Hurriyat might be heading for a split
23 April 2002
The Asian Age
Srinagar: The Hurriyat Conference is in disarray and may even split as differences on issues within the conglomerate deepen every day. In fact, its top leaders have developed a habit of working at cross purposes, some for their own political or individual reasons, others just to satisfy their narcissistic feelings and to run others down. “Hence, if one leader tries to bring the other down by reminding him at meetings of being merely a (school) master, the third questions the sway of the fourth by pointing out with contempt that the fact that he has no mass base should not surprise anybody,” said an insider. All this has put the conglomerate’s credibility at stake. Dissension within the Hurriyat has become the talk of the town and despite the denials issued by one leader or the other, their actions betray their public postures. Prof. Abdul Gani Butt, Hurriyat chairperson, shrugs off the “oft-repeated allegation” that the conglomerate is a divided house. “The Hurriyat Conference did not break in the past and I would like to place it on record that it will not break, and that it can’t break in the future either,” he said. But he has no hesitation in admitting that neither Mirwaiz Omar Farooq nor Abdul Gani Lone, who are among seven high-profile executive members of the Hurriyat, took him into confidence on the just-concluded Sharjah meeting. The duo did not even bother to inform the other members of the central executive, the Hurriyat’s highest decision-making body, before flying to the Gulf to meet Pakistan National Kashmir Committee chairman and former prime minister of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan. At the Sharjah meeting the two sides had “very useful discussion” on how to put an end to violence and resolve the issue of Kashmir politically, the Mirwaiz told The Asian Age on the phone from New Delhi. As Prof. Gani has publicly complained, Mr Lone told him he was going to the US to receive specialised treatment for his ailments while the Mirwaiz’s itinerary, which was discussed with him, only mentioned his meeting with the Grand Imam of the holiest mosque in Mecca to condole the tragic death of his son in a road accident. Prof. Butt’s predecessor, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was also not told about the Sharjah meeting although local and Pakistani newspapers wrote about it beforehand. The Mirwaiz has now described the Sharjah meeting as purely coincidental. “It was not scheduled. It just happened while I was in the Gulf and Lone Sahib was on his way to the US,” he explained. But insiders say that turbulence may arise within the amalgam sooner or later on the Mirwaiz and Mr Lone allegedly side- stepping the Hurriyat. Already voices are being raised against their conduct and Prof. Butt is under pressure to call an emergency meeting of the Hurriyat general council to discuss this and other related issues. In the past, too, several constituents other than those on the conglomerate’s central executive have openly criticised its leadership for taking decisions without actually consulting them. Some of the general council members even go to the extent of pointing fingers of suspicion at their own leadership in private conversations about the arrest or detention of about a dozen first and second-rung Hurriyat leaders. Among those incarcerated are Hurriyat executive members Mohammed Yasin Malik (JKLF) and Sheikh Abdul Aziz (People’s League). That the Hurriyat leadership differs on issues like participation in elections became somewhat evident again on Tuesday when Mr Syed Geelani spoke about its “resolve” not only to stay away from the upcoming Assembly elections but also to launch a statewide campaign for a poll boycott. “We stick to our decision, taken way back in 1996, that the Hurriyat Conference will not participate in so- called elections held within the parameters of the Indian Constitution but will also ask people to stay away from the sham exercise” Mr Geelani told reporters here. Mr Syed Geelani’s categorical statement on the boycott of the Assembly elections came just a day after Mirwaiz Omar reportedly said in New Delhi on his arrival from Dubai that the Hurriyat may reconsider its stance on the polls if India comes forward with a new resolve on solving the Kashmir dispute amicably. A similar statement appearing in newspapers was earlier attributed to Mr Lone. The Mirwaiz, however, would not discuss the deliberations of the Sharjah meeting before explaining them to the Hurriyat central executive which may meet here later this week or early next week. Syed Geelani would not agree with the notion that the September 11 and December 13 terror strikes have changed the whole scenario in South Asia, and particularly that the presence of jihadis in Kashmir was tainting the otherwise indigenous “freedom struggle.” “I firmly believe that the oppressor has only become more obstinate and shameless,” he said without naming his own colleague in the Hurriyat, Mr Lone, who made this observation in an interview shortly after the three-day Sharjah conference was over. Mr Syed Geelani again, without naming anybody, wanted to send a message to all those who spoke about reconciliation that “nobody should remain under the illusion that the struggle based on truth and justice will die with his betraying the cause.” Asked if an explanation will be sought from the Mirwaiz and Mr Lone for not taking the Hurriyat into confidence on the Sharjah meet, Syed Geelani said only the conglomerate could take a decision like that. The other major issue on which the Hurriyat leadership differs is the setting up of an independent election commission to organise elections to determine the representative character of the conglomerate. The advocates of this idea insist that the representatives thrown up through this exercise would later talk to both India and Pakistan so that an acceptable and durable solution to the problem is found. Mr Yasin mooted the idea after he returned from the US last year. Initially, every single member of the Hurriyat central executive endorsed his view at its meeting here when the JKLF chief explained to them that a US think tank and also some key members of the Bush administration supported the idea. But subsequently, at least, Mr Lone and the Mirwaiz developed second thoughts about it and the former publicly spoke about pragmatism with regard to the commission. The two also tried to delay the announcement of the commission till they had returned from their New Delhi visits. When Mr Malik refused to listen to the argument that before launching the commission the Hurriyat needed to discuss its pros and cons and, together with Prof. Butt, went to the press to announce its formation, the Mirwaiz felt sad about it. He decided to distance himself from the commission and related issues. Mr Lone was equally upset over the haste with which Prof. Butt and Mr Yasin went ahead on a serious issue. If the Hurriyat cadres, and, more importantly, its general council members, are a disillusioned lot today, the other separatist outfits outside the conglomerate openly accuse the Hurriyat leadership, particularly Mr Lone and the Mirwaiz, of “betraying the Kashmiri cause.” Dukhtaran- e-Millat chief Syeda Aasiya Andrabi chose to describe them as “pseudo- secularists” who have “sold out” to India and hence want to sabotage the ongoing “jihad” in Kashmir. While Peer Hafizullah Makhdoomi, a close confidant of Mr Lone, blames the media for creating “misunderstandings” about his leader and others who attended the Sharjah conference, the Mirwaiz’s supporters think it unwise and unnecessary to respond to the criticism. Mr Lone is away in the US but Mr Makhdoomi insists that “there was no sauda-baazi at Sharjah.” He added, “It is not so easy to betray the cause and go for a sellout after 80,000 more people have sacrificed their precious lives along the way.” The Mirwaiz reiterated that some important ideas had emerged at the Sharjah conference which could help de-escalate growing tension in the region. He saw no harm in holding such meets regularly and promised that the points emerging from the deliberations with Sardar Qayyum and other participants would be put before the Hurriyat executive so that a “constructive response” emerged. Asked about his stance on the elections, the Mirwaiz also referred to the conglomerate decision taken on this issue six years ago. He added, “We never shy away from democratic exercises, but elections for coming to power are unacceptable.” Prof. Butt, endorsing him, repeated his old rhetoric: “We seek a seat on the peace table for talks to resolve the dispute, not a desk in the Assembly to sleep and slot.” Though some reports emanating from the region suggest Pakistan had approved of Sardar Qayyum’s meeting with the Hurriyat leaders at Sharjah and, on the other hand, New Delhi facilitated it, or rather encouraged Mr Lone to join the deliberations, Islamabad is reported to be upset with the turn of events in Srinagar. The reported infighting in the Hurriyat is a source of disquiet to it. Not only has it conveyed its displeasure over the happenings within the conglomerate to its leadership but it is reportedly on the lookout for new faces that it can trust more and can replace the “gone cases,” Hurriyat insiders say. Some Hurriyat members are equally unhappy about Mr Syed Geelani keeping a low profile on vital issues, particularly after the arrest of Mr Malik. But he rejected the criticism as a “wrong assessment” of him. “I was ill and admitted in hospital in Delhi. Therefore, the question of my taking a backseat does not arise,” he said.