From Tehelka Archives, April 17, 2001: Talks with government; Hurriyat angles for time

The 23-party separatist alliance will respond to K C Pant’s talks offer only after its working committee meets on April 21, reports Masood Hussain

Kashmir’s 23-party separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) will respond to K C Pant’s talks offer only after its working committee meets on Saturday (April 21) and all the members of its general council discuss the issue the following Monday. They received the letter from the office of the deputy chairman, Planning Commission, only on Tuesday.

“We want to involve all our constituent members in this process. It is a sensitive matter and Hurriyat executive members want to have broad-based discussions with others before reaching a final conclusion”, chairperson Abdul Gani Bhat told mediapersons after the executive concluded its day-long meeting.

Of the seven executive members, the meeting was attended by Bhat, Abdul Gani Lone, Molvi Abbas Hussain Ansari and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. Three other members — Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mohammed Yasin Malik and Sheikh Abdul Aziz, were represented by their authorized representatives – Qazi Ahadullah, Bashir Ahmad Bhat and Bashir Ahmad Touta. While Geelani is pre-occupied with the massive influx of visitors coming to him to condole his daughter’s death recently, Malik is in USA getting his heart ailments treated, and the Peoples’ League leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz has left for Lahore to arrange a match for his brother.

“We will have to listen to our partners. The Hurriyat Conference is not a single party, it is a conglomerate. The dialogue offer has to be discussed threadbare. We will respond to the offer after the working committee and general council meeting is over,” Bhat added. Although the Hurriyat has chosen to delay its response to the offer, observers here said that the indications from the militants and other Hurriyat leaders are quite clear. Almost all the militant outfits have rejected the offer.

The entire Hurriyat executive, led by its chairperson, told a visiting two-member team of Canadian envoys — James C Carrick (First Secretary Political Affairs) and David Edwards (Political and Security Affairs South Asia Division) — on Monday that they were averse to any kind of negotiations. However, they told the two diplomats that “the present offer is neither meaningful, nor complete and it does not seem it was initiated with an aim to achieve a target”. They have also told the visiting envoys that the motive behind the government’s exercise is to bring peace and not to resolve the Kashmir issue. The Hurriyat leaders also said that the government was trying to consume time by involving everybody when the fact is that all the groups invited do not have a problem with the government. Besides, they insist on the inclusion of Pakistan in the talks.

In the separatist block it was only Shabir Ahmad Shah, founder-president of the Democratic Freedom Party, who wants to go ahead with the dialogue. He too, however, insists that so many invitees will add to the confusion.

At the moment, the government of India and the Hurriyat Conference have diagonally different perceptions on the way out. While the government says they will first bring peace and then settle the Kashmir issue, the Hurriyat insists that they need to address the Kashmir issue first and peace will follow automatically.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has already said he will be sending his team to interact with the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission. Abdullah has also speculated that if the Hurriyat rejects the offer, this will led to its political death. The Hurriyat chose not to react to that statement.

The other issue that was discussed by the Hurriyat executive was Syed Ali Shah Geelani, whose replacement in the Hurriyat was rejected by the Jamait-e-Islami. “It is an closed case. We have resolved the matter. It has been decided that Geelani will stay in the Hurriyat executive council as a representative of the Jamait-e-Islami”, Bhat said.

On Saturday, the second-rung leadership of the executive member parties – the Jamait-e-Islami, the Peoples Conference, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the Itehad ul Muslimeen, the Peoples League, the Muslim Conference and the Awami Action Committee — that forms the alliance’s working committee will deliberate over the issue. This will be followed by the Monday conclave, that would be more or less stormy and then the Hurriyat will finally respond to the offer.