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Mirwaiz in Pakistan

January 18, 2013

THE Pakistani government invited the leaders of both factions of the Hurriyat in Indian Kashmir to visit because it wanted to know the nuances of the political situation there and also to reaffirm its locus standi in the dispute.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani declined the invitation because of the imminence of elections in Pakistan and the state of affairs in Kashmir. The leader of the other faction Mirwaiz Umar Farooq readily accepted.

A calm retrospect of the trip is necessary in the light of his spate of statements. How did it help in breaking the impasse? His first formal visit was in 2005 when he crossed the LoC along with the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik; neither acknowledging the other’s presence.

The next was in 2007 when he met president Pervez Musharraf and supported his four-point formula after his return to Srinagar. It was a vastly more ambitious Mirwaiz who entered Pakistan now along with six colleagues. It had all the appearances of a state visit, with elaborate and highly publicised preparatory consultations with “members of civil society”. The exercise was as unprecedented as it was selective.

Islamabad sought Kashmiri input in the making of its policy. The Mirwaiz sought recognition of himself as the principal, if not sole, spokesman for Kashmiris and sought radical change in the very format of the peace process that would wipe out the gains accomplished so far.

His objective as stated on Nov 6, was “to discuss the solution of Kashmir in detail with Pakistan’s leadership”. His colleague Bilal Ghani Lone revealed on Nov 27 the level at which the leader aspired to talk. The Mirwaiz was the only Kashmiri leader accepted by India, Pakistan and the world community. “We could produce him as a great leader over the past 22 years. We have surrendered ourselves to his leadership.”

But it was the Mirwaiz’s revelation of his prime objective which is of crucial importance. “We have been of the belief that Kashmir is a tripartite issue with the people of Kashmir as its real stakeholders.” This formulation is historically untrue. It is Pakistan and India who have been negotiating on the dispute, albeit with the proviso that the solution must be acceptable to the people. Once they are near a deal each side would take steps to bring Kashmiris on board.

Realising the incorrectness of his claim, he added: “But the fact remains that there is no legal sanctity to the people being the main party to the issue.” And, pray, who will represent that party, the Kashmiris, at the conference table? Relatedly, who will decide on the rival claims of the professed representative? In short, who will provide the “legal sanctity” to this claim and how?

It cannot be done unilaterally. Will the two countries agree on this process? With time ambition soared. He would mediate. He would “bridge the trust deficit and initiate a new beginning on Kashmir”. Whether the parties will accept his mediation is doubtful.

The option of independence was excluded in 1947. To this day not once did either side propose to include Kashmiris in their very many parleys. The demand came to be voiced in the wake of the outbreak in militancy in 1989 and very presumptuously too. For the Hurriyat leaders neither created nor controlled the militancy. As Geelani Sahib honestly admitted they had no control over the gun.

In 2000 the Hizbul Mujahideen bypassed the Hurriyat, which was then a united body, and entered into a cease-fire with India.

The Hurriyat has simply ridden piggyback on militancy. It came into existence on March 8, 1993. Popular alienation supported the militancy. The Hurriyat simply voiced its demands.

At the Institute of Strategic Studies the Mirwaiz urged the two countries to “evolve a comprehensive mechanism” to make Kashmiris a part of the comprehensive dialogue. Another complaint he made there revealed a lot — Pakistan did not support the uprisings of Kashmiris in 2008 and 2010. Pakistan’s restraint was wise. Its vocal support would have proved the kiss of death for the upsurge and provided an excuse to detractors to denounce Kashmiris.

Three Indian publicists of impeccable credentials and no friends of Geelani Sahib reported after a visit to a Srinagar school whose two students were killed during the 2010 police firing that “the only leader the students were willing to listen to was the 82-year old S.A. Geelani”. He is a mass leader, the Mirwaiz is not. Doubtless, Geelani’s record too deserves a critical appreciation.

This brings us to his final plea. “It is high time that both New Delhi and Islamabad sit together with the true representatives of Kashmiris to find a lasting solution”. Self-assertion is no substitute for proof as the three tailors of Tooley Street discovered when they marched through the streets of London carrying a placard which proclaimed “We the People of England”.

Consider the precedents. Since 1981 the Sinn Fein fought all the elections, regional and national. Even so the UK enacted a law for the election of delegates for the talks — the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc.) Act 1996.

The South Tyrolean People’s Party likewise tested its credentials at the polls. In both cases two governments negotiated a framework first — the UK and Ireland and Italy and Austria, respectively and then invited the elected representatives of the region to join at the final stage.

The South Tyrolean People’s Party endorsed the 1992 accord. All the separatists refuse to contest the polls unlike the Plebiscite Front. On March 22, 1969 it rescinded its ban of November 1964 against contesting polls and decided to participate in the five by-elections that were due in April. The election commissioner dishonestly prevented them for doing so.

In late 1970 and 1972, Indira Gandhi prevented the Front from contesting the polls to the Lok Sabha and the state assembly.

She dreaded the popular verdict. Most separatists have other fears. Leadership is conferred by the people, neither by New Delhi, Islamabad, Geneva or the OIC.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.