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Kashmir leadership

Kashmir leadership

There was widespread joy in Indian Kashmir when, on April 20, three top separatist leaders came together on the same platform — Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik — after five years.

It was at a condolence rally for a schoolboy killed on April 18 in police firing at Narbal in Badgam district. Sohail Ahmed Sofi was 15. “Eyewitnesses to Sofi’s killing told The Hindu that he was dressed in school uniform — grey pants and white shirt — when personnel from the Magam police station shot him on the street and injured four others.” The police registered a case of murder and rioting.

Earlier on April 13, the army killed, allegedly, 25-year-old Khalid Muzaffar who it suspected was a militant in Tral, in Indian Kashmir. Add to these another incident and one understands why the Valley is on a boil. It was the arrest of Masarat Alam on April 17 for unfurling Pakistan’s flag at a rally.

Read: Police shoot teenage protester dead in Indian-held Kashmir

The three were founding members of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference a little over 20 years ago. APHC suffered a major split in 2003 into APHC (M), the moderates, APHC (G), the hardliners while Yasin Malik went on his own course. He belongs to the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front which stands for independence.

A split was inherent in the situation with advocates of accession to Pakistan and of independence coming together. Each side could have held fast to its own ideal and yet fought together for measures of immediate relief such as cessation of killings, lifting the ban on assemblies, opportunity for travel abroad, etc.

They were all agreed against contesting elections to the Srinagar assembly although in 1971 even the Plebiscite Front was willing to contest the polls.

However, beyond their agreed boycott of polls they agree on no other alternative strategy unless, of course, one includes hartals, as elements of a promising strategy. Events have moved very far from the time when they adopted the APHC’s constitution which urged enforcement of the United Nations’ Resolution 1949 for a plebiscite in the entire Jammu & Kashmir. Even so Clause 2(1) of the constitution did envisage agreed alternatives to a plebiscite.

Also read: Kashmiri leader waves Pakistani flag at rally in Srinagar

Such a solution can be brought about only by an agreement between India and Pakistan. Their claim to a seat at the conference raises problems. How can their representative be selected without reference to the people? In Northern Ireland a special poll was held to select the rebels’ representatives for the conference.

Utter lack of realism marks the populist politics which some leaders practise; especially Geelani with his ‘all or nothing’ proposal. In 2015 militancy is at a low ebb. It was at its peak when the APHC was founded. What sanctions do these leaders command?

Geelani frankly said that the APHC’s leaders had no control over the gun. But nor do they have the backing of an electoral mandate and their differences are open.

The Hizbul Mujahideen chief, Syed Salahuddin, who is also head of the United Jihad Council, has been pleading with the APHC leaders to close ranks and devise a practical strategy. He said in 2011: “I have good advice for my friends, but they did not listen to me. No nation can remain dependent on constant strikes.”

Over the years, Pakistan’s leaders adopted realistic positions. During his first term as prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif told a group of visiting Indian journalists: “We will all have to step back. India will have to step back, Pakistan will have to step back and Kashmiris will also have to step back.”

A contest in populism keeps the leaders apart. Even some in the media and academia embrace the ‘all or nothing’ position.

The leaders can forge a united front on a single but crucial point — the right to protest; to assemble peacefully without arms. This is a fundamental right under the Indian as well as Indian Kashmir’s constitution.

Conscious of the unpopularity of the PDP-BJP coalition, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had this bit inserted in the agreement of the alliance in March. “The earlier NDA government led by Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of ‘Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat’.”

Following the same principles, “the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. This dialogue will seek to build a broad-based consensus on the resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K”.

The centre is none to keen on this. But the Hurriyat leaders can mobilise public opinion to demand that the alliance live up to its pledge.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2015

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