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A Marriage Of Convenience

The marriage link between Amanullah and Lone's families might not lead to any new partnerships

A Marriage Of Convenience
It'll be a symbolic reunification of the Kashmiri people,'' says Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Amanullah Khan, referring to his daughter Asma's November 19 marriage with Sajjad, son of the J&K Peoples Conference president, Abdul Ghani Lone, a senior APHC leader. The father of the bride also believes the marriage, held in Rawalpindi, could mark a new step towards a peaceful settlement of the lingering Kashmir dispute.

But there's more to the marriage than the obvious political implications. Asma Khan, Amanullah's only child, and Sajjad Ghani Lone first met in England some years ago when both were studying there, and those close to the Lone family say it was love at first sight. The Amanullah family was deported from England after living there till 1987. And it was only later, in Islamabad, that Sajjad and Asma could meet again.

After Sajjad returned to Kashmir, he joined the militancy and, along with elder brother Bilal Lone, was a senior associate of the then JKLF supremo Yasin Malik. Both Sajjad and Bilal were arrested along with Yasin in August 1990 and were in jail for quite some time besides spending many months in infamous torture centres. After his release, Sajjad was dispatched to Delhi by his father, where he began to dabble in business.

Sajjad joined a gold ornament export house in Jhandewalan in central Delhi as a director and in a few years bought the shares of other directors in his family members' names, including his father's. Sometime after taking over the company, Sajjad is reported to have obtained a gold consignment from the Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation (MMTC) in Delhi and rumour has it that he left India with 20 kg of gold and never returned. MMTC, after serving several legal notices, raided the company office and sealed it. A case is still pending against Sajjad and other directors.

Sajjad then went to Dubai where, in partnership with a Pakistani national, he was said to be running a jewellery showroom. In the meantime, Sajjad also visited Pakistan, where he again met Asma—a post-graduate in defence and strategic studies from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad—and the old relationship was revived. Amanullah Khan, who is a personal friend of Ghani Lone—both having studied together in Handwara, Lone's ancestral town in the Valley—readily consented to the marriage offer from Lone.

In Pakistan, the political aspect of the marriage is seen as being significant. Asked about the wedding's political implications, the JKLF chief said: ''Those likely to assemble here would not be discussing the weather. They'll definitely discuss the Kashmir issue as almost all invitees are linked to Kashmir.'' Asked if he had a specific agenda to discuss Kashmir, Amanullah replied that an agenda could only be chalked out once all participants sit together. He, however, hoped the the marriage would help ease regional tension.

Amanullah recently caused a furore in Pakistan after he showed some flexibility towards a dialogue offer from India. Though his stance clashed with the APHC's (which wants Pakistan to be involved in the process), Amanullah argued that the dialogue offer meant that India was recognising the other party's point of view.

Observers also feel that New Delhi's decision to allow Hurriyat leaders to travel to Pakistan should be seen as a major political breakthrough. Amanullah, for his part, believes the Hurriyat leaders and other important personalities—from within the disputed state and outside—were finally allowed to travel to Pakistan after he wrote to A.B. Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf. 

Apart from being a show of Kashmiri unity, the wedding gives the Hurriyat a chance to directly sound out the Pakistani leadership about the modalities of a dialogue with India. The feeling is that New Delhi has allowed Lone to travel to Islamabad amid expectations that the wedding would help revive the stalled Lahore process.

Interestingly, last week New Delhi also permitted APHC's Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Maulana Abbas Ansari to travel to Qatar and attend a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). 

The APHC has an observer status with the OIC and was represented at an OIC gathering after a gap of two years. Although the latter issued a strong resolution condemning India for flagrant human rights violations, the Mirwaiz spoke against a confrontation with India and stressed the need for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute through negotiations.

The JKLF chairman has invited around 1,500 guests, including Kashmiri leaders, journalists and activists from India. The list includes Indian President K.R. Narayanan, Vajpayee, J&K CM Farooq Abdullah, foreign minister Jaswant Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Karan Singh, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik. 

A foreign office spokesman said Pakistan would have no objection if any of the Hurriyat leaders decided to visit Pakistan. ''We're ready to welcome the true representatives of the Kashmiris. Pakistan has a lot of regard for the APHC leaders and they would instantly be given visas whenever they apply for it. The problem is always from the Indian side,'' the spokesman said.

Amanullah has even invited some of his arch political rivals, including Jamaat leaders and a few militant Kashmiri commanders, to attend the wedding. ''I decided to set aside minor political difference for a greater cause,'' he said. Observers in Srinagar, however, do not attach much importance to this politico-social relationship between Khan and Lone as the former doesn't carry much weight in Kashmir politics. In fact, after Malik deserted Amanullah and took over the chairmanship of JKLF, Amanullah lost much of the popularity he once enjoyed in Kashmir. Amanullah, who crossed the LoC in the early '50s, has never visited the state since.

After he came to Pakistan, Amanullah regrouped the JKLF and became its chairman, a position he's held since 1984. Both he and Lone were important figures in the Kashmir militancy. While the former, with the active support of the Pakistan government and the ISI, supervised the armed training of Kashmiri youths, Lone was said to be mentor and advisor to JKLF leaders in Kashmir. However, JKLF leaders later distanced themselves from Lone, who launched another militant outfit by the name of Al-Burq.

Asked whether his daughter and Sajjad have any future political ambitions, all Amanullah said was that ''Asma is a political-minded person.'' Amanullah is fully aware of the risks involved in marrying his daughter to someone whose family lives in the Valley and where he cannot visit her—unless the two parts of Kashmir reunite some day. And many hope that the union of these two young Kashmiris might prove to be the first step towards the final accomplishment of Amanullah's dream.

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