Hurriyat's Pakistan visit: Internal Contradictions Exposed

Md. Sadiq
1 October 2005

Ever since the Kashmiri separatist conglomerate, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), split into what is known as the moderate and hardline factions, the outfit is plagued by inherent contradictions that were once again revealed during their visit to Pakistan in June 2005. This was the first-ever visit to Pakistan by the APHC, which took place in the context of improving relations between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan. The composite dialogue process started by the two rivals also included a significant confidence building measure in the form of greater interaction between the divided Kashmir. While people-to-people contact between divided Kashmir has generated a huge goodwill for peace, the Hurriyat visit failed to produce any significant breakthrough. On the contrary, it was evident that there was no unanimity within the separatist outfit over the structure and component of Kashmir negotiations.


Preferring comfort over symbolism
A nine-member APHC delegation arrived in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) on 2 June 2005 in the first ever visit to Pakistan by any Kashmiri delegation from across the Line of Control (LoC). The visiting delegation comprised Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Moulvi Abbas Ansari, Ghani Bhat, Yasin Malik, Bilal Lone, Muhammad Abdullah, Muhammad Yaqoob, Ghulam Mustafa Butt and Fazle Haq Qureshi. The delegation travelled most of the journey in Indian Kashmir by car and before crossing over to PoK, they boarded the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus which brought them at the Chakothi sector in PoK. The delegation was driven to Muzaffarabad, capital of PoK, where they met President of PoK, Sardar Muhammad Anwar Khan. Analysts say that even though the Hurriyat claims to represent the Kashmiris, they chose to avoid the rough bus journey and rather preferred to travel mostly by car. Though the Hurriyat claimed that it did not board the bus as it did not want to appear to be travelling on an 'Indian' permit, the outfit ignored the fact that the entire exercise had been organised and facilitated by the Indian government. Moreover, by boarding the Kashmir bus, the Hurriyat could have struck a chord with the common people as well as contribute to the security of the bus, considering their influence on militant outfits operating in the Valley. The Hurriyat clearly chose comfort over symbolism which could have generate popular goodwill for their efforts.

Hardline Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was however not part of the delegation as he refused to participate in the Kashmir peace process. Geelani has criticised the moderate Hurriyat faction and compared them to Sheikh Abdullah, who, Geelani alleged, was pro-India in outlook. Geelani had also expressed concern at the 'softening' of Pakistan's stand on Kashmir and stated that the Hurriyat did not need General Pervez Musharraf's authorisation to prove their representative character. Geelani had also alleged that Musharraf was conceding on the Kashmir issue under US pressure. Analysts say that Geelani was refused permission to visit PoK as New Delhi feared that extremist outfits like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) would use his presence to mobilise people against President General Pervez Musharraf, India and the composite peace dialogue. Even the former Bhartiya Janata Party-led NDA government had refused to release Geelani's passport for similar reasons. The only other leade r to be refused permission to travel to PoK was Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Ahmad Shah. The Indian government had also laid the condition that the Hurriyat delegation could only visit PoK and not beyond. However, New Delhi left the implementation of this condition to the Pakistan government.

Discordant Notes
Even before the arrival of the delegation, the Muttahida Jihad Council (MJC), an alliance of militant outfits based in Pakistan under the leadership of Syed Salahuddin, struck a discordant note on 1 June saying that it would not meet the Hurriyat delegation. In a statement released to the media, the MJC said that they disapproved of the visit of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat and pledged to continue with jihad against India. The Hurriyat position was clearly at variance with the MJC which continues to control the violence levels in Kashmir as well as exercise influence over the separatist conglomerate. Throughout the Hurriyat visit, the MJC insisted that Geelani should be part of any process to negotiate the Kashmir issue. Even though Hurriyat leaders as well as Yasin Malik met with Salahuddin separately, they failed to convince Salahuddin who cast his vote in favour of Geelani playing a major role in the peace process.

On 3 June, APHC leaders addressed the joint sitting of the PoK Legislative Assembly where they stated that while the peace process was 'irreversible', an 'imposed' solution to the Kashmir problem without the involvement of Kashmiris would not be acceptable. The Hurriyat leaders also expressed reservations against PoK leaders who support the Kashmir negotiations between India and Pakistan. The Hurriyat leaders reiterated that a solution to the Kashmir problem was acceptable only if it was born out of a trilateral dialogue. They also said that if either of the two countries was not in favour a trilateral dialogue, then both could hold bilateral negotiations after discussions with Kashmiri leaders. APHC chairman questioned the fact that it took more 50 years to unite Kashmiris on either side of the LoC. Praising Pakistan for supporting the Kashmir movement, Farooq invited PoK leaders for a reciprocal visit to strengthen the peace process. While Farooq was diplomatic in hi s address to the joint session, Yasin Malik accused some of the Kashmiri leaders of being 'hypocritical' as they did not want to offend either India or Pakistan for selfish interests. Malik also said that PoK leaders would be betraying Kashmiris if they supported a dialogue process with the participation of Kashmiris. Bilal Ghani Lone said the APHC had committed several mistakes during the past 15 years and needed change its approach. Without mentioning Ali Shah Geelani, he said things could still go smoothly if certain individuals remained out of the peace process. Without naming anyone, Maulana Abbas Ansari reinforced that several Kashmiri leaders were garnering favours from both Pakistan and India, adding that such people were undermining the struggle because of their hypocrisy and selfishness. Abdul Ghani Bhat said the peace process required a new approach to settle the dispute.

The Hurriyat address to the PoK Assembly made it clear that there are inherent contradictions within the separatist outfit on the structure of the Kashmir negotiations. Malik's speech indicated his reservations about the nature of support that the Hurriyat would get across the Line of Control. Ansari's speech clearly indicated the divergence of views within the Hurriyat over the role of militant outfits and hardline leaders like Geelani in resolving the Kashmir issue. Though some of the Hurriyat leaders want Geelani to be kept out of the peace process, others including the militant outfits favour his inclusion. Unless Islamabad withdraws its support to Geelani, he will continue to be a major concern for the Hurriyat leaders, some of whom are clearly against his hardline tactics.

During their visit, some of the Hurriyat leaders, separately and jointly, met several PoK based commanders of militant outfits, including those of Hizbul Mujahideen (Syed Salahuddin), Al Umar (Mushtaq Latrum), Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, Muslim Janbaz Force and Hizb-e-Islami. It was evident that the Hurriyat leaders were seeking enlist the support of militant outfits in order to reduce Geelani's influence. The fact that some delegation members met the militant commanders separately clearly indicates that there is divergence within the APHC on the issue. However, the attempt to sideline Geelani failed as all militant commanders, including the powerful Syed Salahuddin, expressed support for Geelani's inclusion in the peace process.

Aimless Interactions
Despite the fact that the Indian government had laid the condition that the Hurriyat delegation could not go beyond PoK, the APHC chose to ignore and travelled to other parts of Pakistan. In doing so, the Pakistani government assisted them in contravention of the understanding reached with India. However, New Delhi chose to show flexibility on the issue and did not react adversely to the Hurriyat travelling to other parts of Pakistan. On 6 June, the Hurriyat delegation arrived in Lahore, capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, where they met with Governor Lt Gen. (r) Khalid Maqbool, Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Lahore Nazim Mian Amer Mahmood, provincial ministers, parliamentarians and bureaucrats. From Lahore, the Hurriyat leaders went to Islamabad, capital of Pakistan. Farooq and Malik separately met with Salahuddin in Islamabad but failed to convince the Hizbul leader to withdraw support to Geelani. On 7 June, President General Pervez Musharraf hosted a din ner reception for the Hurriyat delegation in Islamabad during which he assured them that Islamabad would consult the 'true representatives' of the Kashmiri people on the dialogue process. President Musharraf held a one-on-one meeting with Yasin Malik after the dinner that continued late into the night. Malik refused to divulge details of the meeting.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting with Musharraf, the Hurriyat said that they had agreed not to demand Kashmir's division on religious grounds. Mirwaiz Farooq said that the Hurriyat favoured division of Kashmir on geographical grounds as they did not want Kashmir to lose its identity and integration. He also said that they did not want to further separate Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. Reacting to Musharraf's proposal, Hurriyat leaders expressed their trust in Musharraf's approach towards Kashmir, but had demanded more time to think over his proposal of demilitarising Kashmir after dividing it into seven separate regions. Mirwaiz went on to the extent of saying that the Hurriyat could consider solutions that are outside the ambit of the United Nations resolutions. The Hurriyat delegation also met with Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri who reiterated Pakistan's commitment to resolve the Kashmir issue. However, the official dinner hosted by Musharraf was boycotted by the entire opposition parties of Pakistan. Moreover, even the Hurriyat delegation did not make any effort to interact with the opposition parties. Observers say that by ignoring the two main political parties of Pakistan (PPP and PML), the Hurriyat missed an opportunity to seek support of a large spectrum of democratic voice in Pakistan.

The Hurriyat interactions in Lahore and Islamabad were clearly aimless and full of contradictions. First, they ignored the dominant political voices of Pakistan and rather chose to play along with the military and military supported outfits. This clearly indicated that the Pakistan military continues to dictate to the Hurriyat. Second, throughout their visit, the Hurriyat altered between several positions for resolving the Kashmir issue. In the beginning, they wanted a trilateral negotiations with the inclusion of Kashmir. At the same time they stated that bilateral discussions were possible if both India and Pakistan talk to Kashmiris separately. After their meeting with Musharraf, the Hurriyat went on to express that they would consider solutions outside the UN resolutions. The Hurriyat also did not react to Musharraf's proposal of dividing Kashmir into seven regions but merely chose to buy time arguing that it would think over this proposal.

A Futile Visit
During the public interactions in Pakistan, the Hurriyat delegation stressed for flexibility from all actors involved in the Kashmir issue. Rather than outlining a clear policy position on the Kashmir issue, the delegation spoke in different voices at different places. While they accepted the irrelevance of the UN resolutions, the delegation was vague about flexible solutions such as geographical division of Kashmir, a federal structure for the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir or even a United States of Kashmir. While the delegation stuck to its demand of being included in the negotiations, it refused to participate in elections to test their representative character and also opposed the inclusion of mainstream elected leaders from Jammu and Kashmir. This was despite the fact that Hurriyat had mooted the idea that Kashmiri representatives could be chosen through a free and fair poll in all the five regions (Jammu, Kas hmir, Ladakh, PoK, Northern Areas). This idea has found some support within Indian Kashmir with Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh endorsing the idea. It an internationally recognised fact that the 2002 assembly elections held in Jammu and Kashmir were free and fair. However, no elections have been held in the Northern Areas since 1947. The Hurriyat, while ignoring these contradictions in Pakistan's policies, rather chose to oppose a possible role for the elected representatives from Indian Kashmir. Pakistan has however apparently chosen a different line and has invited elected leaders from Indian Kashmir to visit Pakistan.

The Pakistan visit of the Hurriyat team appears to more of an attempt to gauge the mood of the military-militant establishment. Their interactions were largely limited to representatives of the military regime and militant commanders. Observers say that the split in the Hurriyat engineered by Geelani has left the moderate faction under Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a dilemma. The moderate faction clearly does not have the support of the militants; two prominent moderate leaders have been killed by militants. Moreover, the moderate faction is riven by internal squabbles and has failed to close its ranks either in terms of leadership or policy. The Indian government has undertaken several initiatives to strengthen the Kashmir peace process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has held talks with the Hurriyat leaders in September 2005. The India-Pakistan peace process is also progressing well and both sides have announced several confidence building measures to cushion the peace process for significant decisions to be taken a later stage. Amidst these ongoing developments, the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference appears to struggling to find a strong foundation for being counted in the Kashmir negotiations. Unless the Hurriyat evolves a clear policy position (like for instance, the Geelani faction which continues to express support for Kashmir accession to Pakistan), chances of the separatist conglomerate playing a constructive role appear bleak. Rather, the danger is that it may collapse due to its failure to resolve its internal contradictions.