Hurriyats and the question of unity

If they unite, Hurriyats can play a productive role in even bridging the divide between New Delhi and Islamabad, writes senior journalist and editor Shujaat Bukhari

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File photo.

yasin malik, kashmir, srinagar, india, syed ali geelani,

In a rare show of unity, three main characters of Kashmir’s resistance against India– Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik—addressed a public gathering jointly at Narbal where they had gone to express condolences with the family of 16-year-old local boy Suhail Ahmad Sofi who was killed in police firing on April 18. Those who witnessed the three leaders share the stage were not sure whether it really was a gesture of unity or not. They say Geelani hesitated in shaking hands with Mirwaiz and was more comfortable in talking to Yasin Malik.

There are many theories suggesting how this show could be made possible. It could not be a mere coincidence. But many believe that the people who had gathered there forced the leaders to put up a united face raising slogans of “Ittehad, Ittehad (Unity, Unity)”.

Anything could have contributed to this significant meeting that brought the leaders together in public after a gap of seven years. However, those who know Kashmir inside-out believe there must be a Pakistani whip that got them together. The separatist camp of politics has seen many ups and downs in Kashmir since 1992 when the leaders who owned the armed struggle appeared on the scene. They came together under the umbrella of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) a conglomerate of over 20 political and social organisations. Differences, compulsions, ego and infighting have been an inalienable part of this politics. That is why they had to choose Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the youngest one in the lot as the founder chairman, giving no weightage to the experience of the likes of Syed Ali Geelani, Abdul Gani Lone and Moulvi Abbas Ansari. Who made Hurriyat and why? This question also has not been answered with many theories from the creation of United States to the need of the hour overlapping the claims.

However, for nearly 10 years, the united Hurriyat played an important role is shaping the discourse on Kashmir not only within the state but also at the international level. It was in September 2003, the Hurriyat was divided for the first time after serious differences crept in it following People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone’s decision to field proxy candidates in 2002 assembly elections. Till then the PC was part of Hurriyat but after its leader Abdul Gani Lone was assassinated, the needle of suspicion pointed towards Pakistan.
Consequently Sajjad’s brother Bilal Lone also parted ways with him and remained in the Hurriyat faction led by MIrwaiz Umar Farooq with his faction of PC. This was the beginning of the fall of the “united voice” as Geelani led his own faction, though both sides claimed to be real Hurriyat.

Today Hurriyat has three factions and a disgruntled group recently parted ways with Mirwaiz faction. The third faction led by Shabir Shah along with Nayeem Khan made their way out from Mirwaiz group last year. However, there is a renewed effort to unite them all. The group led by Zaffar Akbar Bhat is vying to join Geelani’s faction, thus further marginalizing the Mirwaiz faction. Shabir Shah, who has always pitched for unity has tasked himself again with this initiative. Apparently the goal of all Hurriyat players is same. That is to seek resolution of Kashmir issue and not joining the power structure. But they have serious differences over the approach to deal with it. Since Mirwaiz and also JKLF chief Yasin Malik have previously engaged in dialogue with New Delhi, the anti-dialogue constituency has become stronger after no headway in that process. Except for Geelani, all the leaders fell in line with Parvez Musharraf’s four point formula. But things fell apart after Musharraf’s fall and the Mumbai attack. Cynism and hopelessness that emerged as a consequence to the dialogue process made Geelani stronger and relevant among the fast changing youth of Kashmir. Since Geelani had opposed the dialogue process on the premise that it won’t bear any result, his stand was vindicated.

There is no denying the fact that all Hurriyats have worked and are working in tune with the Kashmir policy of Pakistan. Islamabad enjoys huge influence over them and if they forced them to show unity at the Narbal condolence meeting should not come as a surprise. In 2003 it was Pakistan that played role in dividing the Hurriyat and in unity also they will play a role. Apart from representing the political sentiment of Kashmir, the Hurriyats are an important constituency of Pakistan. Islamabad should not use it only for pushing Delhi to the wall but can use it as a buffer to reach out on negotiations to resolve the issue. New Delhi’s exaggerated reaction to Hurriyat leaders meeting the Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit too was
bereft of logic.

If they unite, Hurriyats can play a productive role in even bridging the divide between New Delhi and Islamabad, which could consequently be used to help resolve Kashmir issue. But the only issue that needs to be resolved is of unity. Hurriyats will also have to show that they could sometimes think independent of one actor or the other. In the past few years, the sentiment around alienation has increased further and there is a need for a leadership to channelize that. The Hurriyat leaders need to move beyond the situation where they become relevant only in case of a killing at the hands of police or paramilitary forces. Pakistan too should hold back its strings and allow the Hurriyats to unite and change the discourse on Kashmir. Its policy has not worked in Kashmir and so has been the case with Delhi. But to give a twist to the standoff, Hurriyats can play a role and both the sides must encourage that.

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