As the pro-talks Kashmiri secessionist leader still battles for life in hospital, questions are being raised on the future of the peace talks between the Kashmiri separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference, the moderate wing and the Indian government.
It has already been proved that the assassination attempt on Hurriyat senior leader, Fazal Haq Qureshi was a pointer to the fact that there are “people who do not like quiet and secret diplomacy” with New Delhi.
On December 5, an assassination attempt was made on Fazal Haq Qureshi, a widely respected separatist leader, who has earlier mediated a unilateral ceasefire by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the initiation of talks between his close aid and the then Hizb-ul Kashmir chief Abdul Majid Dar and New Delhi. Who carried the attack is still a million dollar question, often asked, whenever a political personality is attacked in Kashmir?
The terror group Al-Nasireen claimed the responsibility for attacking Qureshi, as it said that he was playing an important role in dialogue with New Delhi. Al-Nasreen, according to India, is named designate used by Pakistan-based Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba for their terror activities and has claimed responsibility for several bombings and suicide squad attacks.
But at whose behest the attempted assassination was made is what the people in Kashmir are discussing. There are several theories being propagated but if one goes by previous track records, the finger is raised at ISI.
“Though, Pakistan is deeply involved in mess on its own soil, it is indeed not happy with the fact that Kashmiri separatists, whom it has nurtured for years, could dare to deal with India on their own. Kashmir desk in Pakistan is furious with Hurriyat Mirwaiz group to initiate talks with New Delhi, cornering Pakistan”, said a senior Kashmir expert.
During 2005 India visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the whole Hurriyat leadership camped in capital to meet him, however they made no attempt to meet the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They confessed that they did not dare to do
so because they had received explicit death threats from the other side. It is a clear banter as to how Pakistan rules the actions and psyche of Kashmiri secessionists. And all those who tried to defy somehow have met the similar fate as has Qureshi.
Qureshi, believed to have been a key player in the ongoing talks, is an old Al Fatah hand. His antecedents as an ideologue of Kashmiri identity go back to 1972, but he never took arms training or went to Pakistani camps to establish his bona fides. He was arrested in 1989, but his old friend Abdul Majid Dar went on to secure Pakistani support for the idea. Dar later co-founded the Tehrik-e-Jihad Islami, which in 1991 merged into the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
Released from jail in 1992, Qureshi helped in founding the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which started out as a 23-party alliance of secessionist groups. But this latest assassination attempt is a clear pointer to the bitter reality that peace initiative in Kashmir is laden with similar terror threat as it was two decades ago.
In the past too, whosoever advocated peace faced serious risk on his life. Maulvi Mohammad Farooq, the father of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, was assassinated by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in May 1990 because of his refusal to support jihadist groups. Later, in May 2002, key Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone was assassinated in an effort to sabotage his attempts to bring about a dialogue between secessionist groups and the government of India.
The Indian government’s effort to rope “moderate terrorists” into the dialogue process in Kashmir suffered a serious setback when in 2003, Abdul Majid Dar, the former chief commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen was shot dead when he realised the futility of the gun and talked of restoring peace. The killing had come at a time when Dar was planning to return to Pakistan side of Kashmir to take control of Hizb-ul moderates, which could have changed the complexion of terrorism in the Kashmir Valley. It was Dar who earlier took the initiative by declaring a unilateral ceasefire and initiating talks with the New Delhi. However, the talks could not go beyond the first round after he was expelled by Pakistan-based Hizb-ul chief Syed Salauddin in 2001. All the other Hizb commanders who were a part of the truce talks were subsequently eliminated.
It was in 2004 that Hurriyat held talks with Delhi during Vajpayee government, which continued during the first regime of Manmohan Singh government but were stalled later. Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram in the past three months has met Hurriyat chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, along with his coalition colleagues Abdul Gani Bhat and Bilal Lone to find Kashmir solution in current context. After attack on Haq, the second leadership in moderate Hurriyat faction is scared. Though none were ready to come on records, they told this correspondent that they feared for their lives. The separatist leaders have refused the state government’s offer for additional security, but the government is doing its job by enhancing the security in areas where the separatist leaders reside.
Hurriyat, however, is itself a divided house on issue of talks as many factions of it publicly revolted in making statements against the talks openly rejecting bilateralism and quiet diplomacy, saying, “Those tired of the struggle should retire and stay home. They should not create confusion in the minds of people who have given umpteen sacrifices for freedom. Unless everybody in the separatist camp is taken on board, the exercise would always face the danger of being misinterpreted before the people. Secret parleys always face the danger of motives being attributed to them by those who oppose them.”
Though to crush the dissidence, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the chairman of the conglomerate, has suspended the office bearers of his group and issued the gag order forbidding the constituent members not to issue “any statement to the media independently” without his knowledge. Efforts are on to crease out the differences within the group over the proposed “quiet dialogue”, and on “putting the Hurriyat house in order and stand united at this crucial hour”. It remains to be seen if the decision will have a long-term impact on the 16-year-old alliance.
Hurriyat moderate group already faces opposition from a parallel faction led by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and many others, including JKLF’s Yasin Malik, who is unwilling to mend fences.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani has rejected the Mirwaiz’s overtures for talks,
making it clear that he will not sit on the table until the government recognises Kashmir as a dispute. That his position has considerable support within Kashmir is clear from the fact that he has been drawing huge crowds, making Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and other Kashmiri leaders wary of rushing into a dialogue without some commitments from New Delhi.
Last year, the Mirwaiz Umer Farooq had used the May 21 rally, the martyrdom anniversary of his father, to call on Jammu and Kashmir secessionists to unite. “When our aim is one,” he asked, “why are we divided? Come Geelani Sahib, come Yasin Malik Sahib, come Sajjad Sahib, let us march together.”
All the secessionists united although for few weeks and came out with a secret unification document. Mirwaiz Farooq rejected the prospect of direct talks with the government of India–the issue which had led Geelani to leave the erstwhile now united Hurriyat. Both the Mirwaiz and Geelani committed themselves to “tri-partite talks involving India, Pakistan and Kashmiris”. But less than a year after the document was written, the unity shattered. Sajjad Lone broke ranks with the secessionists, and unsuccessfully fought election from the Baramulla Parliamentary seat. Geelani flatly rejected efforts to make his Tehreek-i-Hurriyat subordinate to the united Hurriyat, which, in turn, rejected the religious and terror supporting policies of Geelani.
The latest blow to unification document came when Mirwaiz started bilateral talks with New Delhi.
The visibly upset, moderate Hurriyat leadership has publicly vowed not to get cowed down by the attack. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has termed it as an attack on the ongoing freedom movement and the Hurriyat Conference. “It is really sad that people are attacked while going for namaz. Fazal Haq’s contribution to the freedom movement is immense and attack on him is the attack on the entire movement.”
He termed the attack a cowardly act. “Some people don’t want Kashmir issue to be resolved, as it will close their shops they are running due to conflict. Such agencies want status quo to be maintained in Jammu and Kashmir.” When asked whether the attack would have repercussions on the dialogue process, he said: “The attack has occurred at a time when the dialogue process hasn’t even started. But we will continue our sincere efforts aimed at resolving the Kashmir issue. We are committed to resolve this long-pending dispute through peaceful means.”
Political analysts in Kashmir say that Mirwaiz Umer Farooq’s talk initiative and other actions are to safeguard his political survival. His biggest challenge comes from Geelani, who played aggressive role in Amarnath Shrine land row evoking the sentiments of Kashmiri masses on issues of religious and cultural identity.
“Mirwaiz is young and love his freedom; it is destiny that his father’s untimely killing has forced upon him the responsibility, which he probably otherwise would have not agreed to take upon. Moreover, the separatism has given a secret power to these secessionist Kashmiri leaders and they have become used to five-star culture, abundance media attention, luxurious lifestyle and foreign trips, which would be difficult for them to shed away.
Furthermore, the Pakistan support both politically and logistically is diminishing because of its internal mess, leaving these leaders without much bargain power. This is a perfect time for India to forge for Kashmir solution since it is not under any pressure and has a better bargain power. Pakistan is in a state of array and India is well aware of the facts and wants to cash on this golden opportunity. Thus, watching their interests, both parties have started the talk process”, said a senior Kashmiri political analyst. However, the fresh terror attack is acid test for Hurriyat leadership–whether they can sustain the fruitful peace process.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu