Centre, Hurriyat Will Have To Keep Talking For Long
25 January 2004
The Times of India
New Delhi: Former US ambassador to India Frank Wisner had it right. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, he once complained, had no peace strategy, only a protest strategy. For the better part of the past decade, it was able to effectively shut Srinagar down on demand, but achieve little else. Now, with the commencement of its dialogue with Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, expectations are riding high. But the big question in everyone's mind is: Where are the talks expected to lead? The question is legitimate given the huge distance separating the views of the two sides. But then, it could well be asked why are they being held at all? They're being held because both sides have been unable to finish off the other. This was best demonstrated by the 2002 assembly elections where the government was able to get the bulk of the Kashmiris to vote, while the Hurriyat was able to persuade a significant number of Kashmiris living in urban centres to abstain. The factious Hurriyat may now have split, but it still has certain moral standing for many dissident Kashmiris, particularly those living in urban areas. It may not control the militants, but it certainly represents the sentiments of at least Kashmiri militants. The government initially welcomed the creation of the Hurriyat as an alternative to the groups of gunmen who ran the Kashmiri insurgency. But thereafter found it difficult to get into a dialogue with the conglomeration because the Pakistanis were able to effectively manipulate the outfit. Just how ruthlessly they could do so was demonstrated by the assassination of Hurriyat executive committee member, Abdul Ghani Lone, in the run-up to the state assembly election in 2002. So, where are the talks likely to end up. They are certainly linked to the intended dialogue with Pakistan . In the coming months, Hurriyat leaders could travel there and talk to the Pakistan-based leadership of the militancy. This could in turn lead to a viable ceasefire. The reason why the government is not keen on a unilateral ceasefire is because of the experience of the November 2000 Ramzan ceasefire that led to a cul- de-sac. But a mutually agreed ceasefire could lead to the militant groups, primarily the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen joining the Hurriyat directly, rather than operating through Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader, who has formed his own faction of the Hurriyat. So new is the dialogue that beyond a couple of months its shape gets hazy. On Vajpayee's suggestion, the ambit of the talks are being defined by insaniyat, but at some point, the nitty-gritty must be discussed. Will the Hurriyat and Pakistan be willing to talk of a specific deal, minus the so-called 'self-determination' mantra? Indeed, can they? As for the government of India , in present circumstances, it would be difficult to see them talk beyond the ambit of Indian sovereignty, and what P V Narasimha Rao once said, maximum autonomy. But these concepts have changed and continue to change, as do their context. It will take patience, goodwill and uncommon creativity to keep the talk walking.