DESPERATELY SEPARATE

Unlike the 2008 agitation which saw a united front of separatists, there are hardly any moves or talk of unity this time around. Khursheed Wani reports.

A unique aspect of the latest phase of anti-India movement in Kashmir Valley is that the separatist groups and leaders are in disarray. During the past 12 weeks, since the cycle of violence and civilian killings at the hands of police and paramilitaries started, the separatist leaders have chosen to remain in their own closets without making any major efforts to cobble together a unity or even coordination. This was not the case in 2008 uprising.

The turmoil began in the Valley when police killed a teenager Tufail Ahmad Mattoo on June 11, a day when Syed Ali Geelani had appealed for peaceful demonstrations against the fake encounter on Line of Control, in which Army killed three local boys and passed them off as infiltrators, for rewards and promotions. On August 30, when paramilitaries killed the 65th Kashmiri protestor in south Kashmir, the prerogative of calling the protests and demonstrations against the alleged state atrocities continued to lie with Geelani. The other separatist groups and leaders are silently watching the developments or have been compelled to do so. Most of the recognizable separatist leaders have been put behind the bars by the authorities. The others are either under intermittent house-arrest or sidelined to the extent that they have blurred from the public memory.

As political scientist Dr. Gull Muhammad Wani puts it, there are many reasons for the disarray in the separatist camp ranging from personal egos and ideological differences to the modus operandi adopted by the leaders. The emergence of the present leadership with dominating role compared to wait-and-watch attitude adopted by other leaders has its own genesis, tracing roots in previous dialogue processes on Kashmir, the role of Islamabad and New Delhi in helping or sabotaging these processes besides several crucial local factors.

Observers say that the polarization process started in the separatist camp in early 2002, got consolidated after the assembly elections. This is the period when senior Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone was killed by militants. Over the years, the separatist camp is divided in four distinct compartments, which have negligible coordination with each other. After the 2002 assembly elections, the 23-party amalgam All Parties Hurriyat conference split into two factions. The differences grew on the response to state elections.

Geelani, who was in jail during polls, alleged that the other leaders of the conglomerate did not launch an anti-election campaign and even some groups fielded proxy candidates. After the split in the amalgam, the JKLF, Jamaat-e-Islami and High Court Bar Association remained equidistant from both the factions. Jamaat later joined Geelani but JKLF’s most visible faction in Kashmir led by Muhammad Yasin Malik chose to build its own distinct identity on pro-independence plank. Bar Association also remained aloof like other small but vocal groups like Dukhtaran-e-Millat and Islamic Students League. The militant groups, with their inherent contradictions and mostly commanded from Muzaffarabad, form the fourth separatist section in Kashmir.  

In the beginning, Geelani’s faction gained currency with Pakistan but the bonhomie was short-lived. In the subsequent years, Musharraf sidelined Geelani and involved his government with other Kashmiri leaders. However, separatist leaders’ involvement in dialogue process with New Delhi stirred the separatist camp more vigorously making the polarization distinct and visible.

In 2003 beginning, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq entered into a dialogue process with BJP-led NDA Government in New Delhi. Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, who held the home affairs portfolio held rounds of talks with the Hurriyat leadership. It was the time when Gen. Musharraf overtly and covertly engaged with New Delhi to explore solution to Kashmir issue.

The change in guard at New Delhi in 2004 did not dump the process. The Manmohan Singh led UPA government not only engaged with Mirwaiz and his team but also incorporated Yasin Malik and Sajjad Lone (who was then a separatist).
Geelani vehemently opposed separatists’ involvement with New Delhi and went to the extent of calling it as “sell-out”. He even became critical of Gen. Musharraf’s regime and rejected its four-point formula, which advocated joint management of unified Jammu and Kashmir. On the other hand, the four-point formula had become a political bible of Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat faction.

The bitterness between Geelani and other separatist leaders grew leading even to some violent incidents and attacks on members and rival leaders.

Mirwaiz and Malik maintained that they engaged with New Delhi to give peaceful methods a chance. Geelani differed with them. While Mirwaiz maintained that Hurriyat was seeking a role to bridge the gap between New Delhi and Islamabad, Geelani contradicted on the basic point that they involved New Delhi without the latter recognising Kashmir as an international dispute. Geelani was apprehensive that New Delhi would use the separatist leaders for its own interests and dump them at a later stage.

So much was Geelani opposed to Mirwaiz’s initiative that he called a Valley-wide strike on January 18, 2007 when Mirwaiz left for Pakistan to hold talks with president Musharraf and prime minster Showkat Aziz. It was first time, in recent history that a separatist leader’s Pakistan visit was resented at such a level. However, this was the time when lawyers’ agitation had begun and Lal Masjid crisis was precipitating in Pakistan. When Mirwaiz returned to New Delhi after spending a short-week in Pakistan, Indian perspective on Indo-Pak relations had undergone a drastic change. New Delhi foresaw that Musharraf’s chair was shaking. Therefore, it pulled out of dialogue process with Islamabad.

Mirwaiz’s position became precarious when New Delhi did not exhibit much enthusiasm in meeting him after his return. He had promised people in Kashmir that after returning from Pakistan he would hold talks with leadership in New Delhi. The subsequent developments, especially 26/11 Mumbai attack demolished the dialogue process completely. Mirwaiz was left in lurch prompting him to announce pulling out of the dialogue process.

When 2008 eruption took place in Kashmir, it was as unexpected to separatists as was to Government of India.

The youngsters in the age group of 15-35 years took to streets and challenged the authority of the government with stones in their hands. The two phases of the stir—against land transfer order and economic blockade of the Valley—saw tens of thousands of defiant people on streets. The mammoth public gatherings, which arguably touched one million mark at one point in time, forced the separatists to forge unity. This is the last time when separatist leaders were seen together on a public stage. Such was the public pressure on these leaders that Mirwaiz volunteered to visit Geelani’s Hyderpora residence to announce the formation of “Coordination Committee”, which took reins of the 2008 uprising. Senior leader Masarat Alam and Shabir Shah played pivotal role in setting-up coordination.

Interestingly, Shah’s dossier for detention carried one of the allegations that he forged unity between separatist groups.
The Indian government strategically handled the situation. The Governor administration imposed harshest ever curfew for nine days, bundled most of the separatist leaders to jails, which was followed by announcement of strategically overstretched phases of polling. The net result of the strategy was that the separatist leadership scattered like a pack of cards.

This time around, the hardline faction of Hurriyat says that it would not commit past mistakes. Calling off strike in 2008 was regarded as watershed. That is why Masarat Alam and Geelani are announcing calendars for past two months bringing the normal life to a grinding halt. Geelani has not so far involved other separatist leaders. “We work in our own way. They work in their own way”, is his refrain. One argument is that the separatist leaders are not under public pressure to the extent that they were in 2008 to form unity. The authorities did not allow public gatherings, which have remained mostly localized affairs. The leaders who could broker unity like Shabir Shah, Mian Qayoom and Nayeem Khan are jailed and Masrat Alam has chosen to remain underground.

Observers say that Geelani is bound to involve Mirwaiz and Malik to sustain the stir. And, Mirwaiz has given indications that he is not averse to joining hands with Geelani. “If Syed Ali Shah Geelani fails at this juncture, it will not be his personal failure but of whole nation. In this situation, it will drastically affect the movement. This movement does not belong to any individual or organization but to the whole nation and everybody has to carry it forward,” Mirwaiz said in a recent interview. Geelani, on his part accommodated Mirwaiz’s plea to avoid shutdowns on Fridays.

Observers say that the two factions of Hurriyat have difference in modus operandi. While Geelani’s group wants to prolong “Quit Jammu and Kashmir campaign” until grant of right to self-determination, Mirwaiz’s group says that every Kashmiri wants to see the troopers out from Kashmir “but there cannot be any deadline”.

“There is need for pro-freedom leaders to unite and chalk out a comprehensive policy to ensure complete demilitarization,” Mirwaiz says. Geelani’s faction and other groups have not responded to Mirwaiz so far.

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