In a March 1997 article titled, The Political Education of Hurriyat (appended as a link here), I described how the efforts of All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to be considered a serious player in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) politics were at odds with their reluctance to engage in political discussions. In fact, Hurriyat’s political immaturity has cost them considerable goodwill in many quarters, including from officials of the U.S. government.
Today, we are looking at a different world scenario, and ready or not, Hurriyat has to change for its own survival. In a dramatic gesture on January 28, the Hurriyat Executive announced in Srinagar, Kashmir, that the organization will conduct a phased election of its own on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC), starting with its stronghold in the Kashmir region.
Many in the Hurriyat have publicly stated that the unusual decision was prompted by the situation arising September 11, 2001. Others believe that Musharraf’s pivotal speech of January 12, 2002, prompted the organization to rethink its strategy of "anguished isolation", and forced its leaders 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 order to stay credible, in reality the decision was shaped by a single event - an announcement by the Military Junta in Islamabad on December 1, 2001, declaring the formation of the "National Kashmir Committee" (NKC), headed by former "Azad Jammu and Kashmir" (or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, POK,, as it is better and more correctly known) prime minister, Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan. Suddenly, alarm bells rang in the Raj Bagh headquarters of the APHC, and here is why.
The announcement took the Hurriyat by surprise, as no one from the Pakistani establishment had consulted or informed them about it. The terms of reference of the NKC are equally disturbing to the Hurriyat. It would consist of seven members – besides Chairman Qayyum, there would be a coordinator, one member each from POK and the Indian side of Kashmir, and three other members to be nominated by Pakistan. In creating the new committee, Pakistan was officially signaling a change in its strategy of relying on covert terrorist campaign plus the spoiler role of the APHC to discredit India and deny it the ability to bring about a closure in Kashmir through political dialogue and negotiations.
Suddenly, APHC lost its mentor and its purpose.
The change of heart in Pakistan, reacting primarily to the pressure by the United States, was greeted initially by skepticism both in Pakistan, as well as in J&K. Lahore High Court Bar Association ridiculed the idea that a "discarded" politician, never a favorite with the Punjabi ruling elite, would lead the new political campaign on Kashmir. Similarly, on the Indian side of Kashmir, voices were raised that Mr. Qayyum has been soft on India as he had previously expressed his distaste for militancy and stressed the need for a political dialogue.
But then Mr. Qayyum himself made more details public. He spoke from Muzaffarabad on December 10 of how he changed his mind about dealing with the military establishment that consistently undercut him and his political party in the past, how he will be different from past parliamentary committee on Kashmir (set up during Benazir Bhutto’s reign), how he has been promised a permanent secretariat and a "blank check" to highlight Kashmiri freedom struggle at national and international fora, and how he wanted to be invited by India to meet with the "most distinguished politician in the subcontinent, Mr. Atal B. Vajpayee" to discuss the future of Kashmir.
But what was not said was equally telling.
For one, he was among the most vocal Kashmiri politicians from POK that spoke in favor of supporting Gen. Musharraf after Pakistani general pitched his lot with the Americans. Indeed, he may have been the only politician that did not have strong and active links with the Pakistani military-intelligence network that is running and fueling the insurgency in Indian Kashmir. By selecting Mr. Qayyum, Gen. Musharraf may have simply relied on an untainted face that could help him change the course, if he wished to do so.
Second, and equally important was the fact that by selecting Mr. Qayyum, Gen. Musharraf was putting his trust in a hard core "partition-politician" who believes that Kashmiris have 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 not enough to indicate his loyalty to his masters, the NKC has no member from the Northern Areas, a reaffirmation of Pakistan’s finality on the future of that vast region, something that Mr. Qayyum has also conveniently agreed to overlook.
Any doubt in the minds of Kashmiri secessionists that overt Jehad 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 January 12.
The Hurriyat had a choice – to either slowly fade away, or to fight for its survival. It chose the latter, but the actions announced on January 28, 2002 mean different things to different members of its Executive:
For Hurriyat chairman, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, the leader of the Muslim Conference in the valley (his counterpart, Mr. Qayyum, heads the Muslim Conference in POK), it means a diplomatic tit-for-tat. If Pakistan has suddenly withdrawn its blanket recognition of the APHC to be representatives of Kashmiri Muslims on both sides of the LOC, then APHC in turn questioned the validity of the NKC by selecting its own representatives in POK and Northern Areas through a process still evolving.
For Hurriyat past chairman and firebrand, Syed Ali Shah Geelani of Jamaat-I-Islami, the proposed election ("beauty contest") in the valley fulfils the requirement laid out in the charter of Pakistan’s NKC, which requires a representative to be selected from the valley.
For Mohammad Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), it is a political counterpoint to Pakistan’s bilateral efforts, through the selection of Mr. Qayyum, to preserve the option of independence. He had to be instrumental in convincing the Executive that APHC could not afford to be a duplicative of NKC and had to strike on its own.
For Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, most sensitive about the international support of the "Umma" to Kashmiri Muslim cause, APHC had to do something different post September 11, considering that terrorism glorified as martyrdom was suddenly being seen as barbaric medievalism by western nations.
For Abdul Gani Lone, the "wise old man" of Kashmiri politics, having seen the handwriting on the wall after his second trip to the United States in 1999, has been pushing for a negotiated political accommodation since. In the past Mr. Geelani ridiculed him, but times have changed.
But there are other implications of the announcement by Hurriyat as well. It has been reported that the "unofficial election commission" will have four members – a former judge, a journalist, a human rights activist and, probably, an academician. If I had to make my guess, these would be Judge V.M.Tarakunde, Mr. Kuldip Nayar, Mr. Tapan Bose and Prof. Amitabh Mattoo.
I could be wrong on the names, but I am convinced that the choices 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 by secessionist Kashmiris as being fair and independent, then the same group of eminent people would serve as "observers" subsequently in the J&K legislative assembly elections planned to be held in September 2002.
This would meet a key desire in many quarters that Hurriyat participation in the State election is necessary for pushing the political process further, and it could give Hurriyat the window of credibility to retain its representative claim.
Either way, the Indian government is probably viewing the shifting loyalties in Kashmir as a reaffirmation of its policy to broaden the political dialogue in Kashmir. One fear is that in reaching out to secessionists and terrorists, it may continue its current policy of ignoring the minorities that have suffered the most and are even more desperate for regaining their political rights as well as their ancestral lands from which they were ethnically cleansed by Islamic warriors in 1989-1990.
Merely saying, "Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits", is not good enough.
Kashmiri minorities that were forced out will not return to Kashmir without a political package that ensures their safe sustenance and a viable cultural and economic future in a geographical area that is likely to remain a "tough neighborhood" for decades to come.
Only with an equitable representation of the Kashmiri minorities (one-third of Kashmiris in J&K are non-Muslims) in any political process 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)