Clinton encourages Hurriyat with favours
18 March 2000
New Delhi: US President Bill Clinton has given full encouragement to the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference prior to his visit to the region. He has met their representatives led by lobbyist Ghulam Nabi Fai, he has received a letter sent to him by chairman of the Hurriyat Conference Maulvi Umar Farooq and he has ensured a two-hour meeting between the Kashmiri expatriates and officials of the US state department. President Clinton has not yet cleared a meeting with Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi, preferring to keep this issue “under consideration” for the time being. He has, however, made it clear through repeated statements that the resolution of the Kashmir problem is an important part of his agenda. The foreign office here is opposed to any such meeting, and has communicated this to Washington. Efforts are being made to counter the Hurriyat propaganda of being isolated and victimised by the government through media reports suggesting negotiations between the Hurriyat leaders and a panel of eminent citizens acting for the government. Hurriyat leaders deny these reports maintaining, “There has been no contact of any kind between us and the government, and we just do not know why they are saying all this.” Mr Fai is a powerful lobbyist in Washington who is working now with the Hurriyat. Those who met President Clinton with him included Kashmiri expatriates and members of the Kashmiri American Council Dr Khalid Jahangir and Mir Nazir. The meeting was short with the delegation asking the US President to personally intervene in Kashmir. They handed over a letter from Mirwaiz asking for an audience with the President in New Delhi. He, however, did not make any commitments. Mr Fai, Dr Jahangir and two other Kashmiri expatriates followed this up with a two-hour meeting with US state department officials. Details of the discussion could not be ascertained although for the record Hurriyat leaders claimed they had reiterated their position on the Valley, which is essentially a demand for autonomy with the spotlight on alleged human rights violations. President Clinton’s decision to meet with the Hurriyat representatives is not without significance. A brief meeting, it was intended to send a signal to Delhi which has been picked up that Kashmir will be part of the agenda and the President is serious about his resolve to begin a peace process in the region. And while the US administration is worried about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, it is equally concerned about the future of the Valley and the “aspirations” of the people of Kashmir. The Hurriyat claims to speak for the “people of Kashmir.” Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone is in Delhi awaiting word from US officials about the much lobbied for meeting with the President. He said that the Hurriyat had decided to avail of the opportunity as President Clinton was visiting the region and has “recognised Kashmir as a disputed territory.” He said they were still awaiting a categorical reply.