Fearing marginalisation following India’s bid to end their role in Indo-Pak dialogue, separatists in Kashmir are trying to unite and regain their political relevance in the state — of course, egged on by Pakistan. But considering the deep divisions in their ranks, the task is easier said than done.
Ironically, the ball was set rolling by Hurriyat (G) chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani — the man behind the 2003 Hurriyat split — with a public offer of unity. However, there is a pre-condition: the moderates will have to stop seeking “out-of- the-box” solutions to the Kashmir dispute.
“There is an immediate need to unite on a single platform to defeat the evil designs of the Modi government towards Kashmir,” said Geelani. “Our doors are open to all pro-freedom groups and individuals. But they must stay committed to the struggle against Indian occupation and assure us that they won’t accept the status quo or soft borders and other out-of-thebox solutions.”
The Hurriyat (G) has formed a three-member committee headed by its general secretary Ghulam Nabi Sumji to “bring separatists on a common platform”. The committee will talk to various separatist groups to discuss the terms of unity.
Interestingly, Geelani’s offer received support from unexpected quarters. Firebrand woman separatist leader Asiya Andrabi, who champions an exclusively Islamic separatist struggle, has now called for broad-based unity.
The moderate separatists, however, are not enthused by the kind of unity on offer. “We welcome the offer, but unity should not mean uniformity,” says a leader. “A political struggle has to evolve over time and modify its strategies without compromising on the basic principles.”
As an alternative to Geelani’s call, Shabir Shah of Hurriyat (Real) has floated the idea of “issue-based unity”, which could begin with a common programme on election boycott. “Discussions are on with like-minded pro-freedom groups to formulate a joint strategy against elections,” said Shah. “Despite the differences among us, we are aiming at unity based on certain common issues in the larger interest of the Kashmir movement.”
But questions have been raised over election boycott as mainstream parties turn the ensuing situation to their advantage; even the BJP is banking on it to gain a foothold in the Valley. The major separatist grouping led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been ambivalent towards the tactic. Though the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat had called for the boycott of the recent General Election, prominent leaders are no longer sure of their stand on the issue.
“The boycott exercise makes us party to the so-called democratic process that we otherwise reject,” reasons former Hurriyat chief Abdul Gani Bhat. “When a large number of people participate in the polls despite our boycott call, it shows we have been defeated in a democratic battle of ideas. But, at the same time, the large-scale electoral participation does not indicate that there is no problem in Kashmir.”
The unity moves began soon after the Centre cancelled talks with Pakistan over the latter’s envoy Abdul Basit’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders. Separatist leaders who met Basit, sources in the Hurriyat confirmed, have been told to put up a united front to stay relevant in the context of the changing bilateral equation between the two countries.
Though this is not the first time Pakistan has called on separatist factions to band together, nor are the locally-initiated unity efforts the first of their kind, what makes the fresh attempt conspicuous is that it is being spearheaded by Geelani. In the past, Geelani has dismissed such ideas and instead called on other separatists to join him.
In 2009, Geelani refused to be part of the unity effort led by Shah. Consequently, while Shah and Mirwaiz merged their respective factions — though they went on to break up again this year — Geelani stayed out of it, as did JKLF supremo Yasin Malik.
If Geelani succeeds in forging a united front of Kashmiri separatists, it would be a direct consequence of the Centre’s hardened approach towards the Valley and Pakistan. And it would probably only be the first many such expected outcomes — not all of them necessarily positive in their impact.