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April 11, 2000

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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Talks with the Hurriyat could be NDA's harakiri

The ubiquitous K-word is now abuzz with new frequencies of the ever-alarming sound waves emanating from India's so-called paradise on earth. In a stunning development towards resolving the Kashmir conundrum of over half a century, the government of India has expressed its willingness to be engaged in talks with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference known to be a separatist outfit set up in December 1992. Why, Home Minister L K Advani has declared his government's willingness to talk simultaneously to "local ultras" and "dissident groups" in Jammu and Kashmir too.

How a supposedly omnibus organisation representing all political constituents in Jammu and Kashmir will permit a parallel dialogue with other units in the state is only part of the confusing cacophony. The crux though, is the proposal to take on the Hurriyat itself across the table.

Columnists and commentators have nevertheless quickly welcomed this sudden public initiative as a bold gesture deserving "congratulations" and "thank yous". But since this rare compliment to the NDA government and to Advani in particular is only in anticipation of a miraculous solution to "The Kashmir Question", these analysts may well be counting their chickens too soon.

Before hatching that note of caution -- call it a warning if you will -- the impression needs to be dispelled that this decision of the NDA government to cast off its distrust of the Hurriyat has been in supplication to some private arm-twisting by President Clinton during his visit to India last month. As far back as November 22, 1999, The Indian Express had carried an article by Tariq Bhatt citing unconfirmed reports that the Government of India had opened an unofficial channel for talks with the then jailed Hurriyat leaders (released abruptly last week).

Bhatt, writing from Srinagar, had indicated that the Union law ministry had been given the task of monitoring the talks. He had also stated that there were reports of Kuldip Nayar (former ambassador and journalist), Syed Shahabuddin (former ambassador) and Professor Saifuddin Soz (former Union minister) being the intermediaries for the talks which, interestingly, were said to enjoy the blessings of the United States and Britain. All this, mind you, when Clinton's visit to India and the message of his trip were unknown factors.

Another possible misapprehension that needs to be removed is that the three Hurriyat leaders who were released from jail had been jailed for terrorism or sedition or such heinous acts. The fact is that all of them -- Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Abdul Ghani Butt and Maulana Abbas Ansari -- had been arrested under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act for their anti-election campaigning during the Lok Sabha poll of October 1999.

The three Hurriyat musketeers are no angels of course. Rather, going by the data on them posted three years ago on the web site www.jammu-kashmir.com, each of them has very suspicious financial affiliations. Thus, Geelani is alleged as: a. Having purchased property of nearly nine million rupees in the name of his son-in-law; b. Having purchased an orchard in Sopore district; c. Owning three houses in Kashmir alone; and, d.Having taken his family on lavish foreign tours.

Abdul Ghani is alleged as: a.Receiving three million rupees per month from Pakistan's ISI; b.Owning several posh apartments in Delhi; c.Owning palatial houses in Rawapora, Srinagar; and, d.Having his visits to the USA, the UK and the Middle East paid for by Pakistani leaders.

Lastly, Ansari is alleged as: a.Having collected three million Saudi riyals during his stay in Saudi Arabia; b.Having collected money regularly from Iran and from the ISI; c. Owning a fully computerised printing press; and, d.Owning several houses in Jammu and Kashmir including a palatial one in Srinagar.

The CBI, says the above web site, has filed chargesheets against the three for violating the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976, in receiving some Rs 800 million in the last few years.

Whatever be the truth of the above allegations, the fact is that the three Hurriyat leaders have been known to be in the USA and in the UK frequently and long enough to develop very close contacts with political leaders there. They couldn't have afforded all that with the mere tax-free sale of Kashmiri apples, could they?

More than the financial shenanigans of these three Hurriyat musketeers, what casts dark clouds on their proposed talks with the home Ministry ms their doubtful antecedents, their duplicity and their lack of genuineness in helping to bring about normalcy and peace to Jammu and Kashmir

Firstly, there was that article in The Hindu some five years ago by O N Dhar, whose association with Kashmir's political development began in the early forties as a student leader who later became intimate with it as an important senior executive in the Jammu and Kashmir administration. In that article, Dhar makes the following assertions:

1. 'The Hurriyat was non-existent until the Inter Services Intelligence in Islamabad ushered it on the Kashmir scene.'

2. 'The Hurriyat is not all a product of the Kashmiris' aspersions or of their struggle at different stages for keeping their identity intact.'

3. 'The organisation (Hurriyat) is without a constitution and has a whole host of leaders of varying hues and beliefs like the Jamaat-i-Islami Chief, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and Maulana Abbas Ansari, the maverick Shia leader, besides the chiefs of insurgent outfits.'

4. 'The publicly stated objective of the party of uniting different outfits has eluded these leaders all through their new dispensation because the ISI's gameplan is not to unite the outfits but to keep them at loggerheads so as to ensure that they do not eschew the cult of the gun and mayhem. These leaders have been carrying on misinformation campaigns against India and have been misleading the representatives of the world media covering Kashmir and the foreign envoys who frequently descend on Srinagar.'

Now see the doublespeak of the Hurriyat. Till November 1999, the Hurriyat's rigid stand was tripartite talks between it, India and Pakistan. But on November 21, the Hurriyat's acting chairman, Umar Farooq told Tariq Bhatt that Pakistan could be brought in at a later stage, not in the first phase.

On April 4 this year, Abdul Ghani reiterated to The Asian Age newspaper his organisation's plea for an international mediator. On April 5 this year Geelani told the same newspaper, 'Our stand is clear. We are for self-determination or tripartite talks.' And just the next day, on April 6, Abdul Ghani told the same newspaper, 'I want the two governments to create conditions where the APHC can use its good offices and talk to both sides. Why go to Washington?' Is this ventriloquial vocabulary merely another label for deceit?

So is Advani's NDA government being utterly na´ve in offering talks to the Hurriyat? This is difficult to believe when Advani insists that the talks will be within the rigours of the Constitution of India. Since Jammu and Kashmir is mentioned therein as being one of the States constituting the territory of the Union of India (Article 1), since the separate Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir itself declares the entire territory of the state of Jammu and Kashmir as being eternally an integral part of India (non-amendable Section 3 therein), since a 1994 resolution of the Indian Parliament reiterates that position and since, above all, the Hurriyat doesn't recognise the Constitutional position, what in the name of Ram is Advani trying to achieve?

Is this business of willingness to talk to the Hurriyat a kite-flying exercise? Is it some gimmick of some sort, some PR exercise? Is it just the thoughtlessness born of frustration with the K-word? Is it bravura after the success of Kargil diplomacy? Is it the failure to grasp the need for a nationally consensual strategy to solve the conundrum of 50 years and more? Or is it the inability to grasp the elementary truth that rapid economic development holds the master key to winning the hearts of our Kashmiri brethren, Shias, Sunnis and Pandits alike?

An affirmative answer to any of these questions could well spell the NDA government's harakiri with the capital "H" of the Hurriyat.

Arvind Lavakare

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