The Hurriyat Conference could once again make or break the latest India-Pakistan effort to put ties back on track, with both sides hardening positions on the separatists ahead of the August 24 talks between the national security advisers.
The house arrest and release of Hurriyat leaders – all within 135 minutes — in Srinagar on Thursday added a fresh twist to the diplomatic tussle with Delhi terming the proposed meeting between Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz and Kashmiri separatists on the eve of talks as a grave provocation. Unfazed, Pakistan said the meeting would go ahead.
“All options are open as we see this (inviting Hurriyat) as a provocative step. One option could be preventing Hurriyat leaders from meeting Aziz, which would put the onus on Pakistan to call off the talks, if they feel so,” an official said.
Aziz arrives in the Capital on August 23 and will meet Hurriyat leaders at a reception at Pakistan House — the high commissioner’s residence — that evening. The NSA talks are on the next day.
Home ministry sources said “as of today” the government was “unlikely to allow” Hurriyat leaders’ meeting with Aziz “though it has to be a political call”.
The timing of the talks with the Hurriyat, which India sees as a third party with no role in bilateral ties, is crucial to the NSA talks.
India wants Aziz to meet the separatists after he talks to Doval. For Pakistan, meeting the Hurriyat leaders first is important as “their inputs would help them in talks”, where Aziz will raise the Kashmir issue. New Delhi has been saying talks would focus on terrorism only.
Piling pressure on the government, BJP sources said it would be “futile” to hold NSA talks if Aziz were to meet the separatists first. The BJP cleared its stance after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj briefed party spokespersons.
Last year, India had called off foreign secretary-level talks after the Pakistani high commissioner ignored Delhi’s warning and went ahead with a meeting with the separatists. The government, sources said, had the option of detaining the Hurriyat leaders in Srinagar or in Delhi. The Centre may be forced to rethink the option after what played out in Srinagar.
Around 10.30am on Thursday, Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Moulvi Abbas Ansari were put under house arrest, two hours after police had started cordoning off their Srinagar homes. The move is seen as the government’s confused response to their proposed meeting with Aziz.
Raids were conducted simultaneously at houses of many second-rung leaders of both Hurriyat factions. The authorities put up barricades and deployed personnel outside the houses before informing the separatists not to step out. A senior police officer said these were preventive detentions to ensure no leader travels to Delhi to meet Aziz.
But, the state government had to beat a hasty retreat after it came in for flak. Former CM Omar Abdullah accused chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed of doing the Centre’s bidding. “I’ve never seen an Indo-Pak dialogue where both sides are so keen to sabotage it. Shelling, infiltration, terror attacks & now Hurriyat arrests, clearly no side wants to talk & yet neither has the guts to call it off,” he tweeted.
By 12.45pm, all Hurriyat leaders except Geelani had been freed. Geelani remains under house detention as his movements are generally restricted in the Valley.
“My detention lasted 40 minutes,” Mallik told HT.
The arrest orders came from Delhi while Sayeed was on his way to Uri, a PDP source said. Police officials said the CM could not be contacted and they went ahead with the action. “Once CM landed in Uri and was apprised, the order was rolled back,’’ a J&K cabinet minister said.
The state would not be a party to the Centre’s plan to stop separatists from travelling to Delhi, PDP sources said. “They are not creating any law and order problem in Kashmir. Why should we stop them from travelling to any part of the country,” a PDP leader said.
Foreign policy initiatives were not determined via media debates, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said when asked about the Aziz-Hurriyat meet. He said he would not comment on the “policing exercise” of the J&K government as the state police “is free to take appropriate action”.
Geelani and Mirwaiz have accepted the Pakistan invitation while Yasin Malik will give the reception a miss and send a two-member delegation.