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Kashmir: why Hurriyat may not agree to talks even if Modi govt does

Catch Team | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:48 IST

That Friday's all party meeting on Kashmir did not result in a major policy initiative is bad enough. But worse still may be that any possible effort at a political outreach to the separatists by the central government is likely to be hobbled by the history of its previous unproductive engagement with them.

Such an effort will also be constrained by the adhoc unity among the top three separatist leaders - Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik - whereby response to any offer of dialogue will have to be jointly decided by them. In the past, Delhi only talked to the Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz, which was denounced by Geelani's faction as a sell-out.

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The separatists are already chary of any dialogue with Delhi that doesn't promise concrete redressal of the political issues underlying the ongoing unrest".

"We will respond when the Centre embarks on a substantive initiative on Kashmir," says Hilal Shah, chief organiser of the Hurriyat faction led by Geelani. He clarifies that any offer must be in keeping with the "four points", one of which wants Delhi to accept Kashmir as a political dispute between India and Pakistan. "Anything that is not intended to resolve Kashmir and only an effort to buy time and enable return to the uneasy peace will not be acceptable," Shah adds.

We can't be part of any process that will end the moment Kashmir is back to normal: Altaf Shah

Similarly, Shahidul Islam, spokesman for the Mirwaiz group, points out "the change in the separatist ranks" since the last dialogue between Mirwaiz and the Centre. "Hurriyat factions are now effectively a united group. There may be differences of opinion but in response to an offer of dialogue, we have to take a joint decision," he says, adding that the state does not even afford the separatists space to perform their religious duties. "For the fifth consecutive Friday, the government hasn't allowed prayers at the Grand Mosque."

Left in the lurch

Hurriyat's own space for dialogue with Delhi has drastically shrunk over the years. The key reason is the unproductive nature of all previous engagements between Delhi and the Mirwaiz faction. Mirwaiz ended up losing his uncle to a militant attack for doing so, and the century-old school run by his family in Srinagar was also burnt. Then, in 2009, when ongoing secret talks between the faction and home minister P Chidambaram was exposed by a newspaper, a veteran member of the group, Fazl-e-Haq Qureshi, was shot by unidentified gunmen. Qureshi hasn't completely recovered yet.

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Geelani's group, an ardent proponent of the United Nations resolutions to resolve the Kashmir dispute, has always snorted at offers of dialogue from the Centre, seeing them as more trickery than substantive engagement. Wary of an engagement that could end up discrediting him, Geelani has always made talks conditional on the Centre acknowledging Kashmir as a disputed territory and agreeing to a trilateral process involving Delhi, Islamabad and Kashmiris for an acceptable settlement, short of the implementation of UN resolutions. Delhi can't bring itself to even listen to such demands, let alone show willingness to consider them.

There's no freedom even to perform religious duties. Grand Mosque hasn't seen prayers for five Fridays

During the promising 2003-07 peace process with the then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, though, the Centre had countenanced a "triangular dialogue" whereby the Mirwaiz faction simultaneously talked with Delhi and Islamabad alongside the dialogue - more of it through the back channels - between the two countries. The extended engagement, by all accounts, had almost pulled off a Kashmir settlement, but for the sudden exit of Musharraf from power in 2008.

Given this context and Delhi's own drastically reduced willingness over the years - most pronounced under Narendra Modi - to engage either Pakistan or the separatists in Kashmir, any fresh offer of talks to the separatists or for that matter even a back channel engagement holds little attraction for them. More so with the Centre treating the Hurriyat as just one of the several parties and shades of opinion it would talk to. And the talks themselves are intended for restoration of clam rather than as part of a larger process for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, as the separatists want.

"We can't be part of any process that will end the moment Kashmir is back to normal," says Altaf Shah, a senior leader from Geelani's faction . "We need a substantive initiative underpinned by a recognition that Kashmir is a political dispute, not the same old trickery."

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First published: 12 August 2016, 9:19 IST