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The Hurriyat's dilemma

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May 30, 2005 10:41 IST

For years they had been crying for it.

But now that the Srinagar-based Hurriyat leaders have got the green signal to go to Pakistan 'for consultations,' their euphoria about the trip across the Line of Control is bound to be replaced by anxiety over its eventual outcome.

In a way, they have staked their own future.

Their success lies in enlisting the support of the Pakistan-based militant groups for the peace process. The Kashmir-based hardliners have distanced themselves from this course as well as from the moderate segment, which has been hawking their Pakistan trip as if it held the key to an 'honourable solution' of the Kashmir dispute.

Beyond the bus service

Across the LoC, it is the response of the Muttahida Jihad Council -- MJC -- headed by Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salauddin which will make -- or mar -- the prospects of the Hurriyat leaders' mission.

Signals coming from that quarter in recent weeks indicate that the MJC may be amenable to coming on board, subject to certain conditions.

At the (over ground) political level, there is precious little to achieve from the hyped trip.

Individually, the Hurriyat leaders, especially Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Maulvi Abbas Ansari, have been going abroad from time to time to meet their counterparts from Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir in some third country. Both sides know each other's views quite thoroughly. It is the militant wing of the separatists which has so far refused to fall in line.

At the other end, the Indian government has also shown no appetite for doing business with the underground.

The moderate Hurriyat thus finds itself hanging between two unyielding extremes while under increasing pressure, from both Pakistan and India, to jump into the peace stream.

Under the circumstances, the Hurriyat has suffered a serious erosion of its relevance. It can recover the loss, and perhaps make substantial gains too, if it can bring around the MJC to its side.

The Hizbul Mujahideen is the key component of the MJC, besides being the most influential militant outfit operating on this side of the LoC. Its political clout can tilt the balance of forces within the Kashmir-based separatist camp.

Conversely, its opposition to the peace initiative could rob the process of its legitimacy in the popular perception.

There are indications that the Pakistan establishment has been doing quite some groundwork following the recent Musharraf-Manmohan summit in India. A couple of statements coming from the MJC point to the possibility of the moderate Hurriyat leaders breaking some new ground across the LoC.

To start with, these leaders are likely to return from Pakistan with a set of proposals for the consideration of the Government of India. Declarations of an internal ceasefire in Kashmir coupled with reduction of forces on this side of the LoC are expected to be among the main features of this proposition.

However, the Hizbul Mujahiddin would like to tread extremely cautiously after its bitter experience in 2000.

Its unilateral declaration of ceasefire that year had ended in bitterness within a short time, largely because of inept handling by New Delhi. Some sections suspect that then chief minister Farooq Abdullah had not played fair as he did not like the idea of having to make way for someone else after being in saddle for just a few years at the end of a long out-of-power spell.

The situation is different now. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is committed to playing a 'facilitator' in the peace process initiated by India and Pakistan.

Another notable feature of the Hurriyat leaders' Pakistan visit is that their political credentials across the LoC, withdrawn by Pakistan in the wake of the split and consequent emergence of hardliners led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, will be restored. Pakistan had virtually ignored the moderates till the recent New Delhi summit.

Going by this trend and also reading into the stray hints coming from Pakistan, one should not be surprised if the moderate Hurriyat leaders' visit to Pakistan is followed by that of pro-India leaders like Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.

Of course, it would have to be reciprocated by India by inviting their counterparts from 'Azad Kashmir.'

Militants unhappy

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has been openly acknowledging the 'representative' character of elected leaders even while asserting that his country accepts only the Hurriyat as the true representative of Kashmiris.

The Hurriyat leaders are understandably reticent about what solution they have in mind while undertaking their mission to Pakistan, though Musharraf has been floating all sorts of options.

There are indications that the visiting Kashmiri leaders may impress upon their counterparts in Pakistan that they should not forget to work out the cost-benefit ratio of letting the present drift to continue. The heavy cost in terms of life, property and normalcy being paid by the people of Kashmir is becoming unbearable. To what extent this point is driven home by the Hurriyat leaders only time can tell. But on it greatly hinges the prospect of making progress in the peace process.

Acceptance of this argument ipso factorules out certain options. Perhaps the most difficult part of their mission is to meet the arguments of the hardliners across the LoC. Several rounds of discussion and debate on this side have not yielded any result till now. Both sides have decided to go their separate ways. It is unlikely to be any different on the other side.

If, as they have been saying, the visiting Hurriyat leaders step out of 'Azad Kashmir' and travel to Pakistan to meet Pakistani leaders, they would be doing so without carrying their Indian passports and Pakistani visa.

'Hurriyat leaders can't go beyond PoK'

Non-passport travel across the LoC is supposed to be confined to the territory of the erstwhile undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir. This itself would be a significant step, after the unusual modalities adopted by the two countries to operationalise the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service from April 7.

It indicates a welcome flexibility in approach. What else is added to it by the forthcoming visit of the Hurriyat leaders will be known soon.

Geelani faction turns down Pak invite

And on that rest the hopes of many here in Kashmir as well as on the other side of the LoC.

Peace talks: Complete coverage

Mohammad Sayeed Malik