Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore was welcomed by both factions of the Hurriyat Conference but the separatists called for a resolution of the “Kashmir dispute” first.
“I am always in favour of good relations between India and Pakistan, but this can only happen if the human problem of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is resolved (sic),” Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of the hardline Hurriyat faction, told reporters.
Echoing his view, chairman of the moderate faction Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said: “It is a positive move and we should welcome easing of tensions between the two countries, but the basic issue of Kashmir will have to be resolved if the two countries really want to move ahead in good neighbourly relations.”
“Nobody wants to oppose peace between India and Pakistan... We welcome the gesture, but assert that such goodwill gestures would only remain cosmetic as long as the people of Jammu and Kashmir -- divided between India and Pakistan -- continue to stew in their own soup”, said Muhammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the pro-azadi Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.
However, India and Pakistan are yet to change their respective positions on inviting Hurriyat to the talks table – Islamabad insists on talking to the separatists while New Delhi says they have no role in bilateral relations, conflicting stands that led to the cancellation of two high-level talks in recent times.
Reiterating New Delhi’s position, BJP leader Ram Madhav told a television channel on Saturday that the Hurriyat Conference was an “internal stakeholder” and “doesn’t have a role to play” in international relations. He said the grouping can raise issues related to the common minimum programme of the PDP-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir.
India wants Pakistan to follow the framework laid down by the 1972 Shimla agreement and the Lahore Declaration of 1999, whereby the two sides would hold bilateral talks without the involvement of a third party.
For its part, Pakistan has not said whether it intends to continue talking to Hurriyat leaders but sources said Islamabad has been engaging the separatists for more than 20 years now but the same was not projected as a “redline” by India until recently.
New Delhi had earlier expressed its displeasure over visiting Pakistani dignitaries meeting the separatists ahead of formal talks. The issue had led to the cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks at the last moment in 2014 after the Pakistan envoy hosted Hurriyat leaders before then foreign secretary Sujatha Singh was to visit Pakistan for talks. In August, a crucial meeting between national security advisers of the two neighbours was called off following Islamabad’s insistence on meeting the Hurriyat leadership. Indian officials had pointed out that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif too didn’t meet the Hurriyat leaders during his visit to attend Modi’s swearing-in in May 2014.
( With agency inputs)