Hurriyat Sartajed

At the end of the day, it is Delhi and Islamabad’s national interest that is fundamental to their moves on Kashmir. This is the lesson that Kashmiri separatists might have learnt yet again after meeting Sartaj Aziz in Delhi last week, analyzes Shah Abbas.

Sartaj-Aziz-and-Hurriyat-Leaders

As Pakistan High Commission’s invitations for meetings with visiting (ex) diplomat Sartaj Aziz, now adviser on security and foreign relations to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, reached Srinagar, the debate was interesting: who will be the most favoured separatist of Islamabad in the new dispensation. There were interesting analyses based on the situation prevailing in Kashmir. Everybody who talked or wrote on the issue suggested Pakistan will embrace Geelani and skirt her engagement to just a handshake with Mirwaiz.

There were enough of indications from across the border suggesting Pakistan has undone the Kashmir policy that had evolved at the peak of Musharaf era. The repeated statements invoking the UN resolutions by top Pakistan functionaries were suggestive of the change that forces campaigning on similar lines in Kashmir may get a boost.

These assumptions were not far fetched. These were adequately rooted in history. Islamabad has always played favourites in Kashmir, especially after the rise of militancy in 1990. It started with militancy when every outfit would get the “power” but only one or two “authority”. After militancy it was politics, the separatist politics, to be precise.

Till 2003 when the Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of around 23 political parties (some of whom non-existent on ground) survived united, the issue of having a favourite did not exist. As the conglomerate split vertically in wake of 2002 polls, Islamabad started playing musical chairs and it started preferring one over others and vice versa.

At the centre of the Hurriyat’s split were the 2002 elections. Then in jail, Geelani had taken a strong exception to the alleged permission given to Lone brothers – Sajjad and Bilal, to field proxy candidates in the state polls. The split triggered yet another political force to mend the dove-hawk divide. In a bid to get the rivals reunite, the process created a ‘third space’. Initially, it was JKLF and later the Kashmir Bar Association and even Shabir Shah occupied this space but eventually

It is Yasin Malik, apparently equidistant from both the rivals, proved to be the main stakeholder of this space.

It was this divide that helped Islamabad to choose it’s ‘love ones’. Take for instance General Parvez Musharaf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008. For most of his era, ‘moderates’ were his choicest people because they were supportive of his ideation on Kashmir. It was Mirwaiz who was pressing for the four point formula which Musharaf had evolved as a way-out over Kashmir.

At the same time, however, Geelani exhibited a strong opposition to the idea as a result of which he fell from favours. The two actually exchanged hot words in a Delhi meeting in which Geelani had conveyed his displeasure over Islamabad’s policy in the NWFP and a policy climb-down over Kashmir. Geelani’s ‘inflexibility’, at the same time, helped him improve his popularity graph back home.

The dove-hawk division and the subsequent support were keys to evolution of a new profile to the two groups. ‘Moderates’ continue to retain a low profile, pro-talks and literal immobile status. ‘Hawks’ with mainly Geelani as their face have not changed their preconditions to possible talks, and their belief that UN resolutions on Kashmir could be bedrock to a way out. The faction sees ruling the popularity charts after the state government set free Geelani from his Hyderpora residence after more than seven months. Despite his failing health, Geelani is highly mobile and is getting impressive responses. In the last fifteen days, he has addressed gathering which were major only after the 2010 unrest.

But the rivals are not distinguished by the UN resolutions versus triangular talks. Their approach to evolving issues also keeps them distinctly apart. Take for instance the scheduled 2014 assembly and Lok Sabha elections. While Geelani is in the midst of his campaign for boycotting the elections, Mirwaiz believes it is too early to think on those lines.

But the fact on ground is that people voted in large numbers during the 2011 Panchayat elections even though Geelani had called upon people to boycott the same. Even then government will probably not take chances. It has started taking his campaign seriously. Both NC and Congress have written to the central government that the EVMs having the NOTA (none of the above) facility should not be supplied to J&K because it could be ‘misused’ by the separatists.

Interestingly, the difference in the approach of ‘moderates’ and ‘hawks’ to polls and the boycott has already triggered a friction between NC and PDP, two Kashmir based principal stakeholders to thrown. Opposition PDP thinks the NC set Geelani free to ensure boycott because NC benefits from it. Even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could not maintain silence on the issue after Geelani started creating news in the periphery. “Geelani Sahib has ended my worries,” Omar told reporters in Jammu. He said it was a “good sign” that Geelani is targeting other political parties also. “Before this, I used to doubt that there is a fixed match between Geelani Sahib and these people (read PDP) and by targeting NC only he is benefiting them.”

But all these issues would not matter much when Islamabad talks to the Kashmir separatists. It was evident last week when three delegations and JKLF’s M Yasin Malik flocked to Delhi for separate meetings with Sartaj Aziz. These were the very first sittings with Pakistani officials after Nawaz Sharief took over in Islamabad after one of the credible elections in Pakistanis history. There was no effort to either mend the fence between the rivals and not a shred of evidence suggesting Islamabad was playing any musical chairs by preferring one over the other.

The meetings exhibited a new intelligent shift in Pakistan policy: utilize services of everybody. In his interactions with the moderates, several issues were discussed. Aziz agreed to many things that ‘moderates’ mentioned and according to reliable sources at the end of it he gave them a signal that they must contribute their bit in getting Kashmir back to the centre of the India Pakistan talks. Mirwaiz’s group felt Aziz supportive of the efforts envisaging reviving the triangular system of talks that was initiated during Vajpyee led NDA regime.

This message was fundamental to the ‘moderates’ trying to meet Satish Lamba in Delhi. Lamba who advises Prime Minister on Pakistan and Afghnaistan was in Kabul and there was no development on this front. Later they had detailed interactions with Ashok Bhan, the Congressman who was part of the erstwhile Kashmir Committee. They also met A S Dulat, former RAW chief who has huge contacts in Kashmir. Even after moving out of RAW and becoming an OSD in PMO, Dulat was having a lot of interest in Kashmir. At one point of time, he was a hot contender for being the new governor of J&K to replace N N Vohra.

Aziz, according to well placed sources, felt some kind of discomfort in managing JKLF leader Mohammad Yasin Malik. Sources said Malik became highly sentimental while enquiring from Aziz what Pakistan has been doing on Kashmir. Accusing Islamabad of ignoring Kashmir, Malik said Pakistan’s dialogue with India is taking place at Kashmir’s cost. He even talked about enforcing diplomatic silence over Kashmir. It took Aziz some time to assure and reassure Malik that Islamabad has not forgotten Kashmir.

Well placed sources told Kashmir Life that Aziz asked Geelani to help Islamabad in managing the groups which are pushing the tiny country towards total instability. And to Mirwaiz, there was a clear green signal that he should use his good offices to salvage the dialogue and work towards making Kashmir a vital part of the India Pakistan negotiations.

Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Asiya Andrabi had flown a delegation each while JKLF leader Yasin Malik was alone. Though the invitation had mentioned “special consultation”, the meetings, insiders said were freewheeling and both sides talked in detail. Aziz heard more and talked less. He told everybody the problems that Pakistan is facing on security front.

Details roaming in political circles in Delhi and Srinagar suggest Aziz told Geelani that since he commands respect from a vast section of people, especially in Pakistan, he is rightly positioned to help Islamabad manage its stability. He is understood to have told Geelani that he is so much respected by people from all walks on the other side of the divide that even “my grandson is carrying your photograph”. Geelani had talked at length about the changing Kashmir policy of Pakistan with special reference to Musharaf era. He wanted Pakistan to stay steadfast on UN resolutions.

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