New Delhi's Initiatives
The sincerity of the Indian government towards resolving the Kashmir dispute was evident when New Delhi opened a dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference in 2004. The fact that the peace process started by the NDA government was continued by the Congress-led UPA alliance without any disruption clearly showed the national desire to bring peace and normalcy in Kashmir. In May 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Farooq had agreed to establish a system to evolve a solution to the Kashmir dispute. After that understanding, New Delhi broadened the dialogue process by holding three Roundtable Conferences in New Delhi and Srinagar where a cross section of people and groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, were invited. However, the Hurriyat Conference chose to boycott the roundtable conferences which clearly exposed their lack of faith in the dialogue process. Even though the Hurriyat Conference and its leaders often proclaim the need for a dialogue, the fact that the separatist outfit chose to boycott the roundtable conferences clearly exposed their insincerity in resolving the Kashmir issue.
The Indian government's initiative to hold the roundtable conferences was hailed by observers as a significant step which would allow participation of a cross-section of voices representing the Kashmir diversity. However, the Hurriyat Conference chose to boycott the conference claiming that it was an attempt by New Delhi to relegate them to a 'less important position'. While the Hurriyat Conference claims that it represents the Kashmiri people, the diversity of participation in the roundtable conferences clearly showed that the separatists are only one among several representative voices in Kashmir. The Hurriyat Conference had earlier boycotted the assembly elections in Kashmir and deliberately missed an opportunity to prove their 'representative' character.
Compared to the Hurriyat Conference's intransigence, the Indian government even went to the extent of allowing separatist leaders to visit Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to forge a consensus among their ranks. However, that visit turned out to be a disaster for the separatist movement as the inherent contradictions in their camp came out in the open. Though the Hurriyat Conference went to Pakistan and held talks with a cross section of political outfits, the separatist outfit has refused to participate in a similar dialogue in India. This is despite the fact that the offer of talks came from the Indian Prime Minister himself.
Hurriyat Double Standards
Even though the Hurriyat Conference seeks the position of being the only representative of the Kashmiris, its leaders feared that the factionalism within the constituents of the APHC would have come to the forefront if they had participated in the roundtable conferences. The internecine rivalries amongst the Hurriyat constituents have often been exposed in the public domain. Even during the Hurriyat's visit to Pakistan last year, the divisions were clearly visible as Yasin Malik followed his own agenda by holding separate meetings with Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. If the separatists had gone to Pakistan together, then why was the need for their constituents to hold separate meetings?
The invitation to the roundtable conferences was declined by both factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the JKLF, JKDFP and Jamaat-e-Islami. The separatist outfits said that when the need for a conference arises, leaders from both parts of undivided Kashmir besides Pakistan and India, should be invited. The Indian government had moved to hold the conferences as it felt that ideas and suggestions from all quarters should be taken, which would enable a strong foundation for the final resolution of the Kashmir issue. However, the Hurriyat Conference chose to undermine this initiative by staying away from the conferences.
The fact to be noted is that the separatist outfits have found problems only with the Indian Prime Minister's invitation to participate in a general conference for resolving the Kashmir issue. The separatist leaders have no qualms in undertaking regular trips to foreign countries for attending different conferences organised by international organisations. The separatist leaders have participated in several conferences whose organisers have no ideological affinity with the Kashmir problem. Prof. Abul Gani. Bhat had attended the Pugwash Conference in Islamabad from 10 -12 March 2006 along with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. These two leaders had also attended the World Social Forum (WSF) on 24 March 2006 in Islamabad. Bilal Lone, the estranged brother of Sajjad Lone, had attended the Second International Kashmir Conference organised by Nazir Shawl of the Justice Foundation Kashmir Centre in London from 15 - 16 March 2006. The Mirwaiz had also attended the International Seminar on Kashmir Problem and Dialogue Process organised by Nazir Shawl, Justice Foundation Kashmir Centre, London and Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad at Wolso College, Cambridge University, London on 21 April 2006. The Mirwaiz also participated in a conference titled Global Disclosure on Kashmir organised by Majid Tramboo on 3 - 4 October 2006 at Brussels. In 2005, the Mirwaiz had also participated in the India-Pak Media Retreat at Istanbul on 3 - 4 December and the OIC Extra Ordinary Summit at Jeddah on 7 - 8 December.
A number of steps undertaken by the Indian government over the past year have emboldened the dialogue process for resolving the Kashmir process. The roundtable conferences and the working groups constituted by the Prime Minister have opened the way for several confidence building measures in Kashmir. Many of the issues such as Centre-State relations, human rights violations, relocation of troops etc are being discussed in an institutionalised format in the working groups set up by the Indian government. The peace process with Pakistan is also holding despite the fact that President Pervez Musharraf is today facing a number of problems that could destablise Pakistan. Observers say that a combination of positive developments in Kashmir have clearly ruffled the feathers of both the Hurriyat Conference and its mentors in Pakistan. Therefore, the Valley is witnessing a rise in militant violence as Pakistan clearly does not want peace in Kashmir which would be detrimental to its interests. The separatist outfits including the Hurriyat Conference are clearly perturbed by the fact that their support levels in Kashmir have reduced drastically over the years. Therefore they clearly intend to disrupt the ongoing dialogue process as well as misguide the Kashmiri youth by inciting them towards violence.
Observers say that the Hurriyat Conference needs to mend its ways and take part in the dialogue process. While the Indian government has extended all possible cooperation to the separatist leaders, observers say that the separatists have clearly misused these opportunities for furthering their narrow interests. The initiatives undertaken by New Delhi have found wide support in the Valley. The popular mood in Kashmir today is in favour of a speedy solution of the dispute through dialogue. The message emanating from the Valley is loud and clear: the Hurriyat Conference should not shy away from participating in the dialogue process. For the separatists, the only two options left are to either join the mainstream in finding a permanent solution or perish in order to further their narrow interests.