Separatist Leaders Write To J&K Interlocutors, Say 'no'26 February 2011
Times of India
Srinagar: A one-page letter from separatist leader Shabbir Shah to the central interlocutors on Friday declining an invitation to talks - the first and only official contact with separatists - has sent a wave of excitement here. Even if it's to say 'no', the separatists have finally established contact with the team, say observers. In the letter, written on the official letterhead of his party, Jammu & Kashmir Freedom Party, Shah has expressed his inability to talk to the central team as long as major demands like troops reduction, release of prisoners, etc, are not met. Pretty standard stuff, but still, it led to a flutter of excitement among the interlocutors who consider this a breakthrough. The reasons are not difficult to fathom. In the next two weeks, the central team of Dileep Padgoankar, M Ansari and Radha Kumar, will submit their interim report to the central government, on a political settlement in Kashmir. But the report has a yawning gap. As it stood, it would have been without any input whatsoever, suggestion or opinion or even opposition, from the entire separatist camp. The team has not been able to engage with either faction of the Hurriyat. So, who have they engaged with in their visits to the state? The official press release gives the list that includes, 'mainstream political parties, RTI and human rights activists, writers, stone-pelters, doctors, journalists, social and cultural organizations, trade unionists and chairpersons of human rights and women's commission.' No mention of the Hurriyat, despite the team's climb down, from initially saying they would not go uninvited to talk to anyone, to sending emails to the separatist camp asking for their views. But that's just half the story, the Hurriyat itself is hopelessly divided, On Saturday, the JKLF's Yasin Malik sat on a one-day hunger strike for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, but the hot topic of conversation was Shabbir Shah's letter to the interlocutors, a break from the decision of the Hurriyat moderates to defer any decision till the chairman Mirwaiz Omer Farooq returned to Srinagar. Also reflected in the speeches made was the unease within the moderates at losing space to mainstream parties in Kashmir, as both the ruling National Conference as well as the opposition PDP have of late been stressing on their own autonomy and self-rule formulas. The contours of both proposals are strikingly similar to what many in the moderate Hurriyat camp privately agree as the only solution to the Kashmir issue. Under stress from this flank, the moderates have another headache - an increasing pressure to unify with Syed Ali Shah Geelani's hardline Hurriyat faction. 'I have never been part of any meaningless exercise, why are you flogging us with the unity lash?' said the senior moderate Hurriyat leader, Prof Abdul Gani Bhatt, in a recent statement. If the moderates are confused, the situation for Geelani, isn't any better. For a leader who for many years worked on the sole agenda of Kashmir's merger with Pakistan as the solution to the Kashmir isuue, Geelani is now having to deal with fact that for many Kashmiri youth, Pakistan isn't a very attractive proposition. In the summer unrest of 2010, pro-Pakistan slogans were conspicuous by their absence. Sources close to the interlocutors say they believe this is is the reason why the Hurriyat camp is avoiding contact. 'What will they say? They have no unity, no framework that they agree on. All they have are slogans,' they say. But, then, the interlocutors aren't making much headway with the state government either, despite repeatedly making recommendations for the release of stone-pelters, they have to watch impassively as the state government, alarmed by intelligence reports, has actually stepped up the arrest of stone-pelters in the past month. On the key recommendation of troops reduction and a re-evaluation of laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, they have again met with resistance from the defence ministry.