It seems that the All Parties Hurriyat Conference is about to collapse as its two key components — veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Gilani and People’s Conference head Sajjad Ghani Lone — are trading allegations and counter allegations. The bitterness has soared to the extent of accusing each other of betraying the Kashmir cause. Interestingly, violating the tight discipline, the controversy has been making headlines in local as well as regional media. Newspapers have been finding so much spice in the row between the two APHC stalwarts that the upcoming India-Pakistan parlays or even the human rights violation by the forces are being dumped in the inside pages.
The roots of the controversy between Gilani and the Lone originate from last year’s state assembly elections. The People’s Conference was suspected of fielding its two members as proxy candidates in Kashmir’s northern district of Kupwara, hometown of late Abdul Ghani Lone. The APHC had directed Sajjad Ghani Lone to clarify his position on the issue. The PC leader had assured the conglomerate of going ahead with the poll boycott decision. He had also guaranteed the APHC to dismiss the violating workers from the party membership. The Hurriyat then accepted the argument and did not expel the People’s Conference from the Kashmiri umbrella organisation.
For a host of factors such as pressure from the Western capitals, the Hurriyat did not run parallel polls boycott campaign. Still, the state government arrested Hurriyat stalwarts such as Syed Ali Gilani and Yasin Malik and about 20 second-line leaders. Traditionally, these leaders have always been on the forefront in all the anti-India campaigns in J&K. Meanwhile, the Hurriyat also chose to talk on dispute resolution with a non-governmental Kashmir Committee, led by India’s former law minister Ram Jethmalani. Jethmalani held a few rounds of talks with the Hurriyat in Srinagar as well as New Delhi that were suspended a few months later as the Kashmiri leader termed the exercise as ‘futile’.
During this period Syed Ali Gilani was in jail and he had to gone trough a surgery. Indian authorities had released him on health grounds. Soon after his arrival in Srinagar, Gilani has been demanding action against the People’s Conference for allegedly taking part in last year’s assembly elections through dummy candidates. He has refused to participate in any Hurriyat proceedings till People’s Conference is not thrown out of the Hurriyat. He even set a condition that unless this happened, he would stay away from Hurriyat’s executive meetings. Above all, Gilani convened a gathering to establish alternative body at his residence. Hurriyat’s apex executive council did not heed Gilani’s demands and told him to argue his case before the general council and accept the majority decision. But he refused to accept it. Similarly, Hurriyat appointed a committee to resolve the dispute but that could not come through. Now both the parties have taken a hard line and the gulf between them is widening by the day.
Historically speaking, Gilani and late Abdul Ghani Lone have always been opposing each other in the Valley politics since the early 1980s. Lone was a liberal Kashmiri nationalist leader and struggled for independent state of Jammu & Kashmir. Lone and his party believe on liberal values. The People’s Conference still wants re-definition of the Kashmiri struggle in the changed paradigm. Lone argued to reshape whole resistance struggle in the wake of new ground realities. Over the last few years, Ghani Lone emerged a strong voice of Kashmiri masses. Meanwhile, his relations with Islamabad turned sour due to his blunt criticism of its polices, which could never get back to normal until his sudden death.
Unlike Lone, Syed Ali Gilani emerged in the 1970s as a key political leader from the platform of the Jamaat-i-Islami. He has been playing a significant role during the 1980s and 1990s and still has an impressive following among the masses. He is the only political figure enjoying full confidence of the militants. He is generally known as a firebrand politician having strong affection for Pakistan. His politics is based on religion and he terms the Kashmir resistance a religious struggle. He firmly believes that New Delhi would not allow the Kashmiris their right of self-determination unless it is inflicted an unbearable cost.
Seen in this context, the Hurriyat leaders’ row is rooted in their respective ideologies and their different worldviews. Now the proxy candidate controversy has become a personality clash between Lone and Gilani. Although Gilani and late Ghani Lone have been bitter critics of each other since long, both the leaders spent many years together in jail and cooperated each other for about a decade.
Before going into the details of the consequence of the row, let’s take an overview of the Hurriyat Conference’s decade long performance. The Hurriyat is a unique experience in resistance struggles in the present times. It incorporated all the shades of opinion in the Kashmiri civil society. It is a loosely knit organisation with internal difference and contradictions. Strangely enough, the Hurriyat has recently completed its 10 years of keeping together different voices such as the pro-Pakistan, pro-independent, and more interestingly with the liberals and fundamentalists in its fold. Now the Hurriyat comprises of three major groups ie moderates, hard-liners and centrist. Every group tries to prevail upon the umbrella organisation to use it in pursuance of its views and interests. In such circumstances, it is quite obvious that there would be difference of perceptions. But the ongoing infighting has crossed all limits and reached a climax where public will have to come out to get round the leaders. Otherwise, their sacrifices would be wasted — just because of unreliable and myopic leadership.
Diplomatically specking, it is a known fact that the Hurriyat has been recognised as a Kashmiri forum that has been playing a very important role at the international level since its inception. Certainly, it has a big role to play in the days ahead specifically in the forthcoming dialogue process between Islamabad and New Delhi. All the international fora and capitals have admitted that the Hurriyat as a representative voice of pro-freedom people of Kashmir. Even, New Delhi itself does not denounce the fact that the Hurriyat is representing the popular aspirations of the Kashmiris.
Strangely enough, the Hurriyat leadership and its sympathisers could not play any positive role to defuse the tension in its ranks. One can rather guess that they just saw the game and enjoyed it. Even the Hurriyat could not call on a special session to deliberate on the pressing issue. In this backdrop, the big question arises as to what is the way out? If the leaders continue their blame game then the Hurriyat will soon be dying, thus leaving the Kashmiri people on the crossroads once more.
A section of the Pakistan establishment is pressing the government to take a U-turn on Kashmir as Washington’s pressure has become unbearable. The proponents of ‘Pakistan first doctrine’ advice Islamabad to forget Srinagar for the time being and focus on stabilising the economy. Doubtlessly, the argument is gaining ground. Differences in the rank and file of the resistance movement, particularly in the Hurriyat, make this lobby’s point of view stronger. If Islamabad withdraws its support to the Kashmir cause for the time being as being suggested by the influential Musharraf aides, will the divided Kashmiri leadership be ready to face the consequences?
The writer is a specialist on dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir conflict and India-Pakistan relations. He has recently visited Indian-Held Jammu and Kashmir.