By Riyaz Wani
WHEN GENERAL Pervez Musharraf was in power, Hurriyat (G) chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani stubbornly opposed the general’s efforts for an “out-of-the-box” Kashmir solution, forcing Islamabad to turn its back on him. The dictator’s exit in 2008 restored Geelani’s position as Pakistan’s best bet in Kashmir. But with the new Indo-Pak engagement beginning to resemble more and more the old Musharraf-inspired process, and Islamabad even extending Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, Geelani is feeling uneasy again. His biggest dread: Islamabad is ready to put Kashmir on the backburner and move on.
But this time, the question of falling out is more complicated. There is a realisation of the profound shift in the geopolitical situation, which dictates accommodation and radical policy adjustments by the two countries, more so by a Pakistan riven by unrelenting internal strife. So opposing its current policy towards New Delhi would be too simplistic a response.
This is troubling nevertheless for Geelani. Because, it alters the parameters underpinning the Kashmiri movement. He has already made his displeasure known. “As a Kashmiri nation, we will never acknowledge such policies. If Pakistan reaches any agreement with India against the wishes of the Kashmiri people, Pakistan itself will not remain safe,” says Geelani. He says Kashmiris were fighting against Indian rule for the past 64 years, “and we are committed to this fight until Kashmiris get freedom”.
However, Geelani will not stop at publicly expressing dissent. His faction is planning to send a delegation to the Pakistan Embassy. “We want to know where the new engagement between the two nations is headed and whether it entails a Kashmir solution based on compromise,” says a faction leader on the condition of anonymity. “We hope our apprehensions are proved incorrect.”
According to sources, Islamabad conveyed to Geelani in no uncertain terms earlier this year that he should back an accommodative political solution on Kashmir within the framework of Musharraf’s four-point proposal, failing which Islamabad would be content pursuing it with the support of moderate separatists. Geelani is dead against the proposal that seeks a Kashmir solution with no change in borders and leaves India and Pakistan in control of their respective parts of Kashmir.
“Though Pakistan continues to maintain a public posture of pursuing its traditional Kashmir policy that stresses implementation of UN resolutions, behind the scenes, they are picking up the thread where Musharraf left,” says a leader of Geelani’s faction. “However, we don’t want to jump the gun. We want to wait and watch.”
Such suspicions go back to early this year when Pakistan invited mainstream Kashmiri leaders such as Engineer Abdur Rashid and Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari to the Pakistan Day function on 23 March. The Geelani faction has traditionally looked down upon Islamabad’s overtures to what it calls “pro-India leaders” in Kashmir. It thinks Islamabad’s engagement with such leaders detracts from the credibility of the separatists and lends recognition to the mainstream political ideology.
DURING HER visit to India, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, however, sought to allay such fears. “She said that Pakistan stuck to its traditional policy and Kashmiris would be taken on board any solution that the two countries arrive at,” Hurriyat (G) spokesman Ayaz Akber told TEHELKA.
However, the new engagement between the two nations has been a source of increasing unease. And the MFN status has been the last straw. The status, which could prove to be a brave first step towards integrating the economies of the two states, brings separatists and, of course, Geelani face to face with their moment of truth.
From a scenario where they had the entire Kashmir rooting for them last summer to having little role in the Indo-Pak dialogue or in New Delhi’s Kashmir initiatives, Geelani is unable to come to grips with the unfolding new reality in the region. A Kashmir solution on his terms looks farther than ever.
Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.