Salahuddin Ready For Talks
In an interview to Kashmir News Service (KNS) on 18 August 2006, Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin had said that self-rule as a solution to the Kashmir imbroglio was a non-starter unless both India and Pakistan demilitarised their respective zones of the disputed territory. Referring to the self-rule proposal floated by President General Pervez Musharraf and supported by moderate Kashmiri separatists and a few pro-India Kashmiri leaders, Salahudin said, "The self-rule proposal (cannot) be implemented unless India and Pakistan withdraw troops from both parts of Kashmir. We will encourage any move that will lead to withdrawal of troops from both parts of Kashmir." He however added that self-rule was not the total solution. During the wide-ranging interview, he also stressed that militants needed a green signal from New Delhi before implementing a ceasefire and said that the militant leadership was ready for elections under the supervision of the international community.
In that interview, Salahuddin had expressed his willingness (directly or indirectly) to participate in the talks with the Indian government although he stipulated certain pre-conditions such as withdrawal of security forces from both parts of Kashmir, conditional ceasefire, release of detenues lodged in various jails, cessation of human rights violations on Kashmiris by security forces etc. However, this move by Salahuddin apparently infuriated his hardline mentor, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who said that there was no use of a ceasefire unless India accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory whose final settlement had to be reached under United Nations' resolutions in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiris.
Though the reasons are not clear at present, this is for the first time that the UJC Chief has issued a statement evincing flexibility in his approach towards resolving the Kashmir problem. Some observers are of the view that Salahuddin seems to losing influence in the situation arising out of the ongoing India-Pakistan talks on the Kashmir issue. Secondly, groupism and ideological differences have cropped up within the pro-Pakistan outfits active in Kashmir. Thirdly, the Hizbul Mujahideen is also apprehensive about the developing situation in the Valley as Indian security forces in recent months have eliminated several militants and are gaining control over the security situation in the Valley. Moreover, New Delhi's seriousness in pursuing the composite dialogue with Pakistan as well as with moderate separatists of Kashmir has perhaps conveyed to Salahuddin that he might soon become an unwanted actor and a negotiable commodity in the long run.
Geelani and his supporters including the G-4 comprising Al-Nasreen, Farzanadan-e-Millat, Save Kashmir Movement and Al-Afreen were perturbed with the statement of Hizbul Chief and termed it as useless and also reminded him that the Hizbul Mujahideen should not forget the fate of the earlier ceasefire, which resulted in a stalemate. In a joint statement issued in Srinagar, the four outfits had accused Hizbul Mujahideen supreme commander Syed Salahuddin of making 'pointless calls for ceasefire' in Kashmir. Geelani even went to the extent of criticising the moderate Hurriyat leaders for participating in the talks with the Indian government. Geelani also put a question mark on the reported unity moves between the two factions of the Hurriyat as advised by Pakistan in the light of resumption of talks between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai blasts. Geelani has rather urged for the strengthening of the resistance forces of separatists groups to continue waging the fight for Kashmir.
Both Geelani and Salahuddin have their own compulsions in issuing such statements. Salahuddin is facing alienation within his own outfit. A faction of the Hizbul Mujahideen led by former Divisional Commander Almas Khan r/o Kupwara had reportedly deserted the group. Significantly, this group was patronised by Geelani's son Nayeem Geelani, who is presently in Rawalpindi (Pakistan). The Hizbul Chief is also worried about reports of the presence of Al Qaida elements in the Valley. The Hizbul has already been marginalised by other militant outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and others, who use Hizb cadres merely as porters/ helpers in carrying out their terror operations. The Hizbul's concern is established by the presence of posters at some places in the Valley asking people not to lend support to LeT militants. On the other hand, Geelani, who sought to control the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in both parts of Kashmir, was isolated in the recently held party elections at the hands of another non-controversial leader of the party Ghulam Hassan Sheikh, who does not believe in the gun culture. Observers say that in the prevailing circumstances, both Salahuddin and Geelani should express their willingness to join the dialogue process with the Indian government without any preconditions. Both leaders should realise the urgency for finding out a viable solution to the Kashmir issue. This is important as both Salahuddin and Geelani should understand that Pakistan cannot afford to continue with its support to militant outfits in the changed scenario in present-day Kashmir.