Foreign secretary of Pakistan Jalil Abbas Jilani met Hurriyat Conference leaders on Tuesday, a day before his meeting with his Indian counterpart, Ranjan Mathai. It is difficult to accept that those who have talked of secession of Kashmir were allowed to meet those who have encouraged them.
If Jilani wanted to meet the elected representatives of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), it could have been seen as a legitimate interest shown by a visiting official from a neighbouring country. However, by repeatedly allowing such meetings, Pakistani officials and ministers think that it is their right to meet those who do not accept India’s electoral process and ignore those who represent J&K.
The last elections in J&K registered a 60.5% voter turnout — higher than the national average — and it was free and fair. So only the elected representatives can represent the people of the state.
Two days after the assembly elections, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists struck in Mumbai and killed innocent people. As the people of J&K prepared to elect a new government, those across the border were putting final touches to their murderous assault.
It’s been alleged that Hurriyat Conference chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq wrote in support of the US-based Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agent Ghulam Nabi Fai. In the past, the Hurriyat Conference leaders have declined to meet the country’s prime minister, the chief minister of J&K and even interlocutors.
But its leaders have always been willing to meet a visiting Pakistani foreign minister or a foreign secretary. Such concessions that were granted earlier have now become a norm.
We must remember that we are dealing with secessionists and terrorists, not just political dissenters. Please also remember that Pakistan may have, for the moment, accepted that Kashmir need not be a part of Pakistan but it is still interested in a change in the status quo. Let us not delude ourselves about what the future could look like.
We are allowing a meeting between secessionists and a visiting foreign secretary to take place in a safe haven like Delhi. By doing this, we are also undermining the state’s chief minister and the electoral process.
The world does not appreciate such gestures because it shows a country’s weakness, not the power of its democracy. The British Broadcasting Corporation did not allow Gerry Adam, an important figure in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, on TV without a voice over even though negotiations were on between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government.
When IRA prisoners in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland went on a relay fast-unto-death, Britain stood firm. Some prisoners died and ultimately, exhausted, the IRA called off the campaign. By then, 10 IRA prisoners had died. At that time, Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister and the lady did not hesitate to take a strong stance.
The world moved on. The world respects, even fears, a liberal democracy’s strength, firmness of action and resolve.
Conversely, it sniggers at those who seek support by being virtuous. International relations are about interests and not about accolades for being good.
There was a time when India tried hard to convince the world about Pakistan’s role in J&K. Even though the world has begun to realise the true nature of Pakistan’s involvement in terrorism, we are still allowing its leaders to negotiate with secessionists.
When the world wants to put pressure on Pakistan, we weaken our case by providing it solace and comfort. We cannot insist that the Hurriyat Conference has lost its relevance and also give it importance.
It is ironic that nine years ago, India had expelled Jilani, who was then the acting high commissioner of Pakistan, for funding Kashmiri separatists. Nine years later, he was allowed to meet the same separatists. We seem to be carrying our ‘atithi devo bhava’ dictum a bit too far.
Let’s also see this from the point of view of soldiers posted in Bandipur and Kupwara: the same people who instigate individuals to kill innocent people move around with government security and live in opulence. If newspaper reports from Srinagar are to be believed then some of these people have been driving around in expensive sedans.
Other reports state that the J&K Police has sealed Hurriyat leader Ghulam Muhammed Khan Sopori’s house in Srinagar, alleging that he used hawala funds to construct it. Similar action was taken against others with militant links. This is a step in the right direction.
Though every positive step counts, the Valley needs more than just summer tourists to heal its wounds. We must not allow a few to benefit from the profits of conflict and also preserve their interests. Also, let us not undermine our own electoral process by allowing unelected, and unelectable, individuals to set the agenda.
Vikram Sood is former secretary, Research & Analysis Wing. The views expressed by the author are personal