Hurriyat Conference leaders speak

Published : Aug 19, 2000 00:00 IST

As on a previous visit when identical questions were put to the Hurriyat leaders (vide the writer's "A cry for justice"; Frontline; June 2, 1995) so, this time the writer asked them and some others about a ceasefire for a limited period based on m utual restraint (an end to the security forces' excesses, freedom of protests); unconditional dialogue with Delhi; two-stage talks (Delhi-Srinagar followed by Delhi-Islamabad); Pakistan's role; intra-Kashmir talks (Srinagar-Muzaffarabad); election; and t he 1953 status for Kashmir. Interviews were held from July 16 to 20 with Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Jamaat-e-Islami (who retired as Chairman of the APHC on August 1); his successor, Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat (Muslim Conference); Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Fa rooq (Awami Action Committee); Abdul Ghani Lone (People's Conference); Maulana Abbas Ansari (Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen); Shabbir Ahmed Shah (J&K Democratic Freedom Party); Bashir Ahmed Butt (JKLF); Bashir Ahmed Tota (People's League); Ghulam Mohammed Bhat (Am ir of the Jamaat-e-Islami); M.Y. Tarigami of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Fazl-ul-Qureshi (People's Political Front).

The Hizbul Mujahideen was long reputed to be an armed wing of the Jamaat despite its supremo Syed Salahuddin's disavowal on November 26, 1997: "Our outfit is not affiliated to any particular group." Geelani's formidable personality forged, reputedly, a b ond that transcended institutional links. I met Geelani first, on July 16. Unlike the others, I did not have to ask him about a possible ceasefire. He volunteered, positively.

In view of the ceasefire declared by the Hizb, on July 24, his remarks bear quotation in extenso:

You might have influence over the Hizbul Mujahideen which is close to the Jamaat. But, what about the others?

The Hizbul Mujahideen is an independent militant organisation. It has no connection with the Jamaat-e-Islami of Jammu and Kashmir. They are not particularly affiliated to any other organisation.

Do they have any discussions with you?

They are not accessible at this moment. They are doing their job according to their strategy and programme and do not seek advice from me. They act independently.

Has the Hizbul Mujahideen said that it would accept the leadership of the Hurriyat?

Whenever a stage is reached when the Government of India enters into meaningful talks with the APHC for peaceful solution, we will make an appeal to all the militant outfits to declare a ceasefire for a fixed time - for, say, two or three months - and we will watch the attitude of the Indian government and the Indian forces. Our condition will be a return of these forces to the barracks, stoppage of the killings and custodial deaths, burning of houses and rapes. We will then appeal to the militants that since the Indian government has accepted all the conditions and ordered a ceasefire, you must do likewise; say, for two or three months.

This is something new, a suggestion for revival of political activity.

Political activity will definitely be revived. We will go to the people and there will be no restrictions... and people will come out and express their views. The atmosphere will change.

That is an important statement you have just made. Will you please amplify it? If there is freedom to march in procession, end to excesses, and the like, will discussions follow?

Tripartite, not bilateral discussions; because we are interested in a permanent solution and that cannot be achieved at any bilateral level whether between India and Pakistan or between India and the APHC."

Precisely these formulations were made in the ceasefire announcement by the Hizb's C-in-C (Operations), Abdul Majid Dar, on July 24: "The Government of India must stop atrocities on the people and the militants and allow political activists from all scho ols of thought to present their viewpoint freely" (Greater Kashmir, July 25). He added: "We will fully support talks between the Hurriyat leaders and the Government of India..."

He referred also to New Delhi's rejection of the Hurriyat's offers.

All the others, when asked, supported a ceasefire for a limited period on terms significantly more relaxed than those they had stipulated in 1995. Abdul Ghani Bhat seemed sceptical, though. "Whether peace should lead to the resolution of the dispute or t he resolution leads to the establishment of peace. This has to be taken note of. In my opinion India, Pakistan and the APHC should hold a joint meeting and issue a joint appeal to the security forces in Kashmir and to the boys operating with guns to ceas efire."

The Mirwaiz was for it. "Definitely. It has to be a two-way process. Human rights excesses continue. In the last two months we had 18 cases of custodial deaths. If the government imposes conditions on Pakistan when it talks of cessation of "abetment of t errorism", the same applies to India also. They must take positive steps. It can be worked out." Lone, Ansari, Shabbir Shah and G. M. Bhat spoke in the same vein.

If the APHC had been invited by New Delhi for unconditional talks on the Naga model, it would have definitely accepted the invitation. Home Minister L.K. Advani said in Ahmedabad on April 5, two days after the APHC leaders were released from the Jodhpur jail: "We are prepared to talk with any terrorist outfit on anything they want, even if their demands are perverted in nature... but so long as they accept the parameters of the Constitution..." The APHC could not accept this stipulation. But nor has the Hizb. It was waived in its case. The APHC was rebuffed. On April 7 he went so far as to insist that "before the talks could be held, the armed groups... must lay down their weapons" (The Hindu, April 8). Salahuddin said on August 12: "We h ave not laid down our guns. The blood-stained guns are in our hands."

As far back as on April 18, Geelani had said: "Let the troops stop their crackdown and release all detenus. Then we will ask the Mujahideen to go in for ceasefire." Reporting this, Arun Joshi remarked: "Mounting pressure from the people may push t hem (APHC) to take an initiative that may call for end to hostilities before the ground for the talks can be paved" (The Hindustan Times, April 19). It wanted a formal invitation; tacitly, without conditions. The government, meanwhile, was working on the Hizb option. Some believe that the Hizb had taken Geelani into confidence.

There was unanimity on four principles. First, talks with Delhi must be unconditional. Secondly, "there would be no dialogue within the Indian Constitution and no dialogue for the transfer of power". Thirdly, it must be for "a permanent resolution" of th e problem. Lastly, it must include Pakistan as well in "a comprehensive peace process".

I asked Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat: "Would not the Hurriyat be prepared for talks in two stages - one between New Delhi and Srinagar and another between New Delhi and Islamabad?" He replied: "I would suggest an amendment which also takes into account the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The Hurriyat forms two groups; one talks to New Delhi and the other, to Islamabad, simultaneously." He has since revealed (July 27) that he had suggested to New Delhi that four of the APHC's members go there and three to Isl amabad for talks. "It was not accepted."

Lone cited Clause 2 of the APHC's constitution defining its objectives and gave a significant interpretation. Clause 2 reads thus: "(i) To make peaceful struggle to secure for the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir the exercise of the right of self -determination in accordance with the U.N. Charter and the resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council; however, the exercise of the right of self-determination shall also include the right to independence; (ii) to make endeavours for an alternative negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute amongst all the three parties to the dispute, viz. (a) India, (b) Pakistan, (c) People of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, under the auspices of U.N. or any other friendly countries. Provided that such settlem ent reflects the will and aspirations of the people of the State... Explanation: For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that in this Article negotiated statement shall not be deemed to include any settlement within the framework of the Cons titution of India."

This clause says, Lone explained, "that if the Government of India, for its own reasons, does not feel persuaded to allow the people of the State to exercise their right to self-determination, then, in the alternative, we would try to persuade all concerned to settle the Kashmir dispute through peaceful means and through dialogue." (emphasis added, throughout)

Thus, the Hurriyat is very much prepared to accept an alternative to plebiscite that emerges from tripartite talks. None of them was prepared to accept the 1953 status even as a half-way house on the road to a final settlement. It would be "a cons titutional arrangement between the Centre and the State. This has nothing to do with the future dispensation of J & K. When we talk in terms of a permanent settlement that involves the future dispensation of the State" (Prof. A. G. Bhat).

Related to this was the issue of talks in two stages. While Geelani said that "this can be discussed in the APHC", Lone rejected the idea. Hesitation on this point arose from the apprehension that, as in 1975, Pakistan is sought to be bypassed, as Shabbi r Shah indicated. "We will not make it a condition but it is a fact that a part of the State is under Pakistan's control. Minus Pakistan the talks will be a futile exercise."

Are you prepared for negotiations, in two stages, one between Delhi and Srinagar and the other between Delhi and Islamabad?

That would be fine. But I want the Indo-Pakistan deadlock to be resolved first. I had welcomed the Lahore process.

He, however, added: "If India and Pakistan proceed with their talks we would talk to leaders of both countries and respond positively to Delhi's invitation. It is not necessary for all the three parties to sit together at one and the same time."

Opinion on this point was unanimous - Pakistan must be a party to any solution if it is to be workable and permanent. Tarigami was as emphatic on this as the Hurriyat leaders; one of them, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, said, tongue firmly in cheek, "especially si nce, according to the Government of India, all the centres for training the militants are situated there".

Even the State's Chief Secretary, Ashok Jaitly, said, when asked about a dialogue with Pakistan: "I suppose at some time it has to be. One can be legalistic but if one wants to solve a problem, I think we have to talk to them. This is the personal opinio n of a concerned person. It is for Delhi to decide."

"Farooq Abdullah has said the same thing repeatedly: "The final solution will have to be worked out by India and Pakistan" (Sunday, August 30, 1998). Earlier he had even sought (former U.S. President) Jimmy Carter's mediation. President Cli nton is lucky to be spared by him.

Muzaffarabad looms large in the consciousness of the people and the leaders. Divided families find the separation no less painful for the fact that some communications do get through as reminders of the proximity and the barriers.

The Mirwaiz agrees with Professor Bhat's proposal. An APHC "delegation must be allowed to visit 'Azad Kashmir' (PoK) and talk to the leaders and the militants there because basically the base camps are there. Azad Kashmir (PoK) is not Pakistan but a part of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. Once we start the process, ultimately the problem has to be resolved on a bilateral basis because Pakistan is a party to the dispute and it controls 'Azad Kashmir'."

The proposal makes sense. To write off the PoK leaders as Pakistan's stooges is to force them to become just that. Given a chance to voice their views, they have struck out an independent line. Most of the papers sent from there to Sheikh Abdullah's Stat e People's Convention in Srinagar in June 1970 advocated independence, not accession to Pakistan. The authors landed in jail.

If the peace process picks up speed, elections will be unavoidable. Two problems arise here. First, will New Delhi take the same view of the oath of allegiance to the Constitution that Nehru and Patel took of the oath, prescribed under the Government of India Act, 1919, for fealty to the British Crown when they joined the Viceroy's Executive Council in 1946? If not, the APHC will be asked to compromise itself irretrievably in the eyes of the people even before any parleys begin. The second problem is th e Election Commission's utter and deserved lack of credibility in Kashmir. The distrust is all-pervasive.

I asked all whether they would contest elections to the State Assembly, not for the lure of power, but in order to establish their representative credentials. Geelani was negative. Professor Bhat would, "but for a specific purpose: namely, the future dis pensation of Jammu and Kashmir. If this is agreed, we are prepared for it." Fears of a poll whose results would register a verdict on this issue prompted Indira Gandhi to prevent Sheikh Abdullah from contesting the Lok Sabha elections in 1971 and the Ass embly elections in 1972. The rigging of the 1987 elections had fateful consequences. Very many of the insurgent leaders had participated in the 1987 process. But how long can New Delhi prevent or delay the reckoning? Or is it that, like the poor, the rig ged poll, Kashmiri style, will ever be with us? To answer this question is to confront the agonising political and, what is never faced, moral dilemma, which India has faced ever since the State's accession in 1947. Come to think of it, in the Turkish el ections in April 1999 the Kurdish People's Democratic Party's candidates were elected to govern six of the region's most important cities. The elections were not rigged.

Lone's indignation was representative. "In Kashmir the electoral system has been raped. There is no hope of fair elections under any circumstances. The Election Commissioner, G.V.G. Krishnamoorthy, came here and when asked about a poll boycott, told the people that it was part of a democratic process through which people express their opinion. And you know what happened. The APHC's leaders were put in jail. We made a suggestion in the past: If elections are held under the supervision of an outside body - say, the U.N. - as in Namibia and other places, that would settle the issue for all time to come. If the Hurriyat is defeated, it would mean its demand (for azadi) is rejected (by the people). Look at the dishonesty of these BJP people. When we said that the 1996 Assembly elections were rigged, they said that they were fair. Now when they wanted to oppose Farooq Abdullah, their Venkaiah Naidu asked how the State Assembly could legitimately decide because it had no representative character. He s aid the elections had been rigged and it was 'our' army which helped them to come to power."

Agreeing with Lone, Shabbir Shah feels that "polls must be held on both sides, here and there. We have to pass through the electoral process." And "one day form governments too", he added, realistically.

Both Bashir Ahmed Butt, a senior JKLF leader, and Bashir Ahmed Tota (People's League) spoke broadly on the same lines as the other Hurriyat leaders on the issues discussed above. The JKLF is secular and for independence. The People's League is for access ion to Pakistan but is prepared for an alternative acceptable to all.

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