When Delhi decided to suspend foreign secretary-level talks with Islamabad, taking exception to the Pakistan high commissioner meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders, it brought a divided and exhausted Hurriyat back into relevance in Kashmir. Also significant is the way the Centre’s recent move has been viewed in Kashmir. This shift in strategy has strengthened the belief that Delhi only aims to strengthen the status quo; its political overtures to the separatists and the political mainstream in Kashmir were just meant to calm tempers and buy time in the hope that the “Kashmir problem” would eventually vanish.
The Modi government has cut through the diplomatic sweet talk favoured by the previous dispensation, baring the stark contours of Delhi’s real policy. As a result, both the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party are cornered, since there seems to be no space for their political remedies for the Kashmir dispute. The Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has consistently suspected the motives behind Delhi’s overtures for dialogue, is vindicated. And in the disagreement between the separatist factions, the scales have been tipped. The moderates have been proved wrong. The Hurriyat now finds itself at a crossroads. There is growing public pressure in Kashmir for the various factions to unite and start a new phase of resistance, instead of continuing with unproductive dialogue. Perhaps the past holds a key to this disillusionment with dialogue.
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was set up on July 31,1993. When Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was made the first chairman of the newly stitched coalition of 23 political and religious parties in Kashmir, he was 20. From the beginning, the Hurriyat was a mix of ideologies and personalities, with contradictions that would regularly surface in public. The only thing binding the various strands of this political formation was its objective. The Hurriyat constitution adopted in 1993 stated that the objective was to wage a peaceful struggle to secure right to self-determination under the UN charter and resolutions on J&K. To accommodate rival political ideologies, it included the right to independence under the rubric of self-determination and agreed to strive towards an “alternative negotiated settlement” between all three parties to the Kashmir dispute — India, Pakistan and people of the Jammu and Kashmir.
The formation of this coalition was important because it gave the separatist struggle a political face. At the time, the militant movement was the major challenge for the Centre and the lack of a political platform representing the separatists was Delhi’s main alibi for not engaging in talks. But once the Hurriyat was formed, Delhi wasn’t ready to talk outside the ambit of the Constitution — an insistence that has broadly informed its every engagement on Kashmir ever since. As brutal counter insurgency operations were launched to curb militants, Delhi started to draw the NC continued…