With the exit of Syed Ali Shah Geelani from the Hurriyat Conference after leading it for 17 years, Pakistan has lost an important link through which the ISI — the country’s premier intelligence agency — was able to foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir. For all those who have been keenly following J&K developments, especially since the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcating the erstwhile state into two Union Territories, Geelani’s resignation from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference should not come as a surprise.
The grapes are sour, Syed Ali Shah Geelani has admitted.
After Article 370’s abrogation and the 2019 Balakot strike, Islamabad was quick to realise that it has been cultivating a wrong set of leaders who paled into insignificance compared to the carefully crafted strategy of the Narendra Modi government in J&K. The surgical strike and the hot pursuit of terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) probably made Islamabad write off Hurriyat leaders, including the 90-year-old Geelani, who were by now of no use to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). With a view to insulate PoK further, the ISI got one of its main operators, Mohammad Hussain Khateeb, appointed as the convenor of the PoK Chapter of Hurriyat. The ISI would expect the new and younger leaders to be more aggressive and active in terror activities against India.
The turning point
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s agenda of abrogating Article 370 and 35A, which granted special status to J&K, was never a secret. And over the years, it was fashionable for the Hurriyat leaders to ‘warn’ of a ‘bloodbath’ in J&K if the Centre even attempted to alter the constitutional setup in J&K.
But when the Modi government made its move in August 2019, there was deafening silence from the Hurriyat leadership. It is easy to explain why — all one needs to do is join the dots that the Centre had been marking for the last two to three years.
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Making Hurriyat ineffective
Soon after the Balakot air strike in February 2019, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) conducted searches at the houses and properties of Hurriyat leaders. Later, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) imposed penalties on Geelani and others for illegal possession of foreign currencies.
The NIA then filed a charge sheet in October 2019 against Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik and several other self-appointed separatist leaders detailing their links with Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Sayeed – the mastermind of Mumbai terror attacks and a designated global terrorist. The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), which was hurriedly cobbled up in 2016 and regularly announced a calendar of protests, came a cropper after some of its leaders were arrested and rendered ineffective.
It is possible that the leadership vacuum in the Hurriyat could be seen as an opportunity for the ISI to take over the outfit and regroup terror modules. New Delhi will have to be even more vigilant and set in motion a series of action-oriented strategies to nip the trouble in the bud. There could be serious attempts to provoke violent protests under the guise of observing the fourth death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, who was killed in an encounter on 8 July 2016 in Anantnag district.
Geelani’s quitting does not absolve him of his sins. He is singularly responsible for ruining the lives of generations of Kashmiri youth, introducing the element of violence in the ‘anti-India’ protests, vitiating the atmosphere of peace and playing into the hands of India’s enemies. All this while his close relatives had the best of education, government jobs and cushy life.
A new central approach
While governments in the past had a flip-flop attitude towards the Hurriyat, the Modi government drew a new red line, clearly stating that no talks between India and Pakistan will include any third party such as the Hurriyat or other separatist leaders. The core principle of the Hurriyat is to function as a platform for what it calls a “struggle directed against the forcible and fraudulent occupation of the state by India”.
An outfit that seeks freedom from the “occupational forces of India”, and uses extreme violence and terror as its tools to achieve its goal, has no place in a democratic setup. The Hurriyat Conference needs to be identified as a terrorist outfit and dealt with accordingly.
But the political process in J&K cannot be kept in suspension for long. Sooner or later, the status of Union Territory J&K will have to be changed and statehood restored followed by assembly and municipal elections. The J&K assembly has a total of 111 seats, with 24 reserved for members from PoK.
Once the proposed exercise of delimitation is carried out, the PoK seats should be filled through nomination. This will not only cater to the democratic aspirations of the people of PoK but also take New Delhi one step closer to fulfilling the mandate of the unanimous resolution of the joint sitting of Parliament held on 22 February 1994.
The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.
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