Hizbul-Hurriyat Rift May Rock Political Equilibrium
15 August 2000
The Indian Express
Srinagar: As Kashmir holds its breath - fearing the next bomb blast but hoping for a political miracle - the growing disagreement and disarray among the Hurriyat leaders and the indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen militants is threatening to open a dangerous void in the fragile political equilibrium here. The collapse of Hizbul"s ceasefire move, and the Hurriyat"s controversial reaction to both its announcement and later withdrawal, have put the very legitimacy of Hurriyat as a political voice of the armed movement in jeopardy. The brewing confrontation surfaced yesterday when the Hizbul outrightly blamed Hurriyat leaders for having "no programme to achieve freedom" and instead "firing paper missiles (press statements) and shedding crocodile tears before the families of those killed in the ongoing struggle". Analysts here warn that this turn of events could create a political vacuum or even a complete political collapse in Kashmir, just at a time when opportunities for progress in finding a solution to the problem are fast emerging. "Hurriyat is the public face of militancy. It is a bridge between the militants and the people. It would be dangerous to sideline them because there would be no one left to talk to," said Prof Rekha Choudhary, head, Political Science department in Jammu University. "How can you gather all these militant groups and talk to them. You initiated a dialogue with Hizbul and others opposed it violently. It will have no end then. If Hurriyat is sidelined, it will lead to a complete anarchy." Choudhary said she believes the Hizbul-Hurriyat rift was the manifestation of both the Hurriyat"s failure to build a political base and also a growing gap between public opinion and the militancy. "The things that Hizbul says about Hurriyat today were being felt by the common people as well," she said, referring to the Hizbul"s demand that Hurriyat leaders too should send their wards to take up guns if they felt armed struggle was the only way out. The Hizbul negotiator with New Delhi, Fazal Haq Qureshi, too believes that Hurriyat and Pakistan are important in the dialogue process. He, however, believes that the start of negotiations has only been delayed, not derailed with the withdrawal of cease-fire and resumption of violence. "The deadlock is a temporary phenomenon, because sitting at a table has become a compulsion for all parties now," he said. The unilateral cease-fire declared July 24 by the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest indigenous militant outfit, was withdrawn after the Centre and the militants blamed each other for setting unacceptable conditions about whether or not to include Pakistan in these "unconditional" talks. Until now, the militants and Hurriyat have generally spoken with one voice on these issues, with the Hurriyat acting as a public political face of the underground armed struggle and also serving as a bridge between militancy and ordinary Kashmiris. But in the wake of cease-fire breakdown, recriminations have grown between Hizbul and Hurriyat leaders, and the militant group has resumed its violent campaign. The reasons for this rift are clear. The Hurriyat rejected the Hizbul cease-fire, calling it a "hasty decision and a fractured initiative." This put the Hizbul in the dock, especially combined with allegations of being a sell out to India by Pakistan-based pan-Islamic Lashkar and Harkat. But sources revealed that Hizbul commander Majeed Dar, who arrived here two months before his ceasefire salvo, had met with six Hurriyat leaders and requested them to support the initiative. "The Hizbul wanted Hurriyat to initiate the process by appealing to the militants to go for a three-months cease-fire and then respond to the appeal, thus leaving the initiative with the political forum of the movement," a Hizbul sympathiser said. "The Hurriyat leaders avoided Dar, and when after being disappointed the Hizbul Mujahideen decided to go ahead with its cease-fire move, Hurriyat reacted as if they were in election politics". The Hurriyat claims that they were kept in the dark about the cease-fire. "It could have been an intelligence agency sponsored move. How could we support it without knowing about it," said a Hurriyat leader. "And Hizbul Mujahideen is not the only outfit on the ground. We had to take everybody along." There is a feeling, however, that if Hurriyat had not created suspicion about the Hizbul move, it would have prospered into a full-fledged dialogue process. "The panic responses from Hizbul Mujahideen top brass in Islamabad especially the rigid August 8 deadline were the outcome of the Hurriyat pressure," said a political analyst here. He said that Hurriyat "frantically wanted both Pakistani establishment and other forces across the border to force the Hizbul to shun the path of reconciliation with India, as it meant their political death."