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A visit and its balance-sheet

Thursday 16 June 2005, by MURALIDHAR REDDY*B.

The Hurriyat faction is aware of the battle ahead of it from the separatists as well as the `pro-India’ political forces as it gets down to the task of convincing the various constituencies about its new line of thinking.

WAS THE visit by the Kashmir leaders to Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) a historic event or a mere photo opportunity? This is the topic of debate among them as they wind up their first formal, fortnight-long visit to Pakistan.

As they were about to return to Srinagar on June 16 by the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus, the delegation remained sharply divided on the outcome.

The Hurriyat faction led by its chairman, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, is convinced that their first such visit to Pakistan and the PoK has proved to be `historic’ and that a solution to Kashmir might be closer today than ever before.

The only dissenting voice in the delegation comes from the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader, Yasin Malik. Even if he is not prepared to say it in so many words, his supporters do not mince any words in suggesting that the visit is no more than a `photo-op’. As they see it, it is a matter of weeks before Mr. Malik will be pitted against the Mirwaiz faction led by the Hurriyat.

Changed world realities

Mr. Farooq and Co. are not only reconciled to the prospect of a negotiated India-Pakistan settlement on Kashmir but also resigned to a radical departure from the traditional stance on the 1948 U.N. Resolutions on Kashmir. Citing the changed world realities post-9/11, they have openly been talking about the need to be `realistic, pragmatic and conciliatory’.

The JKLF chief, who favours an independent Jammu and Kashmir, wants a central place for Kashmiris on the negotiating table. His argument is that Kashmiris alone can decide their fate and that neither India nor Pakistan has any business to be formulating a Kashmir solution.

He has publicly disagreed with the Mirwaiz that their visit marks the beginning of a triangular process towards a resolution of the Kashmir issue.

The visiting Hurriyat faction is aware of the battle ahead of it from the separatists as well as the `pro-India’ political forces as it gets down to the task of convincing the various constituencies about their new line of thinking.

In anticipation of the flak from the hardliners, Mr. Farooq has been maintaining the refrain that the time has come to change the meaning of several `words’ in Kashmir.

In response to criticism of his statement that the time has come to move beyond the U.N. Resolutions on Kashmir, Mr. Farooq has been saying that the term ghaddar (betrayer) needs to be redefined.

For fear of incurring the wrath of the hardliners, the moderate faction has been subdued in its welcome of the latest proposal made by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on an `autonomous Kashmir’.

Bilal Lone, the People’s Conference leader and a supporter of Mr. Farooq, said that Kashmiris should have no problem with the thinking of Gen. Musharraf on Kashmir as long as there was a consensus on it. Gen. Musharraf, currently on a visit to Australia, was quoted by the local media as saying in Canberra that an `autonomous Kashmir’ was his `earnest desire’ if some consensus could be developed on it.

He also said that complete independence for Kashmir would not be acceptable to India or Pakistan.

`Give peace a chance’

Bilal Lone, one of the Hurriyat leaders touring Pakistan as a part of the nine-member delegation of Kashmiri separatist leaders, told Indian journalists in Islamabad: "President Musharraf has his own point of view. If there is a consensus decision, we will go ahead with it. What is the problem with it? The suffering of [the] Kashmiri people has to end. [A] lot of blood was shed. Violence should take [the] back seat now. Let us give this peace process a chance."

Mr. Lone said during their recent meeting with Gen. Musharraf that several proposals including one for an autonomous Kashmir were discussed.

"Anything that satisfies maximum political thoughts in Kashmir, we should not say `no’ to it. We should just go behind it. Musharraf, being the President and [the] Chief of [the] Army [Staff] is in a commanding position. If we cannot solve it now it would be a tragedy for people of Kashmir and India," he said.

The other view

Yasin Malik, an advocate of independence, however, declined to react to Gen. Musharraf’s comments. "Let us leave it aside. We had an excellent visit to Pakistan where we had the stamp of approval for inclusion of Kashmiris in the peace process."

Mr. Malik, who held talks with Gen. Musharraf separately, claimed that the response he received during the visit to Pakistan was a "mandate" for the involvement of the Kashmiris in the peace process.

He wanted India and Pakistan to stop their `favouritism’ in Kashmir by backing different leaders.

Mr. Lone lashed out at the hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has opposed the peace process and attempted to project the faction led by Mr. Farooq as ghaddaar. "I am not concerned about Geelani. It is a big process between India and Pakistan, which I do not think anyone will try to derail. Derailing is out of question. We have to be part of this process. I respect him as [an] individual but it is not necessary that I go with his ideology. [The] people of Kashmir and [the] political leaders cannot remain hostage to [a] single particular individual," he said.

"He may have his way with ideology, if tomorrow [the] people of Kashmir adopt his ideology I cannot help it. Let them go behind him. But what I foresee at this point of time is that [the] people of Kashmir are not with his ideology. That is it," he said.

Mr. Lone said his group was not unduly concerned over the refusal of the militant groups, specially the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, to hold talks with them officially. Hizb leader Syed Salahuddin had declined to back the moderate Hurriyat faction against Mr. Geelani.

"If Salahuddin has not met us this time, no problem, we will meet him next time," he said. He added that leaders of several other militants groups, including Pakistan-based outfits, met them.

"Everybody came here. There is posturing outside and inside and there is no question of rebuff. It was his [Salahuddin’s] decision. If he thinks it was good that is his problem. Our doors were kept open for everyone. We had streams of visitors during our stay here," Mr. Lone said.

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