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Hurriyat, Kashmir's only losers
April 20, 2005
The pleasant warmth of the spring sunshine, following one of the heaviest late winter snowfalls in living memory, makes an ideal setting for the promising Kashmir scenario emerging out of the Musharraf-Manmohan summit.
The prospects of lasting peace and normalcy in the blood soaked valley have never been brighter.
The appearance of this bright patch had almost been foretold in the unusual give-and-take leading to adoption of 'out of the box' modalities for the operation of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service on April 7. Both, India and Pakistan virtually conceded 'one country, two systems' model for Kashmir -- something akin to China's Hong Kong.
Exclusive exemption granted to the residents of the Jammu and Kashmir state to travel across a de facto border line without a passport and visa was no ordinary decision. For India, it in effect meant consenting to dilution of its sovereignty in relation to Kashmir, while for Pakistan the very idea of the Line of Control being so recognised for allowing 'international' traffic amounted to a paradigm shift in its fundamental position on Kashmir.
The joint statement prominently upholds this particular confidence building measure and underscores a shared commitment to promote its objectives against all odds.
The progress in the peace process has not stopped there. The Delhi summit has yielded still more tangible results. For the first time, Pakistan acknowledged the legitimacy as well as the representative character of the (state) government on this side of the Line of Control.
Till now it used to be dubbed as a 'puppet regime' and spoken of in highly derogatory terms. 'The people in the government (in Kashmir) represent the view point of a section of Kashmiris. That cannot be denied,' said Musharraf in Delhi while interacting with a group of Indian editors. Successive elections in Kashmir including the 2002 assembly poll that brought the Mufti Sayeed-led coalition into power were being dismissed as 'fraud'. Not anymore.
By underlining an amplified definition of 'Kashmiri' and including the people of Jammu and Ladakh region in this category, as also those living on the other side of the LoC, the Pakistan president appeared to be putting a wider focus on the character of the Kashmir dispute, and its possible solution. Far from the narrowly trimmed religious-driven ideological description propounded by Pakistan so far.
India too walked that extra mile. The joint statement issued at the end of the summit committed both the countries to seek a 'final' settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Finality of Kashmir's accession to India (in 1947) has been the cornerstone of India's position on the issue. Musharraf's 'failure' to get India to acknowledge the existence of a 'dispute over Kashmir' has been an effective weapons in the hands of his detractors back home who accuse him of 'capitulation' under American pressure. He had reason to say that he got 'more than I expected' out of his Delhi visit.
Ironically, the 'natural' claimants to the fruits of these momentous developments in Kashmir have landed themselves in an unenviable position. The bickering within the Hurriyat conglomerate and the personal aggrandisement of its leaders so disgusted Musharraf that he had to publicly chide them. Instead of becoming the main players on a wider stage, they find the ground under their feet shrinking fast. The successful launch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus on April 7 without their participation showed that they had really missed the bus. This venture was theirs for the asking. Only that they did not have the foresight -- or guts? -- to come forward and take it.
Musharraf's advice to them to go for talks with the Indian government, if heeded, will not help them recover lost ground. It would be interesting to watch what course the hardliner faction takes now that the official Pakistan has virtually distanced itself from their position. The Hurriyat seems to have been the only loser in this bargain. How they seek to recoup only time can tell.
On the crucial question of Kashmiri participation in the peace process, Musharraf did not show any tilt towards the Hurriyat, unlike in the past. He endorsed the idea of wider, multilateral dialogue to discuss various propositions but emphasised that the 'decision' in the end would have to be taken by the top leadership of the two countries. Viewed closely, there is no room in his scheme of things for any 'third party' (read the Hurriyat) in the decision masking. If anything, they may be enlisted for some sort of consultative/advisory role.
In any case, Musharraf asserted that the consultation process should ideally involve 'all Kashmiris.' Coupled with his amplified definition of 'Kashmiri', the Hurriyat's role would seem to have considerably diminished.
However, a major development occurring in the backdrop of the high drama in Delhi seems to have gone unnoticed. United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin, believed to be a key factor in that camp, offered to enter into dialogue with the Indian government 'if invited,' and welcomed the operation of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus. He did not support the militant threat to attack the bus.
Salahuddin's statement widens the political space for consolidating the peace process, not only between India and Pakistan but, more importantly on the ground in Kashmir. The breakdown of the dialogue in 2000 with the Hizbul Mujahiddin and collapse of the ceasefire in Kashmir was followed by widespread renewed violence.
The acid test of assessing the real worth of these developments, however, lies in to what extent the repressive regime of black laws and draconian 'security' measures in force in Kashmir, are dismantled -- and how soon. Obviously, the reduction in troops is an essential pre-requisite. This process has to be more visible than mere tokenism as was the case after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement last year that there would be gradual 'redeployment' in Kashmir. Peace and normalisation have to be seen to be believed. Improvement of atmospherics is good in itself, but not good enough.Mohammad Sayeed Malik