Jammu & Kashmir

Split, yet again

Print edition : February 07, 2014

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Three leaders of this faction have moved out of the APHC, accusing Mirwaiz of treating it as his "personal fiefdom". Photo: R.V.Moorthy

Mohammad Azam Inquillabi. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Nayeem Ahmad Khan Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Shabir Ahmad Shah. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

The Hurriyat has a third faction now. Observers see the changes in the group as a threat to the separatist camp as a whole.

KASHMIR’S biggest separatist group has split again, forming a third faction. Three senior separatist leaders, Shabir Ahmad Shah, Azam Inquillabi and Naeem Ahmad Khan, of the moderate group of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) have formally parted ways with it, challenging the leadership of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

In the wake of the armed rebellion in Kashmir in late 1989, the APHC became the most vibrant and powerful voice of resentment against India. It came into existence in 1993 following the release of top-ranking Kashmiri leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Moulana Abbas Ansari, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, the late Abdul Gani Lone and Mohammad Yasin Malik, from different jails after a two-year detention in 1992. Qazi Nissar Ahmad, the Mirwaiz (head priest) of south Kashmir, too, was released the same year but he did not join the Hurriyat. He was gunned down in 1994. Shabir Shah, who was once hailed as the “Nelson Mandela of Kashmir” for having spent around 20 years in jail, joined the Hurriyat after he was freed in 1994.


In 1993, when the Hazratbal shrine was under Army siege for 32 days after Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) militants were holed up there, these leaders jointly started to address the concerns of Kashmir and Kashmiris. They reached out to people with different programmes, and the exercise culminated in the formation of the APHC with 23 political, social and religious groups.

Before the APHC was born, an umbrella body of like-minded (read essentially anti-Indian) parties was on the scene. It was called the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Kashmir, a name later used by the hard-line separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani for his own political group in 2003. The Tehreek-e-Hurriyat was then headed by Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of the Kashmir Bar Association.

The Hurriyat’s central ideology revolved around the “core issue” of Kashmir, and its constitution laid emphasis on tripartite talks (between India, Pakistan and representatives of Kashmiris) to resolve the issue. It emerged as a united voice to realise the “dream” of the right to self-determination for the people of Kashmir. Notwithstanding the fact that the Hurriyat’s line of action was deeply influenced by Pakistan and its establishment and that it failed to earn credibility as a forum for independent thinking, it still played a pivotal role not only in shaping the discourse on the Kashmir tangle but also in highlighting human rights violations at all levels.

Many people attributed motives to the creation of the Hurriyat Conference. New Delhi has surely been uncomfortable with this “united voice”, and the efforts to derail it have been part of back-room policymaking on Kashmir.

But the conglomerate faced more threats from within. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who was hardly 19 at the time of the formation of the alliance, was made its founder-chairman. The Mirwaiz was far junior to veterans such as Geelani, Lone and Ansari, but a lack of consensus made it clear that personality clashes and ideological differences dominated the working of the Hurriyat rather than the pursuit of the goal of azadi (freedom). Geelani, Ansari and Bhat assumed the mantle subsequently, but the squabbles continued.

Some of those who were the pioneers of the armed rebellion in Kashmir were not comfortable with traditional politicians taking over the “freedom movement”. The likes of Geelani and Lone had been part of electoral politics before 1989. The Mirwaiz’s Awami Action Committee, too, had an alliance with the National Conference since the former wielded influence in at least two Assembly segments in Srinagar. Abdul Ahad Waza, one of the first militants who crossed over to Pakistan for arms training in 1987, sees red at the very mention of the Hurriyat. “Its foundation was laid in the United States with the support of Indian as well as Pakistani intelligence agencies. Except Geelani, others were all part of the big ploy,” Waza told a news weekly recently.

Cracks first appeared in the APHC when Shabir Shah’s membership was suspended in 1998 after he “violated” the Hurriyat stand and met the then visiting U.S. Ambassador to India, Frank Wisner. His getting sidelined did not matter much to the alliance, and the first blow was its formal split in September 2003. That was the culmination of the division of ideologies between two groups—one headed by the Mirwaiz and the other by Geelani. The reason for the split was Geelani’s objection to the presence of the People’s Conference (founded by Lone) in the Hurriyat. Geelani alleged that the People’s Conference had fielded proxy candidates in the 2002 Assembly elections and it had no business being in the pro-freedom camp.

Unidentified militants killed Lone in May 2002, and both his sons became alienated from Pakistan since they strongly believed that the Pakistani establishment was behind his killing. During his visit to Pakistan in 2000, Lone had criticised Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and objected to the presence of foreign militants in Kashmir.

At the time of the 2002 elections, Geelani was in Ranchi jail, but he was released soon after the People’s Democratic Party-Congress government came to power. Geelani asked the Hurriyat leadership to expel the People’s Conference, but that did not happen and, instead, the Lone brothers walked out. However, Geelani did not relent, and he parted ways with the Mirwaiz group to launch his own faction, which he claimed to be the real Hurriyat. He was cold-shouldered by his parent organisation, the Jamaat e Islami, but he reincarnated the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat of the 1990s and managed to get on board like-minded parties, which are against any dialogue with New Delhi unless it accepts Kashmir as a dispute.

Both factions of the Hurriyat have continued to claim that they represent the aspirations of the people of Kashmir. But the latest development, the emergence of a “third Hurriyat” with Shah, Inquillabi and Khan accusing Mirwaiz of treating it as his “personal fiefdom”, will certainly harm the movement.

The move by the trio was triggered when the Mirwaiz wrote to the Hurriyat’s Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) chapter that these leaders and their parties had ceased to exist as members of the Hurriyat “since they have voluntarily chosen to be away from the Hurriyat”. This infuriated them, and they directly took on the Mirwaiz and his group and called themselves the “real Hurriyat”.

The Mirwaiz’s writing was meant to convey to the Pakistan government as well that these people were not part of the Hurriyat, which obviously no separatist leader could accept. However, Naeem Ahmad Khan discounts the Mirwaiz’s position by saying, “We have not parted ways but we are the real custodians of blood and sacrifices of people who laid down their lives for the movement.” “They are trying to create confusion and we will show that they have deceived the people,” Khan told Frontline.

Struggling to survive

While the Hurriyat is struggling to survive as three different factions, the JKLF is the only group that is away from all of them. Its leader, Yasin Malik, though among the founding members of the APHC, operates independently and has not associated himself with any of the three factions.

Gul Wani, political scientist and Director of the Institute of Kashmir Studies in Kashmir University, sees these changes as a serious threat to the separatist camp as a whole. “They will be further discredited and people will get alienated from them,” he said. “This will further widen the scope of moderate mainstream parties as people will start relying on them more.”

With Jammu and Kashmir all set for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections this year, the challenge before the separatists is to remain relevant, as the extent of participation of people in the elections will determine their influence among the people.