FACING rough weather in the Valley, the four-year-old All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC)an umbrella organisation of over three-dozen separatist groups in Kashmiris trying to extend its activist role beyond the Pir Panjal mountain range. On December 10, World Human Rights Day, the entire Hurriyat leadership was in Delhi at the head of 500 victims of "state terrorism" to draw Indian and international attention to their plight.
The 72-hour sit-in and relay hunger strike outside the United Nations office in Delhi was a modest success. What gave it credibility was the participation of people from Kashmir who suffered during the seven years of turmoil in the Valley. But Hurriyat leaders said they were "disappointed" since the strike received inadequate media attention. For which the APHC is desperate, at a time when it is fighting with its back to the wall to prevent its marginalisation in Kasmir politics.
Though the APHCs decline began two years ago, its most recent setback has been the failure of its anti-election campaign. Despite widespread dissatisfaction with the conduct of Lok Sabha polls in Kashmir, the state administration went ahead with the assembly polls. Their muted campaign failed to mobilise people and the outcome of the elections only added to their woes. The Hurriyats bete noire, Farooq Abdullah,was not only sworn in as the chief minister but he has since then also made clear his opposition to all pro-Pakistan groups.
Meanwhile, internal dissent has racked the APHC itself, its various constituents pulling in different directions and some of its prominent leaders, including Shabir Shah, parting company from it. JKLFs Yasin Malik has been critical of the Hurriyat in the past.
The APHCs problems came to the fore when four top militants, led by Babbar Badr, a former chief of the Muslim Janbaz Force, revolted in February. In a frontal attack on both the APHCs motivations and its functioning, the militants said that the Hurriyat leaders "had no political vision and lacked initiative...confining themselves to dharnas to gain media attention. They have succumbed to five-star culture and drive about in fancy cars rather than think of the people of Kashmir".
And theres more trouble brewing for the APHC. Senior officials of the Enforcement Directorate told Outlook that they have prepared a list of APHC leaders who have been receiving political donations without filing proper returns. They include chairman of the APHC, Mirwaiz Kashmir Umar Farooq; Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Jamaat-i-Isl-ami; Abdul Ghani Khan Lone of the Peoples Conference; Abdul Ghani Bhatt, chief spokesman of the APHC; and Abbas Ansari of the Anj-uman-e-Itehad Alama (Shia). They even claim to have evidence to prove that funds for Valley-based secessionist groups come through major hawala operators.
As a follow-up, the Union Home Ministry is said to have asked the Revenue Department to expedite investigations into funds received by Hurriyat leaders from organisations abroad. The Home Ministry, in fact, had issued several notices under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to religious and political leaders in January, asking them to furnish details of foreign contributions received by them since January 1990. There are also allegations that donations collected by the APHC after the Charar-i-Sharief incident have yet to reach the affected families.
The APHC leadership, however, sees its position differently. According to a senior Hurriyat official: "This is a blatant Indian attempt to harass us and it will not succeed". Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Outlook in Delhi that "the protests on December 10 were part of our attempt to highlight the plight of the victims of human rights violations by the Indian state. Also, to ensure that theres better cohesion within the APHC, well be requesting all constituents to suspend work for their individual organisations and dedicate their cadre exclusively to the APHC".
Adds Abdul Ghani Lone: "We are expanding our arena of activity and the setting-up of a minorities cell is also on the cards. Our movement in the Valley for the rights of the Kashmiri people to decide their future will continue simultaneously." But the popular perception in the Valley, say observers, remains that the APHC has not performed. Despite hopes that it would become a common platform for all separatist groups, the APHCs support in the Valley is dwindling. And the December 10 protest seems just another attempt to deflect attention from this fact.