J&K heads for elections this year, Hurriyat chief for Harvard

25 April 2008
The Indian Express
Muzamil Jaleel

SRINAGAR: Chairman of the separatist Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will attend the one-year long fellowship program at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in conflict management and leadership beginning this Fall. The centre describes itself as the hub of Harvard Kennedy School’s “research, teaching, and training in international security affairs, environmental and resource issues, and science and technology policy.” Mirwaiz’s absence from Kashmir at the time of the Assembly elections, however, is interesting especially as the separatists are deeply divided. Leader of separatist hardliners Syed Ali Shah Geelani has issued a call to boycott the poll process while the Mirwaiz-led moderates have been conspicuously silent. His decision to go to Harvard is being seen here as a move to keep himself away from the state during the poll process. At 17, Mirwaiz had to leave school to become the head priest of the Valley and the Hurriyat chief when his father was assassinated in 1990. He completed his graduate degree in Islamic Studies. “Yes, I am going to attend the Belfer Centre at Harvard,” Mirwaiz told The Indian Express. “It is a year-long programme but I have not decided whether I will stay there for that long.” He said he visited Harvard and the Fletcher School at Tufts as well. The Belfer Centre has a programme on Religion in International Affairs and a “Project on India and the Subcontinent” that aims to build understanding and leadership on key policy-critical issues related to therise of India and South Asia. ” The centre is named after Robert A. Belfer, founder of Belco Oil & Gas Corporation and its director is political scientist Graham T. Allison while former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwell is in its advisory board. Besides the professional choice, there is a personal angle too. Mirwaiz’s wife is a US citizen born in a Kashmiri expat family in Buffalo and a year at Harvard will also be a homecoming of sorts for her.