Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of Kashmir’s All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is known to speak his mind. But even so, his statement that the “time to be anti-India is over” will set the dovecotes aflutter in the troubled state, not to mention in Pakistan. The Mirwaiz is, if nothing else, a pragmatist, something that has set him apart from the usual fire and brimstone Hurriyat leaders in Kashmir. New Delhi, which has not been able to come up with any fresh thinking on the issue — despite Omar Abdullah taking over the reins of the state — should waste no time in holding out the olive branch to the Mirwaiz and his considerable number of supporters.
The solution that he is looking for is on the usual lines — demilitarisation, self-governance and better people-to-people contact with other parts of Kashmir (PoK included). His assertion that he has no intention of embarrassing India at the upcoming Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) meet is another signal that he means business. The OIC is traditionally a platform for India-bashing, led by Pakistan and endorsed by many that New Delhi considers its friends. He had put the ball in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s court quite a while ago when he said that Mr Singh had the mandate to make peace. The Mirwaiz enjoys greater legitimacy in Kashmir than the run-of-the-mill politician in that he is a spiritual head as well. This has, time and again, countered the influence of hardline Islamists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. That the Mirwaiz has spoken of dialogue in a state where the very mention of the ‘D’ word would have brought charged crowds out into the streets suggests that he senses that the mood is shifting away from the separatists.
The younger people of the state, while still dreaming of independence, are not unaware of the benefits to be had from an economically resurgent India. Pakistan, for all its bluster about espousing the cause of Kashmiris, has nothing much to offer, given the precarious condition it is in today. This is a chance that the Centre cannot afford to fritter away. Kashmir’s story has been one of missed opportunities. The conditions today are more conducive than ever before. Given the influence wielded by the Mirwaiz, the hopes in a youthful chief minister and a far-sighted prime minister, Kashmir could well turn the corner sooner than we think.