantra of peace And this is where the second big challenge comes in. From its treatment of the leaders to the body language in all the official meetings, Pakistan has left little doubt in anyone's mind that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is its preferred new horse from this point onwards. But if Mr Farooq is to make anything of his resurgent status, he must bring the militants on board. Hardline Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani has said that the visiting APHC leadership can bring nothing back from Pakistan simply because Pakistan has little to offer. Gains in the search for peace should not be 'frittered away' But while this statement may be indicative of his present state of mind, it may not be a tenable in a new environment driven by the mantra of peace. With a triangular process already underway, Mr Geelani and his allies can ill-afford to remain on the sidelines for long. Some analysts believe that getting Pakistan to influence the militants into hopping onto the peace bandwagon may have been one of the primary purposes of the visit to begin with. But irrespective of what Pakistan may or may not be able to do, it will be up to the moderates within the APHC - led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq - to ensure that the militants are convinced of becoming a part of the process. Until that happens, the unprecedented will for peace that currently pervades the subcontinent will remain hanging by a thread.