Hurriyat open to joining polls: Mirwaiz
3 September 2002
The Asian Age
New Delhi: Mirwaiz Maulvi Omar Farooq does not rule out the participation of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections beginning this month. He is prepared to meet senior representatives of the government in New Delhi to ensure that the elections are free and fair and linked to an overall settlement of the Kashmir issue. Speaking to The Asian Age from Srinagar on Tuesday, the Mirwaiz said there was no reason why the APHC should say no to the elections provided ''we receive the assurances necessary to ensure that these elections are not being contested just to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir.'' Obviously, despite reports in the media, the Hurriyat has still not issued a united and categorical call to the people of the state to boycott the elections. A final decision will be taken after the Hurriyat leaders visit New Delhi at the end of this week and assess the government’s response. The Mirwaiz admitted that there was a change in mood in the Valley, with the electorate keen to participate in the elections. ''The people want an end to violence, they want an honourable settlement of the issue and will like to vote if they are assured that the elections are a process to bring this about,'' he said. He added, however, that at present the ''majority still believes that the elections will not take us anywhere.'' The Mirwaiz is now expected in New Delhi by the weekend along with a couple of APHC leaders. They will hold talks with the Kashmir Committee. It is to be seen whether a meeting with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will take place. There is a growing realisation among the key advisers and interlocutors on Kashmir in the government that this could be the ''last chance'' to involve the APHC in the electoral process. Maulvi Omar Farooq is looked upon as a ''honest moderate'' in government circles, who has always tried to steer a non-extremist course. He made it clear that the APHC could not be expected to make an about-turn in its stated position without any reason, or without anything in return. ''Let them say that these elections are linked to the final settlement of the Kashmir issue and we will respond positively,'' he said. Prime Minister Vajpayee has indicated to the Kashmir Committee that the talks will continue after the elections. The impression given to the APHC in Srinagar through interlocutors, however, has been that Mr Vajpayee was prepared only to talk to elected representatives. The Mirwaiz said that it was important to maintain a transparency through the entire process so that the people remain well informed about the developments. The Hurriyat leaders are also planning to attend the OIC foreign ministers meeting in New York on September 12. Maulvi Farooq is expected to attend the proceedings, timed to coincide with the UN General Assembly session. Kashmir will be a priority item on the agenda, given the elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the American interest in reaching a quick settlement. The Kashmir separatists are divided about the polls, with Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Butt uniting with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front at the executive meeting to insist on the expulsion of the People’s Conference. In a strange alliance, Prof. Butt and the JKLF’s Javed Mir virtually abused the Lone brothers and insisted that the organisation be thrown out of the Hurriyat. It was the strong intervention by the other members that saved the situation. The People’s Conference ''rebels'' are now contesting the polls, with sources close to the group pointing out that in different circumstances they would have walked out of the APHC. The Jamaat-e-Islami is divided on the polls, with one faction reportedly having secret negotiations with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and some members of the National Conference who are contesting the elections. The Jamaat, it is learnt, might support their candidates in north and south Kashmir although a decision is yet to be taken. The pro-Pakistan element and the hardliners are pitted against moderates like the Lone brothers, Sajjad and Bilal, and Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, who are aware of the public mood and hesitant to give a clear call for boycott of the elections just yet.