SRINAGAR: Both the hawk and the dove of Kashmir Valley are looking for a new means to survive and stay relevant. After its own internal issues has forced Pakistan to put Kashmir on the backburner—despite denials that came afterward—the Hurriyat has realised elections may be the way for their voices to be heard in the din of Kashmir politics.
For more than 20 years, the word ‘elections’ used to set tongues wagging in the Hurriyat Conference. Pitching on the slogans of freedom, referendum under UN resolutions and self-determination was their usual business. But, come 2014 the Hurriyat Conference may finally look to the ballot.
Reports of Hurriyat’s election participation and track-two parleys with the Central Government are making rounds in Srinagar. Civil society forums, social networking sites and other forums are abuzz with talks about the “talks”.
“This is disgusting... After 21 years of bloodshed and sacrifices, Mirwaiz has decided to go for the ballots,” writes Firdous, a student, on Facebook. “At least we are moving to somewhere which is great rather than staying in a freeze forever which is worst,” updates Tabish, a doctor.
From political commentators to commuters on the street, everyone is gossiping about Hurriyat, talks and Pakistan. Adding to the buzz were the news reports that the Prime Minister’s Office has conveyed to leaders of Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz), at present camping in New Delhi, its willingness to restart the stalled dialogue process with Kashmiri separatist leaders.
Currently there are two factions of the Hurriyat Conference. One is led by Mirwaiz (a hereditary title of one of Kashmir’s important religious seats, and also head priest of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar) Umar Farooq and
another by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Mirwaiz-led group is also referred to as the ‘moderate faction’ along with the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the group led by
The moderate faction is already raising local governance issues like erratic power supply, roads, development and demand for ownership of the state’s power projects run by the National Hydro Power Corporation, among other things. Their spokesman told The Sunday Standard that Hurriyat (M) is not planning to contest 2014 polls. “There are certain vested interests which are hell bent on spreading rumours about Hurriyat (M) leaders fighting elections. Mirwaiz Umar
sahib has embarked on a mission that pitches for a result-oriented dialogue for the final settlement of Kashmir issue.”
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of separatist parties, has vast differences on a number of policies and principles on the Kashmir issue. The alliance was formed on March 9, 1993 as a political front to further the cause of Kashmiri separatism. But internal fissures on various issues within the Hurriyat Conference culminated in a formal split on September 7, 2003.
Geelani dismisses reports of its participation in electoral process and termed it as “grapevine by divisive elements to divide the Kashmir populace”.
Geelani is still adamant on his five-point preconditions before any talks take place which include “removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Disturbed Areas Act, punishing the soldiers accused of human rights violations and above all the acknowledgement of Kashmir as a disputed territory by government of India.”
Geelani, who has been pitching tent in New Delhi from the last few months, has been meeting various track-two diplomats including leaders, politicians and academicians in a “bid to connect to the Indian civil society and apprise them of the truth and the real situation in Kashmir.”
Although, he has played down the news of formally engaging in talks but political observers in the Kashmir
valley term these meetings as a sign of his willingness to engage with the Centre at some level.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi has sent invitations to separatist leaders, including Geelani, Mirwaiz, Malik and Shabir Ahmad Shah, to visit Pakistan in the coming weeks. But due to persistent differences, the amalgams have failed to formulate a response to the invitation for peace process.
Senior Professor of Kashmir University and Political Analyst Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain says that it’s too early to tell which side the wind will blow first. “Nothing is clear as of now as all the communication has been through indirect means. Let the Hurriyat leadership come home. Only than the haze will clear. Indian government is not concerned about 2014 elections and Hurriyat participation but its real focus is on the Afghanistan in 2014 when the NATO troops will make the final exit,” he adds.