New Delhi: The exit of Syed Ali Shah Geelani from the Hurriyat Conference is yet another reminder that the Narendra Modi government had embarked on a mission to systematically diminish the separatists’ role in Kashmir, along with putting an end to bilateral talks with Pakistan.
While announcing his sudden departure from the Hurriyat Monday, Geelani slammed leaders of his own hardline separatist faction for “not reacting properly” and “not guiding the people of Kashmir” after Article 370 was scrapped on 5 August last year.
The All Party Hurriyat Conference had split into two factions in 2003, with Geelani leading the hardline group and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq leading the moderates.
Sources told ThePrint that the root cause of Geelani’s anger towards the members of his own faction can be traced back to the Modi government’s “systematic crackdown” on the existence of the Hurriyat, ever since the BJP-led NDA came to power in May 2014.
While the 91-year-old Geelani’s exit might not be a surprise owing to his health, his ire against Pakistan-based separatists “speaks volumes about their internal rift”, an official source told ThePrint, adding that after Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was scrapped, Kashmiri people have also started questioning the role played by the separatists.
The Hurriyat had once become a prominent player in Kashmir, so much so that on 22 January 2004, its leaders had even met then-deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, as PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought to improve ties with Pakistan after the Kargil War.
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Sharat Sabharwal, India’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, told ThePrint that India wasn’t very happy with the role being played by the Hurriyat, but even then the leadership of the day did not stop the separatist leaders from making their point on behalf of Kashmiris.
“The main issue was these people never really could do anything concrete for Kashmir. They only agitated and never came up with a solution on how to resolve the problem. Neither of the factions actually ever proposed anything to successive governments,” Sabharwal said.
After Modi came to power
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden bilateral meeting with then-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on 27 May 2014, a day after Modi took oath of office, both sides decided to hold foreign secretary-level talks.
Eventually, the first meeting was fixed for 25 August that year, but in a dramatic turn of events, India’s then-foreign secretary Sujatha Singh asked the Pakistani high commissioner at the time, Abdul Basit, not to involve Hurriyat leaders in the dialogue.
As Pakistan did not relent, India cancelled the talks, as it saw the meeting between Basit and the separatist leaders as “interference in India’s internal affairs”.
“This was really the first time when the separatists were asked to stay out of the bilateral dialogue process. Before that, they were engaging with the governments on both sides and were even allowed to visit Pakistan,” Sabharwal said.
“But 2014 onwards, the separatists really started seeing a diminishing role for themselves and they started losing visibility,” he said.
In 2015, when external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan, the two neighbours decided to launch a comprehensive bilateral dialogue, which included the issue of Kashmir. However, right after the conclusion of Swaraj’s visit, Basit met a delegation of Hurriyat leaders to discuss the issue of Kashmir with them, against the condition India had set. Pakistan insisted it would not allow India to set any kind of pre-conditions for the talks.
Throughout his tenure in India, Basit kept rejecting the condition not to meet separatists, as he believed that was the only way to understand the Kashmir “struggle”, which finally culminated in the talks being completely stalled.
Basit’s successor Sohail Mahmood, who is now Pakistan’s foreign secretary, was once summoned by India’s Ministry of External Affairs late in the evening, well past working hours, as Islamabad continued to maintain contact with the separatist leaders.
Ajay Sahni, founding member and executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management, said in the present political scenario in Kashmir, it would be “naïve” to say what the Hurriyat’s role would be going forward.
“Unless problems are addressed, they will continue to fester. There is a compounding of problems taking place in Kashmir, and there isn’t a political leadership there. When dissent finds articulation there, only then can it be seen what happens with the separatists,” Sahni said.
“It remains to be seen how the separatist leaders come back when situation in Kashmir comes back to normal. This is a transition phase, and it won’t be an easy transition,” he added.
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