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Dialogue Over Diatribe?

What explains Hurriyat's dramatic gesture on Jan 28, that it will "conduct a phased election of its own on both sides of the LOC?

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Dialogue Over Diatribe?
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In a March 1997 article titled, The Political Education ofHurriyat (appended as a link here),I described how the efforts of All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to beconsidered a serious player in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) politics were atodds with their reluctance to engage in political discussions. In fact,Hurriyat’s political immaturity has cost them considerable goodwill in manyquarters, including from officials of the U.S. government.

Today, we are looking at a different world scenario, andready or not, Hurriyat has to change for its own survival. In a dramaticgesture on January 28, the Hurriyat Executive announced in Srinagar, Kashmir,that the organization will conduct a phased election of its own on both sidesof the Line of Control (LOC), starting with its stronghold in theKashmir region.

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Many in the Hurriyat have publicly stated that the unusualdecision was prompted by the situation arising September 11, 2001. Othersbelieve that Musharraf’s pivotal speech of January 12, 2002, prompted theorganization to rethink its strategy of "anguished isolation", and forced itsleaders to behave and react as seasoned politicians.

While it cannot be disputed that the above dates mark the"water shed" events through which the Hurriyat had to tiptoe with care in orderto stay credible, in reality the decision was shaped by a single event - anannouncement by the Military Junta in Islamabad on December 1, 2001, declaringthe formation of the "National Kashmir Committee" (NKC), headed by former "AzadJammu and Kashmir" (or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, POK,, as it is better andmore correctly known) prime minister, Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan. Suddenly,alarm bells rang in the Raj Bagh headquarters of the APHC, and here is why.

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The announcement took the Hurriyat by surprise, as no onefrom the Pakistani establishment had consulted or informed them about it. Theterms of reference of the NKC are equally disturbing to the Hurriyat. It wouldconsist of seven members – besides Chairman Qayyum, there would be acoordinator, one member each from POK and the Indian side of Kashmir, and threeother members to be nominated by Pakistan. In creating the new committee,Pakistan was officially signaling a change in its strategy of relying on covertterrorist campaign plus the spoiler role of the APHC to discredit India anddeny it the ability to bring about a closure in Kashmir through politicaldialogue and negotiations. 

Suddenly, APHC lost its mentor and its purpose.

The change of heart in Pakistan, reacting primarily to thepressure by the United States, was greeted initially by skepticism both inPakistan, as well as in J&K. Lahore High Court Bar Association ridiculedthe idea that a "discarded" politician, never a favorite with the Punjabiruling elite, would lead the new political campaign on Kashmir. Similarly, onthe Indian side of Kashmir, voices were raised that Mr. Qayyum has been soft onIndia as he had previously expressed his distaste for militancy and stressedthe need for a political dialogue.

But then Mr. Qayyum himself made more details public. Hespoke from Muzaffarabad on December 10 of how he changed his mind about dealingwith the military establishment that consistently undercut him and hispolitical party in the past, how he will be different from past parliamentarycommittee on Kashmir (set up during Benazir Bhutto’s reign), how he has beenpromised a permanent secretariat and a "blank check" to highlight Kashmirifreedom struggle at national and international fora, and how he wanted to beinvited by India to meet with the "most distinguished politician in thesubcontinent, Mr. Atal B. Vajpayee" to discuss the future of Kashmir.

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But what was not said was equally telling. 

For one, he wasamong the most vocal Kashmiri politicians from POK that spoke in favor ofsupporting Gen. Musharraf after Pakistani general pitched his lot with theAmericans. Indeed, he may have been the only politician that did not havestrong and active links with the Pakistani military-intelligence network thatis running and fueling the insurgency in Indian Kashmir. By selecting Mr.Qayyum, Gen. Musharraf may have simply relied on an untainted face that couldhelp him change the course, if he wished to do so. 

Second, and equallyimportant was the fact that by selecting Mr. Qayyum, Gen. Musharraf was puttinghis trust in a hard core "partition-politician" who believes that Kashmirishave only two choices for their future – either with India or with Pakistan.There is no "third option" in Mr. Qayyum’s vocabulary. And if that was notenough to indicate his loyalty to his masters, the NKC has no member from theNorthern Areas, a reaffirmation of Pakistan’s finality on the future of thatvast region, something that Mr. Qayyum has also conveniently agreed tooverlook.

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Any doubt in the minds of Kashmiri secessionists that overtJehad and covert terrorism will continue to be tolerated in Kashmir as a"special exception" were put to rest by Gen. Musharraf in his speech on January12. 

The Hurriyat had a choice – to either slowly fade away, or to fight for itssurvival. It chose the latter, but the actions announced on January 28, 2002mean different things to different members of its Executive:

For Hurriyat chairman, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, the leader ofthe Muslim Conference in the valley (his counterpart, Mr. Qayyum, heads theMuslim Conference in POK), it means a diplomatic tit-for-tat. If Pakistan hassuddenly withdrawn its blanket recognition of the APHC to be representatives ofKashmiri Muslims on both sides of the LOC, then APHC in turn questioned thevalidity of the NKC by selecting its own representatives in POK and NorthernAreas through a process still evolving.

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For Hurriyat past chairman and firebrand, Syed Ali ShahGeelani of Jamaat-I-Islami, the proposed election ("beauty contest") in thevalley fulfils the requirement laid out in the charter of Pakistan’s NKC, whichrequires a representative to be selected from the valley.

For Mohammad Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir LiberationFront (JKLF), it is a political counterpoint to Pakistan’s bilateral efforts,through the selection of Mr. Qayyum, to preserve the option of independence. Hehad to be instrumental in convincing the Executive that APHC could not affordto be a duplicative of NKC and had to strike on its own.

For Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, most sensitive about theinternational support of the "Umma" to Kashmiri Muslim cause, APHC had to dosomething different post September 11, considering that terrorism glorified asmartyrdom was suddenly being seen as barbaric medievalism by western nations.

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For Abdul Gani Lone, the "wise old man" of Kashmiripolitics, having seen the handwriting on the wall after his second trip to theUnited States in 1999, has been pushing for a negotiated politicalaccommodation since. In the past Mr. Geelani ridiculed him, but times havechanged.

But there are other implications of the announcement byHurriyat as well. It has been reported that the "unofficial electioncommission" will have four members – a former judge, a journalist, a humanrights activist and, probably, an academician. If I had to make my guess, thesewould be Judge V.M.Tarakunde, Mr. Kuldip Nayar, Mr. Tapan Bose and Prof.Amitabh Mattoo. 

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I could be wrong on the names, but I am convinced that thechoices will be of personalities known to be sympathetic to Kashmiri Muslims.But the key is that these are all Indians, and if they are accepted bysecessionist Kashmiris as being fair and independent, then the same group ofeminent people would serve as "observers" subsequently in the J&Klegislative assembly elections planned to be held in September 2002. 

This wouldmeet a key desire in many quarters that Hurriyat participation in the Stateelection is necessary for pushing the political process further, and it couldgive Hurriyat the window of credibility to retain its representative claim.

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Either way, the Indian government is probably viewing theshifting loyalties in Kashmir as a reaffirmation of its policy to broaden thepolitical dialogue in Kashmir. One fear is that in reaching out tosecessionists and terrorists, it may continue its current policy of ignoringthe minorities that have suffered the most and are even more desperate forregaining their political rights as well as their ancestral lands from whichthey were ethnically cleansed by Islamic warriors in 1989-1990. 

Merely saying,"Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits", is not good enough. 

Kashmiriminorities that were forced out will not return to Kashmir without a politicalpackage that ensures their safe sustenance and a viable cultural and economicfuture in a geographical area that is likely to remain a "tough neighborhood"for decades to come. 

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Only with an equitable representation of the Kashmiriminorities (one-third of Kashmiris in J&K are non-Muslims) in any politicalprocess can there be a lasting peace in the paradise called Kashmir.

(The writer, Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D., is National President, Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF) Washington, DC, USA)

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