Kashmir: A Call for New Realism?

The moderate faction of Kashmir’s pro-freedom political amalgam, Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has renewed its call for ‘realism’ to seek solution to the longstanding Kashmir problem that was once regarded as ‘nuclear flashpoint’, but has since been relegated to the sidelines as India and Pakistan embarked upon a historic ‘peace process’ that started after Pakistan’s then military ruler and now beleaguered President, General Musharraf agreed to roll back his country’s policy of supporting Jehad in Kashmir.

Since 2004, both the countries have undergone impressive changes in their bilateral relations as the Pakistani President made a comprehensive policy shift towards India by dismantling Jehadi networks as well as killing or arresting hundreds of Pakistani nationals who had links with various Jehadi groups. In addition, Pakistan signed an anti-terror pact with India that includes sharing information about terrorism. As a result, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) that once sustained the Jehadi networks in Kashmir is sharing information with their Indian counterparts that has virtually wiped off the militant resistance in Jammu and Kashmir. During the last five months alone, Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the biggest Kashmiri resistance outfit, lost scores of its top ranking commanders in pin-point operations of the Indian Army and paramilitary operations. Ever since India-Pakistan ‘peace process’, Hizbul Mujahideen that was opposed to the exercise between the two countries has been the main target of both the countries. During the last four years, the HM has lost more than half of its operational cadre that threatens to ultimately wipe its whole resistance cadre.

Similarly, Pakistan has also shifted its policy towards the Kashmiri political leadership. While it has dumped and discredited the hard line Hurriyat leader and senior most Kashmiri resistance leader Syed Ali Geelani, it has also adopted a realistic posture towards pro-India Kashmiri leaders of its support for the Kashmiri pro-resistance political leadership. Under the changed policy Pakistan accorded official recognition to the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who agreed to hold talks with New Delhi under the guidance and encouragement of the Pakistani establishment. The rationale of the Mirwaiz to hold talks with the Indian government cannot be questioned; however, what is sad is that despite several rounds of talks with the Indian government the Hurriyat was not able to achieve anything according to its own admission. It has blamed the failure on India’s hard line policy, but according to the Indian officials, these Kashmiri leaders did not offer any proposals or ideas during their successive meetings.

This suggests absence of seriousness or lack of capacity within the Hurriyat leadership to follow a reconciliatory and mutually beneficial political trajectory. As a result, despite taking a big step of entering into dialogue, the Hurriyat has lost goodwill of the Kashmiri public as its successive engagements with the Indian government are seen as worthless and futile. Similarly, in their umpteen meetings with the Pakistani officials, the Hurriyat Conference leaders have shown more interest in talking against each other or making frivolous demands for their personal gain. This lack of direction amid personal ambition has forced many among the policy circles in India and Pakistan to argue that the Hurriyat Conference is ineffective and any engagement with it is more for public consumption rather than any serious outcome.

In addition, the Hurriyat Conference has acted more on behalf of Pakistani leaders for their public relations defeating the Kashmiri public interest. They even supported Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf and his rule of emergency –” an immature act of political suicide that has caused immense damage to Kashmiri interests. It was due to this heedless support for President Musharraf that the Hurriyat was forced into political wilderness for past few months and ultimately had to publicly apologise for its action. However, it seems that the Hurriyat is ready to move from its political past and lead the way with new initiatives.

The latest call for ‘realism’ came when the Mirwaiz led Hurriyat Conference leaders while attending a seminar in Srinagar called for reassessment of their strategies. According to news reports, the Hurriyat leaders stressed the need for ‘accepting realities’ and developing and exploring new strategies, a welcome development from the past when these leaders employed rhetoric amid hot air. Kashmiri leader Sajjad Lone’s call for debating whether Kashmiri aspirations are achievable or not is a mature step in the right direction. To his credit, Sajjad Lone is the only Kashmiri leader to have come out with a comprehensive document, ‘Achievable Nationhood’ that discusses various dynamics of the Kashmir problem. Although, the Achievable Nationhood lacks in its prescriptive architecture, it remains the only such document from a Kashmiri group that deals with the problem seriously. Elaborating on their vision of ‘realism’, leading Hurriyat leader and former chairman, Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat said, ‘Realism is that we have to move in a right direction with a strategy’, perhaps accepting that the Kashmiri leadership lacked ‘strategy’ from their toolkit. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who also addressed the conference was in his most impressive form because of his honest and frank assertion that ‘you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate’. He is right that freedom cannot be ‘achieved by writing columns in newspapers or holding meetings in closed rooms’.

While the call for ‘realism’ and working towards achievable ambitions is a positive and a very welcome change, it seems that the Hurriyat leadership is repeating its previous mistakes by failing to debate its policies even within their own ranks. Following the calls for realism, Azam Inquillabi, one of the most senior Kashmiri resistance leaders and part of the moderate Hurriyat Conference has sought ‘general discussion’ within the political amalgam about any possible change in strategy. This shows that the Hurriyat leadership is prone to fallacies of the past and has not created enough consensus within its ranks before floating significant and new ideas for political engagement. While Azam Inquillabi has not questioned the rationale of such a move, he is right to observe that ‘even if we need to review our strategy [it] cannot be done at public forums…. We can meet decently and renew our efforts’. In addition, the Hurriyat Conference will have to renegotiate with other important Kashmiri leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik without whom any move towards reconciliation or reconfiguration of the Kashmiri politics is meaningless. Further, the Hurriyat Conference has to move from its traditional stand of bashing pro-India politicians and seek a constructive engagement with parties like National Conference and People’s Democratic Party. Unless such a dialogue is initiated and institutionalised, the Hurriyat’s forthcoming visit to Pakistan is doomed to fail like its previous missions. Moreover, the Hurriyat Conference needs to strengthen its central authority and provide a singular command of leadership without any competing agendas from its constituents.

There is no denying that the Hurriyat Conference has achieved some progress towards unity by inviting senior Kashmiri politicians like Shabir Shah and Sheikh Abdul Aziz within its ranks, but its members on the other side in Azad Kashmir seem to be working on a different agenda. The Hurriyat Conference as a political party should stick to its political agenda rather than sending confusing signals. It is really strange to see that the Hurriyat Conference in Srinagar is trying to gather support for a political solution, while its senior functionaries in Azad Kashmir are attending the so-called ‘Jehad Conferences’ where one of its well known representatives publicly praised extremist groups like Jaish-e-Mohmmad and Lashkar-e-Taibba who have entirely different agendas than that of the majority of Kashmiris.

It is high time that the Hurriyat Conference and other Kashmiri leaders learn from their previous blunders that have contributed and perpetuated the sufferings of Kashmiris. They must unite in order to achieve realistic goals and direct Kashmiris towards a path that is away from unending suicide and destruction. In order to achieve this, the Hurriyat Conference must undertake wider consultations and evolve ideas with one voice and one vision built on peace, reconciliation and progress.