Khokhar Tries To Unite Kashmir Separatists
27 June 2004
The Asian Age
New Delhi: Pakistan foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar, in pursuance of a solution to Kashmir, is here with the brief of bringing together the Kashmiri separatists on one platform to facilitate tripartite talks at a later stage this year. His efforts appear to have the tacit approval of the Indian government, which has raised no objections to the lengthy discussions between the visiting Pakistani official and the separatists who have been meeting him in turn, and renewing the old contacts that made Mr Khokhar quite a favourite with most of them including the JKLF's not-so-easy-to-please Yasin Malik. It was made apparent to Mr Khokhar after the first few meetings with the separatist leaders that unity is easier said than achieved. The leaders are too divided to come together easily and do not see the necessity in the same manner that Pakistan does. The Pakistan foreign secretary is reportedly of the view that if he had more time he would have been able to complete the process of uniting the separatists, who used the meetings with him to basically carp about the others, and insist that they and not the other represented the real 'movement.' Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani is proving to be the most difficult person to bring around as he made it very clear to Mr Khokhar that he represented the 'real' All Parties Hurriyat Conference and the others were free to join him if they so wished. Mr Geelani told The Asian Age that he had made it clear that he was for unity, but that it was for the Pakistan foreign secretary to judge whether he or those who had 'never been sincere' represented the Kashmiri movement. He further told the Pakistani official that he would first like to 'monitor' India's stance in the talks and then decide whether he and his supporters would even participate in a tripartite effort. Hurriyat chairperson Maulvi Abbas Ansari, who was not invited for the talks initially, decided to stay back in Srinagar and allow Mirwaiz Omar Farooq - who is much sought after by Pakistan these days - to represent the conglomerate. Mr Ansari, in an interview over the telephone, said that he had renewed his offer to step down in favour of founder chairperson Mirwaiz Farooq if that would help the other separatists to join the organisation. He said that he was totally for unity and personally extended the offer to Mr Yasin Malik and Mr Shabir Shah, both of whom have met Mr Khokhar already in New Delhi. Mr Ansari was categorical, however, that the inclusion of Mr Geelani would involve a change in the Hurriyat constitution which did not recognise individuals as members. He said that either Mr Geelani would have to return to the Jamaat-e-Islami and join the APHC through that organisation, or start a new organisation and apply for membership again. The most restrained, as always, was the Mirwaiz, who is recovering from his uncle's death but insisted, 'I am not going away anywhere.' He will be meeting Mr Khokhar on Monday and made it very clear that he will not be weaned away from Mr Abbas Ansari and the incorrigible Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat, but would consider unity with the APHC remaining central to the proposal. Mr Khokhar has met all the other leaders, including Mr Geelani, Mr Malik, Mr Shah and Sheikh Aziz, with a meeting with the Mirwaiz scheduled for Monday morning. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq made it clear that Mr Geelani was welcome to join the Hurriyat if he so decided, indication that the Hurriyat would not go to him as the veteran leader, still stuck on Kashmir's accession to Pakistan, has been demanding. Mr Yasin Malik and Mr Shabir Shah insisted that the bilateral talks should be made tripartite with full Kashmiri presence. It was clear from Mr Khokhar's meetings with the separatists that Pakistan is seriously exploring the idea of pushing for a tripartite dialogue post-August, but would like the Kashmiri separatists to come together and speak with one voice. Mr Abbas Ansari said the talks should be expanded to include not just the leaders from Jammu and Kashmir but representatives of all the political parties and others from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. He said this alone would give the dialogue real meaning as the solution had to encompass the entire region of Kashmir, and not Jammu and Kashmir alone. Significantly, Mr Khokhar's efforts at unity come after Indian interlocutors led by Mr N.N. Vohra failed to bring the separatists together. In meetings with the APHC, then deputy prime minister L.K. Advani had asked them to expand the dialogue by including the other separatist leaders as well as representatives from Jammu and Ladakh. Fairly enthusiastic about this initially, the Hurriyat delegation had failed to increase its numbers from four to five, much to the disappointment of the Indian interlocutors who had been hopeful of a breakthrough. Pakistan has stepped in now, and Mr Khokhar has met with more success in that he has held direct meetings with the separatist leaders who had been shunning the dialogue with New Delhi, with the APHC represented in the talks with him by only the Mirwaiz. The Lone brothers have been given no importance by Pakistan, with New Delhi also preferring Bilal to Sajjad Lone. As a separatist leader said: 'The Lone legacy has been trifurcated now, his family is now fighting amongst itself.'