NEW DELHI: A high-level civil society delegation led by former external affairs minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha met top Kashmiri resistance leaders in Srinagar on Tuesday, including hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, but the BJP said it had no links with the initiative.

The delegation obviously is not bereft of official support as moderate Hurriyat Conference chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, under detention for weeks, was shifted to his residence on Monday.

There were no details of that meeting but sources said one was scheduled with the Mirwaiz.

No details were available of the meeting with Mr Geelani, regarded as a separatist hardliner, but sources said his standard demand for UN initiative on the Kashmir dispute was reiterated.

Mr Geelani avidly advocates the recognition of the Kashmir issue as a dispute by India, and wants all political prisoners freed. He has been campaigning for the immediate release of noted human rights activist Khurram Pervez and other jailed activists.

In a separate meeting, the delegation led by Mr Sinha and including former minorities commission chief Wajahat Habibullah and peace activist Sushobha Barve, met former Hurriyat chief Prof Abdul Ghani Bhatt.

Prof Bhatt told Dawn from Srinagar that the delegation was apparently on a mission to break the ice between Delhi and the resistance leadership.

Mr Bhatt said the Kashmir issue had gone beyond being an issue for the Kashmiris and a dispute between India and Pakistan. “It holds the key to the future of South Asia, particularly its development with peace.”

The phlegmatic leader, a Persian scholar, said he gave the delegation a glimpse of the psychohistorical perspective on Kashmir. “Our land was historically invaded from India with the help of guns and later wooed with the promise of democracy. It’s been a chaotic mix, a tragic standoff full of suffering for a very resolute Kashmiri people.”

Mr Bhatt said the region had become fraught with serious challenges after the arrival of major powers with conflicting agendas. “With China, Russia and the United States camped in the region, it is all the more incumbent on India and Pakistan to start talks to avert a catastrophe.”

He put the role for Kashmiris as one of the final arbiters. “In this equation it is a dispute between India and Pakistan, in which Kashmiris are the final arbiters,” Prof Bhatt said. As the final arbiters, the Kashmiris can join the discussion subsequently, but the two countries locked in the dispute should not waste time to start talks, he said.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Sinha told the media that the delegation was ‘not official’ and its members had come to meet the separatist leaders in their personal capacity to assess the situation which arose after killing of a Hizbul Mujahideen militant on July 8. Since then, Kashmir has been roiled by unrest.

While Mr Geelani who is under house arrest, allowed the delegation inside his residence in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area, the media was kept out.

The delegation which is on a three-day visit, was scheduled to meet Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik. However, there are reports that Mr Malik, who could not be reached by phone, is in hospital with an unspecified serious illness. The BJP has, distanced itself from the meetings.

“It is not a BJP delegation. BJP has nothing to do with this,” its National Secretary Shrikant Sharma said.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2016