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Gagging themselves

The Hurriyat leadership?s reasons for spurning the PM?s offer of dialogue are baffling considering their keenness to talk in India and abroad. They stand to lose by this action.

india Updated: May 26, 2006 00:12 IST

The moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, taken to represent those Kashmiris with alternative political aspirations, declined to participate in Manmohan Singh’s second roundtable conference, held in Srinagar. But it appears neither the Hurriyat Chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, nor Singh, wishes to shut the door on the other. Instead of hurling recriminations, the PM hoped the Hurriyat would join such a conference at an appropriate time, while the Mirwaiz said his conglomerate was “not disappointed” with Singh.

This hopefulness aside, spurning the PM’s offer is no trivial thing; he came to the Hurriyat’s doorstep but they did not respond, thereby wasting an opportunity to move their relationship with Singh a step further. Their non-participation is even more baffling when you look at the Hurriyat leadership’s keenness to conference in India and outside.

Take the Mirwaiz and his associate, Abdul Ghani Bhat. In early March they attended a conference by the international NGO, Pugwash, in Islamabad, where they interacted with Kashmiris from the other side of the LoC (National Conference President Omar Abdullah was also there). True, Pugwash rules permitted them to attend only as private individuals, and true, they got to meet Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf “on the sidelines” of the conference. But it seemed more like a Jane Austen novel, where the personae dramatis dance towards one another, step back, step ahead, brush by, twirl around, and dance back to their original positions. Controlled by ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, it was indirect contact at its fuzziest. And yet the Hurriyat seemed to be satisfied with Pugwash and Musharraf.

Contrast that with Singh, who called them for a direct meeting, who has asked them for their ‘roadmap’ (the only concrete thing the government has are the NC’s autonomy proposals), and who expanded the conference to a two-day affair, deciding to spend a night in Srinagar after militants made it clear that this week would see a heavy violence offensive. This famously workaholic PM has no time to dance.

Similarly, the Mirwaiz and Bhat stayed on in Pakistan to attend a meeting of the World Social Forum in Karachi during the last week of March. Under the slogan of ‘Another World is Possible’, the forum continued its programme of trying to pressure the developed world into changing its policies so that globalisation is more equitable. The Hurriyat leaders used the occasion to plead for being included in the India-Pakistan talks.

Again, if the Hurriyat found the WSF useful, why couldn’t they find the PM’s roundtable conference as useful? Their official reason for boycotting the Srinagar meet was that the table was too crowded, and they weren’t impressed with the stature of some of the other participants (who are suspected government stooges). But at the WSF, weren’t the Hurriyat lost in a crowd of 20,000 from 58 different countries? Again, isn’t the Prime Minister of India worthy of more equitable treatment, especially if, by extension of the WSF criticism, you’re clubbing him with the developed world?

There is an argument that had the government restricted the participation at the roundtable to less than a dozen important leaders, the Hurriyat might have been tempted to hop on board. But the Hurriyat leaders have given no indication of that, insisting that they be allowed to monopolise any talks on the Valley’s future.

The list of conferences the Mirwaiz has attended recently goes on. In April, he went to London for the ‘International Seinar on Kashmir Problem and Dialogue Process’, co-sponsored by Cambridge University and Islamabad’s Institute of Strategic Studies. Last year, he went to Brussels in October for a meeting called ‘Global Disclosure on Kashmir’. In December, he went to Istanbul for an India-Pakistan Media Retreat, and then to Jeddah for the Organisation of Islamic Conference’s (OIC) extraordinary summit. There are an equal number of conferences by NGOs in India that Hurriyat members were dispatched to.

All this appears to show that the Mirwaiz and his associates are not averse to gabfests. It’s only when the PM calls that they look for excuses. There are probably people in government who believe that the Hurriyat’s boycott is the consequence of Pakistani prodding, but no evidence of this has surfaced so far. The PM is probably feeling some disappointment over what could have been a grand occasion in Srinagar. And the consequence of this could well be a hardening of stance by his advisors in dealing with the Hurriyat. Having not taken a step forward, the separatists will find themselves faced with hard work to merely stay in place, in their dialogue with New Delhi.

First Published: May 26, 2006 00:12 IST