The fractured Hurriyat

25 May 2012

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“UNITED we stand, divided we fall’. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) consistently flouted this admonition which is blazoned across the cover of its constitution in bold letters. The violent clashes that erupted recently at the headquarters of the Hurriyat in Srinagar between the supporters of Shabir Ahmed Shah, leader of the Democratic Freedom Party, and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq reflected the rift.

Shah, who was expelled from the Hurriyat for meeting the US ambassador Frank Wisner, defying the APHC’s ban on such meetings demands Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat’s expulsion for his recent remarks on UN resolutions on Kashmir.

He also wants a radical restructuring of the APHC, a demand he had made before the expulsion. It had no takers and his following is none too large. The APHC was set up on Sept 9, 1963. It comprised seven political parties plus a score of associations. The parties were the Jamaat-i-Islami, represented by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, People’s Conference led by the late Abdul Ghani Lone; JKLF, the Muslim Conference of Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, Ittehadul Muslimeen of Maulvi Abbas Ansari, People’s League and the Awami Action Committee led by the Mirwaiz.

In July 2000, Lone was defeated by Bhat in the polls for the presidentship. The two stalwarts largely responsible for the APHC’s aura, Geelani and Lone, had fallen out. In 2003, the APHC formally split into the Geelani and Mirwaiz (Moderate) factions. On June 14, 2008, they agreed “to evolve a joint mechanism for attaining the right to self-determination through plebiscite or, alternatively, through tripartite talks”. It would even “review the 1993 constitution of the APHC and implement it with amendments, if necessary”, a tacit admission of the necessity for change. Geelani agreed, “We have reached the conclusion that we will unite.” Before long, he declared that there was no basis for unity.

This is the background to the crisis in the APHC (M). On May 6, a rally was held at Sopore at which Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat dropped a bombshell in the presence of the Mirwaiz and some other members of the APHC’s executive. “The UN resolutions constitute the legal basis of the Kashmir dispute.” After declaring the orthodox position, he said: “These resolutions cannot practically be implemented with reference to the language of the resolutions which, in my opinion, is complex. That means probably these resolutions may not be implemented at all. We have, therefore, to explore the possibilities of finding a solution to the problem through dialogue.” He urged that the four-point formula of former president Pervez Musharraf should be taken up “systematically”.

The APHC’s constitution proves that this was no heresy. Chapter II Clause (i) pays obeisance to the resolutions only to accept in clause (ii) “an alternative negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute amongst all the three parties to the dispute” — the two states plus “the people of the state”.

Bhat went further. He asked the unionists to join hands with the separatists to forge a united front. “The National Conference talks about autonomy, the People’s Democratic Party talks of self-rule. Why should we not move together with a common minimum political agenda and push it ahead. Let us talk with one voice and follow one single agenda.” When the APHC (M) executive met on May 8 a bitter debate ensued and a violent clash was barely averted.

This rift exposes two things — a crass misunderstanding of “the UN resolutions” and the failure of the separatists to evolve a platform whose leaders can serve as interlocutors in any talks. The united APHC as well as its two squabbling progeny have revealed themselves to be incompetent in evolving any policy that made sense; a strategy which could accomplish their objectives, and tactics which could reasonably be expected to yield results.

The Mirwaiz himself is on record in his support to the four-point formula. In a press interview published on Oct 10, 2002, he offered this proposal. “An autonomous region, with the other side being a party to it, could address the issue in such a way that India can sort of live with that, Pakistan can also live with that too, and Kashmiris can also get something they have been aspiring for. So we should be ready to discuss all the options and, as I have said earlier, autonomous identity for Kashmir could be the solution.”

The truth is that at every critical juncture which called for a decision the APHC dithered; most notably on the ceasefire declared by the Hizbul Mujahideen’s Abdul Majid Dar on July 24, 2000. The leaders of the then united APHC behaved as if they had been robbed of leadership. In a statement issued on August 13, 2000 the Hizb scolded them. Even at the best of times the APHC did not control the gun and had not the power to establish peace. Now, in its reduced circumstances, both factions present a pathetic sight. The ego clashes of the leaders and their failure to propose any realistic solution or formulate sound policies are very evident. Advocates of tripartite talks are unwittingly constructing a Tower of Babel. No solution to the Kashmir dispute will work unless it is supported by the people.

It is equally true that there is no single leader or party or amalgam of both which enjoy representative credentials. The top leaders are barely on speaking terms with each other. What is truly deplorable is their failure to formulate a form of peaceful agitation and protest and achieve a united front to press for this very basic human right which has been denied to the people, consistently. They foolishly shun development issues of concern to the people as if they would weaken their struggle.

Recent statements by Kashmiri leaders give ground for hope that a common front on the basis of the four points is not unattainable. In that lies hope. For, that formula ensures the Kashmirs reunification de facto, self-rule to both parts, demilitarisation and a joint mechanism between east and west Kashmir. All Kashmiris, across the political divide, should demand that the leaders of India and Pakistan stop dragging their feet and move ahead to clinch an accord which was very much in sight in 2007.

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