August 2016 News

Kashmir Unrest: All Very Well To Talk With Hurriyat, But It's Just A Photo-op

8 August 2016
David Devadas

New Delhi: About 15 years ago, a senior journalist had asked me to lunch at his home. Also present was a leading figure from the intelligence set-up. The host asked me to tell his other guest what I thought would happen if the Hurriyat Conference was offered power along with maximum autonomy for the state. I tried to avoid the question, but our host insisted. Finally, I said they would accept power and then say, 'give us azadi.' My host was livid. Neither men had expected this response. So I explained what to me is quite obvious. The Hurriyat leaders cannot accept a deal that the National Conference has sought several times - and had got around 1952. People will question them about why they got so many young people killed in a struggle if they only wanted power for themselves. People will hurl shoes, I said, playing down what might actually be hurled at them - their relatives, and their homes. Looking back, there was still a sliver of hope then that negotiations with the Hurriyat could yield something with which India could move forward to a presumptive solution on Kashmir. That sliver has narrowed considerably since then. The best period for a resolution of the Kashmir issue was between 2003 and 2006. During that period, a process begun by Prime Minister Vajpayee had almost reached fruition - albeit much scaled down from Vajpayee's initial ambitious plan, which was modelled on the European Union. The scaled down model is generally called 'the four-point plan' or 'the Musharraf Plan.' The politicians generally counted under the rubric of the Hurriyat were on board, except for Syed Ali Shah Geelani. That was a significant omission. For, of all the various putative 'separatist leaders,' he has had the maximum salience since around then. Geelani's hold on the public mind too has dipped since 2008. More Salafist figures such as Masarat Alam, Ashiq Hussain alias Qasim Faktoo, Asiya Andrabi and Mushtaq Veeri have played more significant roles since, albeit more covertly. Over the past month, activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami have played a key role. At this point, most other separatist leaders have very little influence over the ongoing agitations. Limited leverage Pakistan has been trying hard for at least a year now to push the prominent faces of the Kashmiri movement, Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar and Yasin Malik, onto a common platform. They have succeeded over the past few weeks. Together, the three present a convincing image of a united movement. However, even they know that their influence over the generation of teenagers that has is at the fore on the streets is very limited. The Mirwaiz said so last autumn (desk: please hyper-link my Firstpost article which quoted the Mirwaiz last November). Another prominent Hurriyat said off the record last week that the boys in the street mobs would 'burn our houses faster than mainstream politicians' houses.' The ground has slipped much farther under their feet than it already had in 2010, when they did engage with covert talks while P Chidambaram was the Union home minister. Nothing came of those talks. Of course, one must nevertheless welcome renewed willingness for talks - particularly from a bunch so filled with hubris as India's current rulers. However, one must also be aware of the dangers and pitfalls. The list of leaders who have paid with their lives in Kashmir is long and not forgotten. It includes Mirwaiz Farooq, Dr Ahad Guroo, Professor Wani, Qazi Nissar, Abdul Ghani Lone and Abdul Majid Dar. The long-time freedom activist and Hurriyat leader Fazl Haq Qureshi is still ailing after being shot and badly injured. Former Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat's brother was shot dead; Bhat knows it was a warning to him. No plan One should be aware that these various Hurriyat leaders are not only in no position to compromise (for fear of their lives) over 'azadi,' they have never worked out the broad outlines, leave alone the details of what they stand for. 'The right to self-determination' is the most they have ever agreed upon among themselves. The direction in which that right should lead is a matter they have never discussed in the Executive or other decision-making bodies of the Hurriyat Conference since that body was formed in 1993. Their meeting with Mr Vajpayee was at best a photo-op. When Mr Vajpayee then asked them to continue the dialogue with Home Minister LK Advani, they were asked for a paper which the government could consider. They were flummoxed. So they got in touch with the London-based Jamaat ideologue Ghulam Nabi Fai. That they often do not know how to argue or defend what Fai writes for them was demonstrated recently. When Mirwaiz Umar addressed the conference of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), he looked cursorily over the long full text and read a truncated version. When the full text went up on the OIC website, telephone lines started buzzing in New Delhi, Srinagar and elsewhere. The result: the Mirwaiz's passport was withdrawn over something he probably had not even noticed. Despite all these factors, initiating talks with whomever they can in an effort to cool tempers in Kashmir is worth trying - even if turns out to be no more than a photo-op.