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The Hurriyat must unite for Azadi in Kashmir

by A G Noorani, 7 December 2008

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Dawn, December 6, 2008

The Hurriyat’s crisis

by A.G. Noorani

NOT till Dec 28 when the votes are counted will we know whether the plans by some in New Delhi to install Farooq Abdullah and later his son, Omar, in power in Kashmir have succeeded.

But the first three of the seven phases of the elections have sent two clear messages which neither the Unionists nor the separatists will like. One is that the voters sought change in governance while retaining their commitment to azadi. No one contests this. The other is that the electorate has snubbed the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). On Sept 12 Mirwaiz Umar Farooq warned the Unionists “to fear the wrath of the people”. Their wrath might be visited on the APHC unless it puts its own house in order soon enough.

It has consistently overplayed its hand by making tall claims. The APHC cannot deliver peace because it does not control the militants. It was piqued and felt left out when the Hizbul Mujahideen declared a ceasefire on July 24, 2000 and began parleys with the Government of India. The fragile unity between the leaders came apart in 2003.

The present surge in its fortunes is due entirely to popular resentment at the state government’s order of May 26, 2008 on the transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. It is the people who led the APHC always, not the other way around. To the Mirwaiz goes the credit for reaching out to the faction headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and inviting him “to lead this resistance” to the order.

On June 16 a coordination committee of six members was set up “to evolve a joint mechanism for attaining the right to self-determination through plebiscite or, alternatively, through tripartite talks”. It would review “the 1993 Constitution of the APHC and implement it with amendments, if necessary”. Geelani agreed, “We have reached the conclusion that we will unite”. The United Jihad Council, headed by the Hizb leader Syed Salahuddin, welcomed the move. He has been pleading with them to unite. Nearly six months later this coordination committee continues still to coordinate. Unity is not in sight.

Popular upsurge in the Valley was compared to that in 1990. On July 3 Geelani declared “Our struggle would be peaceful. We neither need the gun of the mujahideen now, nor the support of Pakistan or its media.”

Meanwhile, Jammu erupted in protests organised by the RSS. The economic blockade it imposed on the Valley revived the demand for the reopening of the road to Rawalpindi. On Aug 11 nearly 100,000 persons began to march from Sopore towards the LoC. It was supported by Kashmir’s Chamber of Commerce, Fruit Growers and Traders’ Federation and the PDP led by Mehbooba Mufti. The People’s League’s leader Shaikh Abdul Aziz fell to a bullet. The next day mobs secured release from house arrest of the Mirwaiz and Geelani.

The agitation was at its peak. Tens of thousands assembled in Pampore on Aug 16 to pay their respects to the slain leader. A rally in Srinagar on Aug 22 drew a mammoth crowd. Syed Salahuddin made an important announcement on Aug 23 — the UJC had “decided that in view of the present unarmed people’s movement, no militant action will be conducted”. It would “silence the guns”.

But if on Oct 9 the Mirwaiz stipulated terms for talks with New Delhi, the next day the coordination committee insisted on “tripartite talks only”. The only thing that united them was boycott of the polls. Geelani’s letter to the Unionists parties on Nov 11 was not a muezzin’s call to the faithful to assemble in joint prayer. It was a taunt to the heretics to return to the fold.

Geelani Sahib inspires respect but his refusal to reckon with the realities is the despair of friends and a relief to foes. He does not compromise with colleagues and fails to provide leadership. Little does he or the APHC realise that their accord on peaceful agitation poses an unanswerable challenge to their adversaries and opens avenues for settlement; provided that they accept that India and Pakistan will not jettison the broad consensus already achieved in the back channel and will implement any accord within the limits set by their respective constitutions. Only the ignorant perceive those limits as being restrictive. They allow self-rule that will be the envy of the rest of South Asia.

On July 11 Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made a statesmanlike offer: “We have to look out of the box. We have to look at innovative ways of resolution (of the Kashmir issue).”

The APHC betrays the people by imprisoning itself in the old battered box of 1993. Consider this suggestion out of the box: “An autonomous region with the other side being a party to it could address the issue in such a way that India can sort of live with that, Pakistan can also live with that too, and Kashmiris can also get something they have been aspiring for. So we should be ready to discuss all the options and, as I have said earlier, autonomous identity for Kashmir could be the solution.” It was said by the Mirwaiz in a press interview published on Oct 10, 2002. This is azadi, real and achievable.

The APHC must unite, eschewing ego clashes, adopt a strategy of peaceful popular mobilisation without the hartals, and meet the people’s needs. It has to establish its credentials as a responsible and credible interlocutor in the peace process. The time for slogans and chants about the UN resolutions is over. The time has come for a constructive detailed elaboration of the consensus on the famous four points and the draft of a constitutional framework that would give it legal effect. The alternative is stark — irrelevance and rejection by the young. Their cry for azadi deserves a sound response.

The writer is a lawyer and an author.