Meeting with Centre’s interlocutor strains separatist unity in J&K

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08A deep rift is brewing among the ranks of the Hurriyat Conference after two of its top leaders met the Centre’s interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma in defiance of the separatist amalgam’s decision to boycott him. One of them is former Hurriyat chairman Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, who met Sharma during his second visit to the state.

Bhat defended his decision to meet Sharma saying there was no other option but to talk. “Tell me who are we fighting against? New Delhi. Who is our dispute with? New Delhi. Who should we therefore hold talks with for the solution? New Delhi, who else? Why should we boycott?” the maverick professor told Tehelka. “We can’t stop talking. That will help none, least of all Kashmiris who are the victims of the lingering conflict over the state”.

Bhat made a strong pitch for moving beyond the history of the Kashmir conflict. “We generally talk about United Nation’s Resolutions, Tashkent Agreement, Shimla accord on Kashmir. But the truth is none of them is helpful when it comes to a solution to Kashmir (conflict),” Bhat said. “We have to look ahead, look to the future and talk with a sense of purpose to resolve Kashmir”.

The former Hurriyat chairman called on Kashmiri leadership to make an outline of a workable Kashmir solution. “We need to work towards a solution to Kashmir. A solution that is pragmatic and which takes on board the future, not the past. And for that we need to have an outline of the solution, an outline that engages the attention of India and Pakistan,” Bhat said. “We in Kashmir should lead
India and Pakistan towards a solution. They have failed to resolve the issue between themselves”.

When asked if he was satisfied with the interlocutors’ initiative, Bhat said that he was hopeful it will evolve into “something bigger”.

“I hope that the initiative will in time establish a purposeful dialogue between New Delhi and Kashmiri representatives. And I have also made it clear that without the involvement of Pakistan, there will be no solution”.

However, Bhat’s parleys with Sharma have run into a huge controversy in Kashmir. The Hurriyat triumvirate comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik — also called Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) — which has emerged as the top decision-making body of the separatists, has reiterated its boycott of Sharma.

“This is a sham exercise. It is a photo-op being enforced through the barrel of the gun. And if you are engaging in this exercise, it is like telling our youth who are laying down their lives for the Kashmir cause that they are committing suicide,” Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) told a gathering in Srinagar after Bhat defended his talks with Sharma. “We are not against dialogue. I have met everybody from RSS leaders to India’s leftists. But look at the situation in Kashmir now. Youths are dying everyday. The NIA continues its crackdown. So there is no justification or scope for engagement”.

But as Bhat’s views on engaging Sharma underline, he doesn’t agree with Malik’s logic, not even with that of the chairman of his own Hurriyat faction, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. What is the reason for this, more so when in the past Bhat has himself rejected dialogue with the Centre’s interlocutors? Bhat was part of the Hurriyat decision to not meet the three-member group of interlocutors comprising late Dr Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari. They were appointed by the previous UPA administration following the 2010 unrest which killed 120 people.

So what has changed between 2010 and 2017? Not much other than the realignment among the Hurriyat leadership; the heads of the three separatist factions — Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik – made a common cause in the wake of the post-Burhan unrest and moved to the centre stage of Kashmir’s separatist politics. This automatically reduced the stature of the other top leaders like Prof Bhat, Bilal Gani Lone, Shabir Shah, Nayeem Khan, and some others leaving them unhappy with the new state of affairs.

Shabir Shah, now in NIA custody for being an alleged recipient of hawala money, had resigned from the post of General Secretary of the Hurriyat faction led by Geelani. Similarly, Prof Bhat and Bilal Lone receded into the shadows after Mirwaiz became the part of JRL.
In his interview, Bhat termed JRL as “the three leaders”.

“The three leaders have reservations about dialogue. But I have spoken to Sharma as the leader of my organization Muslim Conference. My decision shouldn’t detract from their policy,” Bhat said. But it has. His talks with Sharma have not only defied JRL decision to boycott him but also undermined Hurriyat unity. The situation now is such that while the heads of the three most influential separatist groups have closed ranks, other senior leaders in their factions are doing their own thing.

This, however, will make little difference to the interlocutor’s initiative. Though he can now say that he has engaged the separatists too. For Bhat is no small leader. He has been a major separatist ideologue over the past three decades. A professor of Persian at Sopore Degree College, Bhat was dismissed from service in 1986 for being a threat to the security of the state. A year later he plunged into politics by becoming the founding member of the Muslim United Front, a conglomerate of the largely secessionist religious and political organizations which contested the fateful 1987 Assembly election. Bhat was the Chief Spokesman of the MUF and a member of its Executive Council together with Jamaat chief Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, Abbas Ansari, Qazi Nisar and Dr Ghulam Qadir Wani, the last two of whom have since been assassinated.

However, Bhat’s decision to break ranks hasn’t found much resonance among the people in Kashmir, even though it might have come as a shot in the arm of Sharma. Bhat has been criticised. His reasoning for talking has been described “invariably same and is largely simplistic”.

“He (Bhat) says there is no alternative to dialogue as the war between India and Pakistan is not an option. Both are nuclear powers. And so, in a sense, the ongoing militant resistance (in Kashmir) can’t force a solution on New Delhi. These certainly are undeniable realities. But then Kashmir resolution is not a simple matter of dialogue between New Delhi and Hurriyat,” an editorial in Kashmir Observer read. “More so, when the aim of the dialogue is not to resolve the fundamental political issues underpinning the turmoil in the state but to get the dissident leadership to reconcile to New Delhi’s position on the state. Even the participation in the dialogue has to be on New Delhi’s terms”. But more commonly, Bhat’s dialogue with Sharma is seen as the “revenge” of senior leaders feeling left out of the JRL. “The leaders like Bhat, Lone and others who were earlier very influential in the separatist ranks have been marginalised by the new Hurriyat alignment,” says Naseer Ahmad, author of Kashmir Pending. “So, perhaps they don’t feel obliged to go by the decision of JRL”.

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