SRINAGAR: Pro-freedom leaders in India-held Jammu and Kashmir are united in registering their strong protest over the omission of Kashmir issue in a joint statement issued after a mee­ting of the prime ministers of Pakistan and India on July 10 on the sidelines of a summit in the Russian city of Ufa, but they stand divided so far on attending an Eid Milan party to be host­ed by the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi on July 21.

While All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) Chairman Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq has decided to attend the party, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the chief of his faction of APHC, has boycotted the event to register a symbolic protest against the Pakistani government for “sidelining” Kashmir and skipping it in the joint statement.

Talking to this reporter, the Mirwaiz said: “We feel it is important at this juncture to contribute our bit to the dialogue process between Pakistan and India because we believe that no progress on Kashmir is possible unless they countries come closer to each other for a better understanding. Our participation will add to the right atmosphere created by the recent meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi in Russia.”

The Mirwaiz, though, added a caveat. “Most definitely we will convey our displeasure to the Pakistani high commissioner over the omission of Kashmir in the recently issued joint statement in Ufa. In principle, the Hurriyat believes that dialogue is better than a deadlock. However, we will also communicate our reservations with regards to the skipping of Kashmir from the joint statement.”

Syed Ali Geelani, who is also chief of the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir, argued that his rejection to the invitation was a mark of protest against “unnecessary flexibility on Kashmir” shown by the Pakistani government. Explaining his boycott decision, he said: “Of late, the Pakistani government seems to be in ‘awe’ of India.”

“The Pakistani prime minister failed in his moral and diplomatic duty to convey to his Indian counterpart in Russia that India is holding on to Kashmir on gunpoint. He should have talked about the military occupation of Kashmir, gross human rights excesses and denial of political and human rights of Kashmiris, but he [Nawaz Sharif] succumbed to India’s pressure and forgot Kashmir,” the octogenarian leader said.

On Wednesday, Mr Geelani had said Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir appeared “wavering” and “inconsistent”.

Following Mr Geelani’s footsteps, the chairperson of hard-line women’s political outfit Dukhtaran-i-Millat, Asiya Andrabi, has also decided to boycott the Eid Milan gathering. Ms Andrabi, known for her fiery anti-India speeches and hard-line posturing, accused Pakistan of “hurting sentiments of the Kashmiri nation”.

“India is an occupier and oppressor. We have never had any expectations from India. But the Pakistani rulers should bear in mind that Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of the 1947 partition. Pakistan cannot back-pedal. So we have decided to turn down the Pakistan high commissioner’s invitation. Let Pakistan know that Kashmiris can’t be taken for granted,” she said in a statement.

Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a key Kashmir observer and international law expert, said the Kashmiri leaders should accept the invitation and convey their displeasure about the omission of Kashmir in the Ufa joint statement.

“Given Nawaz Sharif’s track record as prime minister he appears to have done far better than former president Pervez Musharraf vis-à-vis Kashmir. Yes, Kashmir should have been included in the joint statement, but it is difficult to imagine that Pakistan will sideline Kashmir,” Dr Hussain said.

Pro-independence leader and chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Mohammad Yasin Malik said he would convene a meeting of members of his party by Friday evening to take a final call on whether to attend or boycott the Eid Milan party.

“In tune with our democratic tradition, our party will take a decision after consultations and due deliberations. We will hear views of our members and sympathisers and decide accordingly,” he said.

The Pakistani High Commission had earlier invited the pro-freedom leaders for an Iftar party on July 4, but later cancelled it without any explanation. In the Kashmir Valley, the commission’s decision was perceived as Pakistan’s ‘abject surrender’ before India.

According to sources, the High Commission decided to call off the Iftar party with an apparent aim not to “annoy” India and help create a “conducive atmosphere” for the Sharif-Modi meeting in Russia.

The Ufa joint statement did not specifically mention the Kashmir issue. All previous prime minister-level joint statements — Lahore Declaration, Agra draft, New York, Islamabad, etc — had the mention of Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2015

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