The hawks get a Paki thumbs up

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Syed-Ali-Shah-Geelani

In April 2005, when the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited New Delhi as part of his negotiations on Kashmir, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani stunned him by opposing his four-point formula on the state. Geelani had offended the general by accusing him of selling out on Kashmir. Soon after that episode, Pakistan turned its back on the Hurriyat hardliner, who otherwise was its best bet at addressing the Kashmir issue.

A furious Musharraf, as Geelani would later recount in his memoir Wular Ke Kinare (On the banks of the Wular), even wanted to go public against him on his return to Pakistan but was stopped at the last minute from doing so by senior PoK leader Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed.

Musharraf’s policy on Geelani persisted even after his exit as Pakistani president in 2008. Successive Pakistan People’s Party governments led by Asif Ali Zardari, at best, maintained a parity between moderate and hardline separatists. So did the Nawaz Sharif-led Muslim League government over its first two years in power.

But a decade on, Islamabad’s policy on the Kashmiri separatists is again changing as Geelani is back in favour. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has formally invited the him to Pakistan. No such invite has been extended to moderates. Sharif has even showered praises on Geelani.

According to the Hurriyat spokesman Ayaz Akbar, Sharif’s letter to Geelani reads: “I am inviting you to Pakistan, so that I too can gain something from your views on the present situation. Hope that you will spare time to visit Pakistan at the earliest.”

Incidentally, the invite came in reply to a letter from Geelani to Sharif, praising Pakistan of its recent hardline stance on Kashmir. The letter had thanked the Pakistani prime minister and the Pakistan army for showing unity and adopting a strong stand during the cancelled National Security Advisor (NSA) level talks in August. What is the reason for this change?

The shift has followed the lingering freeze in the relations with India; more so, after the meltdown of the NSA level talks. Soon after that, three senior moderate Hurriyat leaders who had earlier broken off from Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led Hurriyat amalgam joined Geelani’s group. The leaders included top separatists Shabir Shah and Nayeem Khan. The extraordinary development was the result of Pakistan’s urging, according to Hurriyat sources. A decade back, a similar shift had taken place from Mirwaiz to Geelani’s Hurriyat, again a development sanctioned by Islamabad.

Kashmir observers feel that Sharif’s invite to Geelani, the praise for his (Sharif’s) leadership and the exclusion of Mirwaiz marks a sharp flip in Pakistan’s policy towards the separatists. In the context of the Indo-Pak equations, support for Geelani shows that Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir has come full circle following Musharraf- Manmohan’s attempt for a consensual solution on the state. Geelani is dead against any solution short of the implementation of the UN Resolution on Kashmir, which he considers to be the basis for resolving the dispute. And he is apt to oppose an India-Pakistan peace process that attempts to take forward or build upon Musharraf’s four-point framework.

“Supporting Geelani would mean that Pakistan has abandoned the last vestiges of Musharraf era pragmatism on Kashmir and returned decisively to its pristine Kashmir stand derived from UN resolutions,” says a Hurriyat leader. “But what would happen if India and Pakistan rebuild the reconciliation around a modified Musharraf formula and Geelani opposes it? Will Islamabad again switch support to moderate separatists?”

However, the development is generally seen in terms of the ongoing chill in the Indo- Pak relations, whereby the two countries have competed over taking a more hawkish stance against each other.

Pertinently, on 25 October, the Kashmir-born US lobbyist Ghulam Nabi Fai is organising a Million Man March in front of the UN headquarters in New York. In 2011, the FBI had arrested Fai for collaborating with Pakistani spy agency ISI to change the American lawmakers’ view on Kashmir. The proposed march, Fai said, will help the efforts of the Kashmiri expatriates to educate policy makers regarding the current situation in Kashmir.

riyaz@tehelka.com

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