Hurriyat team ready, trip in doubt
11 January 2001
The Indian Express
ARATI R JERATH
New Delhi: Uncertainty clouds the proposed visit to Islamabad by a Hurriyat team after after the inclusion of hardline Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in a five-member delegation announced today. The other members of the team, finalised during a five-hour meeting of the Executive Council in Srinagar, are Abdul Gani Lone, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Sheikh Abdul Aziz and Maulavi Umar Farooq. The question mark has cropped up because of Geelani's hawkish position on the peace initiative and his recent statement that Kashmir is a religiousissue, not a political one. While the Government is willing to allow the other four to go, it is reluctant to issue a passport to Geelani who has opposed the ceasefire and the peace process in the Valley from the very beginning. The Centre's objections and its assessment of Geelani's damage potential to the Hurriyat's proposed talks in Pakistan are believed to have been conveyed to the Hurriyat leadership through intermediaries. His inclusion in the team has come as a surprise to the Government. Official circles here feel that the Hurriyat, which is deeply divided on the peace process, may be doing a rethink on the Islamabad visit and has put the onus of scuttling the trip on the Government of India by making Geelani a member of the delegation. Highly placed sources in the Home Ministry indicated today that the Government's objections to Geelani remain. However, in view of the game of brinkmanship that the Hurriyat appears to be playing with the Government, there will be a reassessment and a final decision on Geelani will be taken after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee returns from Indonesia on Saturday evening. Just two days ago, Home Minister L K Advani did some tough talking in New Delhi when he told correspondents that only 'three or four' leaders would be issued passports and if the Hurriyat insisted on sending more, then they 'need not go (to Pakistan)'. His statement was a clear indication that the Government was not in favour of giving Geelani travel dcouments. Another snag that has developed is that Lone may opt out of the Islamabad visit. His aides said that he does not want to disrupt the medical treatment he is undergoing in Delhi. Lone and Farooq are the most positive about the peace initiative. If Lone drops out, it makes the Hurriyat's visit to Islamabad a virtual non-starter. Umer Farooq told correspondents in Srinagar after the Executive Council meeting that the Hurriyat has been given to understand that travel documents will be given to all the members of the team. At the same time, Mohammad Ashraf Sahrai, who represented Geelani as the Jamaat representative in the meeting, said that the Council would meet again to decide the future course of action if the Government did not give passports to all the team members. Lone and Farooq are the only members of the team who have travel documents. Ansari's passport was impounded on his return from Doha after the OIC meet. However, official sources said that it can be reissued if he is included in the Hurriyat's Islamabad delegation. Aziz, like Geelani, is a hawk but the Government is not negative to the idea of letting him go largely because it feels that he cannot damage the peace process as much as Geelani can.