Pakistani dictatorship and Kashmiri leaders

Like all the democratic peoples of the world, those on both sides of Jammu and Kashmir are in shock and saddened by the imposition of martial law under the veneer of ’emergency’ in Pakistan. However, some of the political groups who are widely believed to be financially sustained by the Pakistani military regime are supporting the move, perhaps in an attempt to repay some of their debts to the ruthless General.

The main Kashmiri party that has publicly supported the move is one of the factions of Srinagar-based Hurriyat Conference (a political amalgam of pro-freedom Kashmiri groups) headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. For more than a decade since its formation, the Hurriyat Conference has been claiming to fight for the democratic rights of the Kashmiris who are struggling against the Indian subjugation. The Hurriyat regularly takes out street demonstrations and issues press statements against the atrocities committed by the Indian troops in Kashmir and lobbies for the abrogation of the laws that give undue and undemocratic powers to the Indian military personnel in the disputed region. To this effect, the Hurriyat sends its delegations around the world highlighting human rights violations and India’s continuous denial of the Kashmiris’ democratic rights. In addition, the Hurriyat Conference has always claimed its belief in democracy, peace and dialogue.

By supporting General Musharraf’s actions, the Hurriyat Conference stands exposed with all its claims fallen asunder. Moreover, it has virtually closed its doors for any negotiation with the next Pakistani government, should the present army regime be forced out by the popular public pressure. The support of Pakistan is vital for the Kashmiri struggle and the Hurriyat by choosing to support a dictatorial move in public will create hurdles in its relations with the future Pakistani leadership knowing that the General’s move is highly controversial in his country and his current stance is hated by the majority of Pakistanis.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has spent (or wasted) almost all his youth in attending international conferences around the world capitals. This would have been have expected to give Mirwaiz some political appreciation of world politics. Welcoming a despotic act of utter indignity that General Musharraf has heaped upon his people and country will certainly tarnish the image of the Hurriyat Conference and the Kashmiri freedom struggle abroad. This will also give credence to the Indian claims that the Hurriyat Conference is a proxy fielded by the Pakistani regime that acts according to Islamabad’s liking rather than for the democratic rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, the Kashmir Centres based in New York, Brussels and London which normally boast and claim to be affiliated with the Srinagar based Hurriyat Conference must be feeling the heat as they have maintained studied silence over the ’emergency’ issue and are keeping a low profile. However, it would be hard for them to distance from the Hurriyat support for this anti-democratic measure.

Prior to the Emergency, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s Awami Action Committee which is part of the Hurriyat Conference had celebrated General Musharraf’s Presidential ‘win’ when Mirwaiz contracted a dozen or so of his supporters for a firework display while holding the General’s photographs in the old Srinagar city.

Going by his familial legacy, one is not surprised at all with Mirwaiz’s actions. His family has always supported the despotic rulers in Kashmir for the sake of material favours. The young Mirwaiz is only extending his loyalty and support beyond the walls of the old Srinagar town to the General who has fortified himself under the ruthless power of his army. The great grand Mirwaiz and former President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah was the first Kashmiri religious leader to accord recognition and sanctity to the despotic Dogra rulers. He often compromised Kashmiri interest in lieu of his yearly stipend and other little inducements from Maharaja Hari Singh.

When Moulvi Mohammad Farooq assumed the role of Mirwaiz, he broke all the records and shifted his support and allegiance for the highest bidder and very frequently. He supported Sheikh Abdullah, then joined his opponents Janata Party, courted Congress and later created ‘Double Farooq Ittihad’ with the National Conference, fighting elections against the Muslim United Front –” a forum that represented the popular feelings and aspirations of Kashmiris in late 80s.

The post-emergency situation on the other side in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is no different. The first and prompt call of support for General Musharraf came from the old and now retired politician Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan, former President and Prime Minister of the AJK. It was followed by calls of support from the AJK government headed by his son Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan. Later, the AJK Constituent Assembly surpassed all the boundaries of decency and democratic decorum by endorsing and justifying the martial law.

AJK Assembly’s rash and irresponsible decision will be closely monitored at the European capitals, in particularly by the European Union in Brussels which has provided millions of Euros in aid and assistance to the Pakistani side of Kashmir after the devastating earthquake in 2005. The utter and blatant disregard shown by the AJK government will also strengthen the allegations and accusations that the region lacks freedom and that all the decisions and political processes are controlled by Islamabad and its Army.

It is strange that the so-called liberal and moderate pro-freedom Kashmiri leaders from both sides have supported a dictator and his utter disregard for democracy and the rule of law. Among the pro-freedom camp, Syed Ali Geelani (often described by the Indians and Pakistanis as hard-line Islamist) and his faction of the Hurriyat Conference deserve kudos by standing by the side of the Pakistani people who are brutalised and whose human rights are being violated like those of the Kashmiris. Pro-India leaders like Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference and Mufti Sayeed of the People’s Democratic Party have rightly shown concern at the General’s actions worrying that he has put the ‘peace process’ between India and Pakistan in danger and jeopardised talks on the future of Kashmir.

General Musharraf has abrogated the country’s Constitution, destroyed its judiciary and muzzled the voice of the media under the jackboot. This has damaged the reputation of Pakistan, if at all it had any left after years of Western media blitzkrieg about the country being a safe haven for extremism, Taliban and now Al-Qaeda coupled with the allegations that parts of the Army, intelligence and politicians are supporting and feeding the cult of extremism.

The Kashmiri groups in the West were already struggling for the support since March this year when General Musharraf tried to sack Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Many lobbying delegations that were accompanied by the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and AJK law makers were subtly reminded about the Indian democratic credentials inferring the lack of it in Pakistan, thus tilting the balance in favour of India. The international support for the Kashmir cause has dried up to a great extent during the last few years, and now the Hurriyat’s stance and the AJK Government’s endorsement of the imposition of emergency by General Musharraf will erode it further. If the Kashmiri leadership is viewed as pro-despot supporting a martial law, it would be hard to convince the world that Kashmiris are fighting for the freedom and democratic rights.