Where Hurriyat Tripped Up
25 June 2005
Karachi: There must have been a communication gap between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his minister of state Prithvi Raj Chouhan. The prime minister said in a letter to Atal Behari Vajpayee that by inviting the Hurriyat leaders, Pakistan had violated an understanding not to let the Indian nationals go beyond Muzaffarabad. But Chohan claimed at a function at Jalandhar that the whole world had appreciated the government for allowing the Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan. Apparently, Manmohan Singh wrote the letter when his minister of state was away in Jalandhar. Whatever the embarrassment to New Delhi, the Hurriyat delegation has not weakened the peace process in any way. Many options to tackle the Kashmir problem have come to the fore. At the same time, the UN resolutions and the demand for a plebiscite seem to have been thrown into the dustbin of history. Islamabad has, no doubt, shown again the cosy relationship it enjoys with the Hurriyat. The plus point is that Islamabad has realized the slogan for an independent Kashmir is what has taken the Kashmiris away from the pro-Pakistan sentiments. It looks as if Pakistan has made the Hurriyat give up the demand for independence and accept the status of an autonomous state. This idea needs to be pursued. Article 370 of the Indian constitution guarantees a special status for Kashmir. Pakistan should accord a similar status to its part of Kashmir, something like Article 370. It can lead to New Delhi and Islamabad transferring all subjects, except defence, foreign affairs and communications, to parts of Kashmir they have. Subsequently, borders between the two Kashmirs can be softened to mollify the Hurriyat and Islamabad which do not want to recognize the LoC. The unfortunate part is that the slogan for an independent Kashmir, if and when given up, may bring back the pro-Pakistan sentiments which dominated the valley before Hurriyat leader Yasin Malik raised the standard of a sovereign state. People in India, however, expected the Hurriyat leaders to persuade the Pakistani establishment to demolish the training camps for terrorists. Yasin Malik's disclosure that Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed trained 3,500 terrorists during the days of insurgency provided an interlude. But there was nothing new in it because Rashid had already boasted about it in a book that he wrote in Urdu a few years ago. However, the controversy over Rashid's involvement made people miss something important that President General Pervez Musharraf said in Australia: no act of violence, however big, could derail the peace process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said the opposite at a meeting with South Asian editors in New Delhi earlier this year. He had warned that any terrorist attack like the one on parliament would demolish the peace process beyond repair. Islamabad should not take it lightly. Had the Hurriyat demanded the dismantling of terrorist camps or seen its destruction when its leaders were in Pakistan, they would have earned credibility in India which they lack at present. The Hurriyat was not able to meet even the jihadi leadership in Pakistan. The appeal to it to abandon terrorism was expectedly rejected because the jihadis had the support of the ISI, the government's own arm. This dual policy of the establishment has not changed because those who are responsible for violence in Kashmir still have their headquarters of operation in Pakistan. Indian opinion is, therefore, at a loss to understand the Hurriyat endorsement of Pakistan's stand on certain matters. That the LoC would not be acceptable as the international border is on Islamabad's agenda. So is the demand for a chair for the Hurriyat at the meeting between the two countries during the talks on Kashmir. The Hurriyat leaders should realize that the closer they get to Islamabad, the farther they will go from New Delhi. One of their leaders has said that they are now going to attend to Indian opinion. They should have done it long ago. It is not too late but it will be an arduous process because India generally associates them with Pakistan and violence. They will have to present a different picture of themselves. But why talk about the entire country when the Hurriyat has not been able to win over even Jammu. The Azad Kashmir leaders vainly searched for some representative from Jammu in the Hurriyat delegation. They had to conduct even their limited talks in Urdu because they spoke Punjabi which the Hurriyat did not understand. Still, whenever the Hurriyat talks about Kashmir, it includes Jammu automatically. How does the Hurriyat expect Jammu to join it when it has never taken into account the aspirations of the region? The Hurriyat may have received an 'official status' from Islamabad. But it cannot claim to speak for Jammu. In fact, it has yet to establish its representative character even in the valley. There are so many elected bodies which represent certain elements in the state. The Hurriyat has failed to take them along. Sheikh Abdullah is the only person who came to symbolize Kashmir. He represented the whole of Kashmir, including Jammu and Ladakh. He did not have to produce any evidence. He proved it when he swept the polls in 1977, the only fair election held in the state since partition. The Hurriyat could have filled the vacuum after the Sheikh. But its insurgency reduced Kashmir to a law and order problem. It preferred to have contacts with Pakistan rather than India. One, it was out of necessity because of the Hurriyat's dependence on arms and shelter. Two, the revolt against New Delhi was bound to alienate India. Yet, the Hurriyat could have sustained its lobby in India. Some NGOs stayed in touch with it. But they were never taken into confidence. That still is the attitude of the Hurriyat. They have hardly contacted anyone in India after their return from Pakistan. They have gone the wrong way in the past. Indications are that they have not changed. One of its leaders has said that they will be meeting the heads of mission of different countries in New Delhi. This may not help. In fact, ambassadors of many countries were present at the opening ceremony of Hurriyat's office in Delhi some years ago. The office was meant to explain the Hurriyat point of view to India. What the Hurriyat leaders do not realize is that they spoil their case by trying to involve outsiders. Indian opinion is important, not the western. Nonetheless, the Hurriyat deserves appreciation for having retrieved the Kashmir problem from the Pakistani forays to make the valley its part. But they have frittered away the advantage by indulging in rhetoric that its doors are open if New Delhi wants to talk to them. This attitude is in sharp contrast to the Hurriyat behaviour towards Pakistan. The writer is a leading columnist based in New Delhi.