A bridge to nowhere


A DELEGATION of the Hurriyat Conference’s moderate faction will visit Pakistan on 17 December to hold consultations with the Raja Pervez Ashraf government on Kashmir. However, there is a hitch: Kashmir is hardly up for any foreseeable settlement to warrant such consultation. And, the government hosting them is nearing the end of its tenure and preparing for a general election in 2013.

So, why is the delegation going to Pakistan? Hurriyat Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq says the visit has a purpose beyond the outcome of the ongoing dialogue between India and Pakistan. “It is not only about what Pakistan has to tell us, it is also about what we have to tell Pakistan,” he says. “And the main point of our Pakistan agenda is the reassertion of our role as a party in the negotiations on Kashmir. We feel the current talks process between India and Pakistan has become increasingly bilateral in its focus and this is an area of concern for us.”

During her visit to New Delhi in February, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had invited Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan. She also extended the invite to the hardline faction. But it took the Hurriyat leaders almost a year before a date for the visit was agreed upon.

‘The visit itself will generate a renewed discourse about Kashmir,’ says Mirwaiz

The hardline faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani is not keen on the visit. “We think the visit is of little consequence,” says a hardliner, who bemoaned that Kashmir had slipped as a priority issue in the ongoing Indo-Pak engagement, behind the pursuit of trade and travel. “And we cannot be seen to countenance this state of affairs.”

However, between these contradictory approaches to the Pakistan visit lies the deepening separatist concern about their place in the new Indo-Pak equation. For moderate Hurriyat, the democratic government in Pakistan has deprived it of the centrality it enjoyed as a representative Kashmiri group in the bilateral dialogue during Pervez Musharraf’s reign. At that time, Kashmir was the main focus of the bilateral talks.

There are some misgivings about the visit within the moderate camp. Shabir Shah has publicly expressed his doubts, saying the timing is not opportune. However, he was called to New Delhi by Pakistan High Commissioner Salman Bashir, apparently to prevail on him to undertake the visit. But Shah, even if he decides to travel, has no passport, nor does Nayeem Khan, another moderate leader.

“Some people are talking about efforts for resolving the Kashmir issue. But New Delhi is not even ready to follow through on small confidence-building measures such as issuing passports to some of the Hurriyat leaders. They are being selective even here,” Khan told TEHELKA.

Meanwhile, the separatists’ dilemma is not only vis-á-vis the visit; they face a larger crisis. From a scenario where they had the entire Valley rooting for them during the 2010 summer revolt to a situation where mainstream parties are hogging the centrestage, they are unable to come to grips with the unfolding new reality. Amid the declining violence, they are fighting to stay relevant.

There is a strong feeling that Islamabad has lost its zeal to pursue a settlement on the Kashmir issue and is now keen to move beyond the K-word in its relations with Delhi. This has not only deprived secessionist platforms of their traditional anchor of support, but also disappointed the larger separatist constituency in the Valley.

MANY PEOPLE in the Valley believe that by inviting both the Hurriyat factions, Pakistan is trying to respond to the growing sense of neglect among the separatist leadership and reassure them of its continued support. However, some think that the invite is Islamabad’s response to the growing domestic criticism about the neglect of the Kashmir cause in the current dialogue with New Delhi.

But Mirwaiz brushes aside all these ambiguities. “We are conscious of the context and circumstances of the visit. For us, the exercise has a larger value. The visit itself will generate a renewed discourse about Kashmir,” he says. “We will be meeting all the political actors, even the leaders in Azad Kashmir. This will give us a chance to convey our point of view to a wide spectrum of people.”

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. 


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