Moulvi Abbas Ansari: The Hurriyat's New Chief

Hasnain Imam
01 August 2003

The All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) elected Moulvi Abbas Ansari, the leader of Ittehadul Muslimeen Moulvi, its chairman on 12 July 2003. Ansari replaced Muslim Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, who completed two years as Hurriyat head. Ansari's election comes at a crucial time for the Hurriyat with internal disessions surfacing openly for the first time in years. Will Ansari manage to steer the Hurriyat through these troubled times? The answer might lie in his history.

Moulvi Abbas Ansari was born on 18 August 1936 in a family of academicians in Srinagar. He completed his undergraduate studies from Lucknow and went to Najaf in Iraq for higher studies in Arabic literature, Philosophy, Islamic economics and Political science. Ansari is a prolific writer and has authored 20 books in Urdu including Insani Kamal and Phalasphi Faarooq. He is the chief editor of the Urdu monthly magazine Safeena.

Ansari's entry into politics was through an association with National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Ansari, a Shia cleric is the head of a religious group, Itehad-ul-Muslimeen (Unity of Muslims) which is a constituent of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (AHPC). Abbas Ansari is an advocate for  an independent status for Kashmir and is against accession to Pakistan. He is  part of the 'pro-azadi' faction within the Hurriyat along with Yasin Malik of the JKLF, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the J&K Awaami Action Committee and Abdul Gani Bhat of the Muslim Conference.

Ansari is a moderate religious leader and is opposed to the strict Sharia laws like Purdah being imposed on the populace by some militant groups. He wants the inherent Kashmiriyat of the people of the state to remain intact.

The Moulvi is the fourth chairman of the alliance replacing Abdul Gani Bhat of the Muslim Conference who completed his three year term. Ansari is the first Shia muslim to head the Hurriyat Conference. He was elected to a two year term by  five out of the six members of the executive council with the Jamaat-e-Islami abstaining from voting. Ansari's candidature, forwarded by Professor Abdul Gani Bhat, was seconded by the JKLF representative Ghulam Rasool Dar. People's Conference member Bilal Lone, who had been lobbying hard for the chair, withdrew his name. Ansari's election  was announced by Abdul Gani Bhat who termed it a unanimous decision taken by the council to dispel any doubts about a divide within the Shia and Sunni sects.

MAJOR CHALLENGES FACING ANSARI

Moulvi Abbas Ansari, on assuming charge of the Hurriyat Conference, immediately pledged to work towards the unity of the alliance.Ansari's main task will be bringing  the two warring elements, Jamaat-e-Islami's Geelani and Sajjad Lone of the People's Conference together. There has been a rise in factionalism within the Hurriyat between the moderates and the hardliners resulting in one of the major parties in the Hurriyat, the pro Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami staying away from the meeting that elected Ansari. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Geelani has been boycotting Hurriyat meetings to protest the lack of action against the People's Conference for allegedly fielding proxy candidates in last year's elections. The People's Conference, in turn, has accused Mr Geelani of playing a 'villainous role' and of dividing the Hurriyat. Sajjad Lone has even accused Geelani of having a hand in the assassination of his father Abdul Gani Lone.

Ansari said that he would try to bring unity in the Hurriyat by taking every member along with him for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The Moulvi told reporters that no power on earth could break the Hurriyat as it was formed for a cause and would take the ongoing separatist struggle in the Valley to it's logical end. (The Hurriyat is seeking the implementation of a 1948 UN resolution for a plesbiscite giving the Kashmiri people the right to self determination.) He gave a clean chit to the People's Conference declaring that it was not guilty of fielding proxy candidates in the 2002 state assembly elections as it had expelled the three candidates who had contested the state polls. Ansari also claimed that the Jamaat-e-Islami leaders had not been able to attend the executive council meeting as they were busy with an internal meeting.

Asari has also talked of broadening the base of the Hurriyat by inviting veteran separatist leaders like Shabir Shah, Mohammad Azam Inqilabi and Nayeem Khan to join the alliance.

Ansari wants to reopen the Hurriyat's office in Delhi, to be followed by the opening of bureau offices in the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Germany.

ANSARI'S MAJOR STATEMENTS AS THE AHPC CHAIRMAN

Dialogue not gun can solve the Kashmir issue
Ansari, in his first meeting with the press as the chairman of the Hurriyat on 12 July 2003, declared," the Kashmir issue is not a border dispute, but a humanitarian problem. It cannot be solved through gun, but only through negotiations". The AHPC chairman called for an immediate ceasefire between the security forces and the militants saying that the Kashmiri people had suffered enough for over a decade and needed to get out of the present phase of  fear.

Reopen Uri- Rawalpindi road
Maulana Ansari stressed the need for the re-opening of the Uri-Rawalpindi road so that people of both parts of Kashmir could meet their kin. “Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC are craving to meet each other. When India and Pakistan can resume the New Delhi-Lahore bus service, there is no harm in reopening the Uri-Rawalpindi road.” Ansari has an extended family living across the LOC in Pakistan.

US mediation not needed to solve the Kashmir issue
"I am dead against mediation by the United States between India and Pakistan in getting the issue of Kashmir resolved," Ansari told reporters in Srinagar on 13 July 2003.  Hurriyat leaders have urged for US mediation, but Ansari said it would show that India and Pakistan were 'impotent' and unable to resolve issues on their own. Ansari said that India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris could resolve the issue without the help of outsiders. "India and Pakistan basically belong to the same soil. It would be wiser if the two countries display maturity and resolve the Kashmir problem on the dialogue table without third party intervention, " he said. According to him the involvement of representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir was inevitable as no solution would be durable without taking into consideration their wishes and aspirations. Ansari suggested  Iran for the role of a possible mediator in the talks process as it was a well wisher of India while it had friendly relations with the Pakistan goverment. However in a statement made on 16 July 2003, Ansari changed his stand on US mediation and said that he was not averse to the United States  mediation in the Kashmir issue if it played the role of a friend and not a master.

Earlier in January 2003, an AHPC delegation led by the Moulvi met Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in the Iran Culture House in New Delhi at the invitation of the Iran embassy. The Moulvi expressed his thanks for the continuous support given by the Iranian people in furthering the cause of the Kashmir struggle.