Musharraf’s hard words put Hurriyat men in a Fix
14 August 2002
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s utterances on Kashmir in Islamabad today have helped set the agenda for the Hurriyat Conference’s private dialogue with Ram Jethmalani’s Kashmir Committee in Srinagar. In fact, the speech’s tone and content were a clear signal to the Hurriyat — which Musharraf described as the Valley’s credible voice — to further harden its stand on Assembly elections. While Hurriyat leaders have already distanced themselves from the polls, intense international pressure has prevented them from giving a boycott call. Musharraf’s address is an attempt to bring pressure on Hurriyat leaders to go whole hog as they did in 1996, when they canvassed door-to-door for a boycott. A Hurriyat insider said that chairman Abdul Gani Bhat will find it impossible to fall in line with Pakistan’s demand. ‘‘It’s not possible for the Hurriyat to initiate a boycott. Two of the top seven Hurriyat leaders at the forefront of the 1996 boycott campaign, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, are in jail. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is in Europe. Bhat is the only one left,’’ he said. The Hurriyat is also perturbed at the speech’s timing. ‘‘We had spelt out our agenda on talks with Jethmalani, stressing that dialogue is to be about future of Kashmir and not polls. This seems to be Pakistani dictation, nothing else,’’ he said. In any case, the Hurriyat is in a fix. There is tremendous international pressure to either contest polls or step out of the way. While, hardliners within the conglomerate and militant groups want to boycott the polls. The conglomerate can’t ignore either voice and in between, it had lent a ear to the Pakistani establishment. After September 11, it appeared that Pakistan was being squeezed by the international community as well. But today’s speech nullified the view that this pressure, especially from the US, has compelled Pakistan to be accommodative towards India on Kashmir and not disrupt the Centre’s efforts to curb separatist violence. ‘‘The speech is a signal to those not part of the existing political arrangements that the best strategy is boycott,’’ said professor Noor Ahmad Baba of the Kashmir University. ‘‘Dissidents will certainly take a cue from his remarks.’’ Baba, however, believes that Musharraf’s speech won’t affect the Hurriyat-Jethmalani talks. It was also felt that Musharraf was merely raising the pitch to address his domestic constituency. ‘‘Musharraf has his own problems. He has hardliners elements who accuse him of bargaining with the Kashmir cause,’’ said Tahir Mohideen, political editor of Srinagar-based weekly Chattan. ‘‘Musharraf himself pins hopes on the Hurriyat to bail him out of his troubles. Even the Hurriyat nod to talk to Jethmalani had Musharraf’s blessings,’’ he said.