Zardari’s Overtures To PDP Ruffle Valley Separatists

29 March 2008

Srinagar: Kashmiri separatists are in a deep sulk, again. This time, too, over PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. He may have called for efforts to resolve Kashmir, but in Kashmir, Zardari’s real message was not for the ears but for the eyes. Separatists were stunned by the person sitting next to Zardari when he made the statement: PDP chairperson Mehbooba Mufti. Separatists are refusing to react officially as they are wary of rubbing the fledgling new democratic Pakistan Government the wrong way. More so, at a time when the new establishment in Islamabad reflects the democratic will of the people of Pakistan and has a global acceptability. But the Kashmiri delegation in Pakistan, which is there to attend the Pugwash Conference on Kashmir, hasn’t ceased to rile the separatists. For one, the Kashmiri leadership in the conference has none from the Valley’s secessionist groups. While Yaseen Malik, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat and Sajjad Lone who were invited to the conference haven’t gone, hawks led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani were not invited. “We feel shocked. The new Government in Pakistan is crossing the line where even Musharraf showed restraint,” said a leader of the hardline Hurriyat faction, adding that they were helping set up the “pro-India” leaders as the true political representatives of the state. “Then who are we - who led the Azadi struggle in the state and worked for Pakistan’s interests?” Though they do not acknowledge it publicly, the development has also caused disillusionment among the moderates. In fact, the doves led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq weren’t keen on attending the conference due to their closeness to President Pervez Musharraf. Moderates anticipated difficulty negotiating the strained relations between Musharraf and the newly-elected Government. However, the sight of Zardari addressing a press conference with Mehbooba has been too much to bear. For, beyond its immediate shock of being the first time that any Pakistani leader has addressed the media alongside a mainstream Kashmiri leader, the development has in one stroke brought mainstream Kashmiri leaders on par with separatists, so far Pakistan’s exclusive line of communication with Kashmir. “I would say it is not a good signal from Pakistan. It is really alarming; it is time for us to introspect,” said senior moderate leader Nayeem Khan, adding the Hurriyat had reservations about going to Pakistan as they were made to share platform with the pro-India leaders. “A dichotomy has crept into Pakistan’s policies. And we have to take this fact on board.”