30 November 2006
United Jehad Council chief and Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Syed Salahuddin and Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani are at daggers once again with both of them trying to project themselves as the true leader of the Kashmir struggle. While both leaders stuck to the demand for holding a plebiscite in the past, Salahuddin recently made public his political desires by indicating a shift from the stand of implementation of UN resolutions to a possible solution by holding tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiris, provided Kashmir was recognised as a disputed issue and the proposed solution was in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris. Salahuddin also indicated his willingness for a conditional ceasefire in the Valley. However, these developments clearly indicate the internal split in the separatist' ranks as Geelani took a tough stand against his one-time protégé for his ceasefire offer and asked Salahuddin to issue a denial.
Hizbul Chief Changing Tracks
In an interview with the local Kashmir news service, CNS, on 28 November 2006, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin had offered a conditional ceasefire and agreed to hold talks with New Delhi. Observers say that the reason for this shift in Salahuddin's stand is due to the major setback the outfit suffered in the recent past as several of its top and middle-rung commanders were killed by security forces. Among the key Hizb commanders killed included Saif-ul-Islam, Ghulam Rasool Dar, Shahadar Peer, Saif-ur-Rehman Bajwa, Shabir Baduri and many others. The recent killing of Mohd Ashraf alias Sohail Faisal, appears to have further shaken the confidence of the Hizbul Mujahideen no dedicated commanders are currently available to fill the void left by Faisal. Moreover, reports indicate that the Hizb cadres are completely demoralised. Therefore, Salahuddin is apparently seeking an honourable exit from militancy as he fears that he could soon be the last man standing. In such circumstances, joining Kashmir politics appears to be best option for Salahuddin.
Salahuddin's statement also appears to have been influenced by pressure from across the border and the international community. Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has reportedly mounted pressure for the unification of the hardline and moderate factions of the Hurriyat Conference in order to ensure unity amongst separatists. Moreover, the recent dictate of the Hizb forbidding Kashmiris to send their children to Delhi Public School, Vision Public Schools and Army Schools has further alienated them as Kashmiris feel that the Hizb is against imparting of modern education to Kashmiris. The Hizbul Mujahideen had earlier destroyed several schools, colleges and technical institutes in order to prevent Kashmiris from gaining secular and modern education. In recent years, support for militancy has clearly waned in the Valley. Moreover, the traditional support for the Hizbul Mujahideen has also eroded significantly as the Kashmiri youth is today opposed to militancy. In such a situation, the Hizb is desperate for fresh recruits. However, with few recruits available, Salahuddin is apparently seeking a way out and is therefore ready for a ceasefire and talks.
Toeing Pakistan Military's Line
With Salahuddin changing camps by seeking to project a moderate face to India and the international community, the ideological differences between the Hizb leader and Geelani are out in the open. It is also clear that Salahuddin is following Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's directives and has moderated his earlier hardline position of seeking the implementation of the UN resolutions. Despite Salahuddin's change of tracks, Geelani, a bete noire of Pervez Musharraf, refuses to budge from his stand on implementation of UN resolutions and tripartite talks. Moreover, Geelani is clearly annoyed with Musharraf and has criticised the Pakistan President on several occasions for giving up Islamabad's traditional position on the Kashmir.
Differences between Salahuddin and Geelani were evident earlier too, when Geelani, peeved at his isolation after the recent elections in the Jamaat-e-Islami, tried to revive his party Tehreek-e-Huriyat (TeH) in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Geelani attempted to replace Malik Abdullah on the pretext of ‘inefficiency’ with his own confidant G.M Sofi. Geelani also said that Farooq Rehmani (Peoples Freedom League) was also ineffective and more inclined towards the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Salahuddin, however, forcefully opposed Geelani’s choice of G.M. Sofi as replacement for Malik Abdullah. Salahuddin blamed Sofi for the split in Hizb as Sofi had supported the Majid Dar faction which caused humiliation to the Hizb leadership. While the differences between Geelani and Salahuddin are evident, observers say that both these leaders should try to reach a consensus in order to help resolve the Kashmir issue and improve the condition of Kashmiris.