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Hurriyat: Its History, Role and Relevance

New Delhi has now twice made high-level dialogue with Islamabad conditional upon Pakistan not talking to the separatists. Who are the Hurriyat? What is their politics? Do they speak for the people of the Valley?

Written by Muzamil Jaleel |
Updated: August 31, 2015 11:08:45 am
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, hurriyat, hurriyat pakistan, hurriyat kashmir, umar farooq, j&k hurriyat, hurriyat news, india news, j&k news, india hurriyat, hurriyat india Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani

While the reason for the cancellation of talks between the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of India and Pakistan was New Delhi’s insistence on keeping Kashmir off the table and discussing only terrorism, the decision to disallow a customary meeting between Kashmiri separatist leaders and Pakistani officials in New Delhi ahead of the bilateral became a key chapter in the fiasco.

The Pak High Commission had invited both factions of the Hurriyat, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik, and Shabir Shah for a meeting with Pak NSA Sartaj Aziz. New Delhi’s new red line, excluding the Kashmir issue and terming the separatist leadership as the “third party”, and Islamabad’s refusal to accept these conditions, has refocussed attention on the Hurriyat, the political platform of the separatist movement for more than two decades now.


This is the second time that talks have been called off over the issue of Pak officials meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders. New Delhi had called off a Foreign Secretary-level engagement for this reason last year.

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Birth of the Hurriyat

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was formed on July 31, 1993, as a political platform of the separatist movement. It was an extension of the conglomerate of parties that had come together to contest Assembly polls against a National Conference-Congress alliance in 1987 — an election that was widely alleged to have been rigged. The conglomerate of disparate ideologies was held together by their common position that Jammu & Kashmir was “under occupation of India”, and the collective demand that “the wishes and aspirations of the people of the state should be ascertained for a final resolution of the dispute”.

At a time when militancy was at its peak, this conglomerate represented the political face of the militant movement, and claimed to “represent the wishes and aspirations of the people”. It had brought together two separate, but strong ideologies: those who sought J&K’s independence from both India and Pakistan, and those who wanted J&K to become part of Pakistan. Most of the groups that were part of the Hurriyat had their militant wings, or were linked to a militant outfit.

Before the formation of the APHC, there was another political platform — the Tehreek-i-Hurriyat Kashmir (THK). It was headed by the advocate Mian Abdul Qayoom, and consisted of 10 groups: the Jamat-e-Islami, JKLF, Muslim Conference, Islamic Students’ League, Mahaz-e-Azadi, Muslim Khawateen Markaz, Kashmir Bar Association, Ittehadul Muslimeen, Dukhtaran-e-Millat and Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadees. But this first separatist political platform did not have much influence.

On December 27, 1992, the 19-year-old Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who had taken over as chairman of J&K Awami Action Committee (J&KAAC) and become the head priest of Kashmir after the assassination of his father Mirwaiz Farooq, called a meeting of religious, social and political organisations at Mirwaiz Manzil. The aim of this meeting was to lay the foundation of a broad alliance of parties that were opposed to “Indian rule” in J&K. Seven months later, the APHC was born, with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as its first chairman.

The APHC executive council had seven members from seven executive parties: Syed Ali Shah Geelani of Jamat-e-Islami, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of Awami Action Committee, Sheikh Abdul Aziz of People’s League, Moulvi Abbas Ansari of Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat of Muslim Conference, Yasin Malik of JKLF, and Abdul Gani Lone of People’s Conference.

Of these leaders, Sheikh Aziz was killed in police firing near Sheri in Baramulla in August 2008. Abdul Gani Lone was killed by militants in May 2002.

The Hurriyat also had a 21-member working committee. This included the seven members of the executive council, plus two members from each of the seven parties.

There was also a general council, with more than 23 members, including traders’ bodies, employee unions, and social organisations. The membership of the executive council couldn’t be increased as per the APHC constitution, but the general council could accommodate more members. The Hurriyat had observer status at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The Battle Within

Because the Hurriyat was such a mixed bag of ideologies and personalities, infighting was a near permanent feature. Disagreements often came out in the open.

In September 2003, the Hurriyat split on the questions of its future strategies, the role of militancy in the separatist movement, and dialogue. The Syed Ali Shah Geelani-led group was firm that talks with New Delhi could take place only after the central government accepted that J&K was in dispute, while the group led by Mirwaiz wanted talks.

Geelani hasn’t departed from his stance that “the struggle will continue till complete freedom” or a “referendum in accordance with UN resolutions”. The Mirwaiz group backed former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula that envisaged suzerainty and a joint mechanism between the two parts of J&K, without changing any existing boundaries. The Mirwaiz group also entered into a dialogue directly with New Delhi during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, and held talks with the then Deputy PM, L K Advani, in 2004.

The leaders of the Mirwaiz faction, along with Yasin Malik (who was no longer a part of Hurriyat by then), visited Pakistan through the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road in June 2005 to hold talks with various Muzaffarabad-based Kashmiri separatist leaders and the Pakistan establishment. This visit was facilitated by the Vajpayee government, which had come up with Srinagar-Delhi, Delhi-Islamabad and Srinagar-Islamabad tracks as part of its Kashmir peace process.

Though there were stark ideological differences within the two factions of the Hurriyat, the trigger for the split came on the question of fielding proxy candidates by a Hurriyat constituent, People’s Conference, in the 2002 Assembly polls. Geelani vehemently criticised the decision, and sought the eviction of the party led by Abdul Gani Lone’s sons, Bilal Lone and Sajjad Lone.

On September 7, 2003, the Geelani faction removed the then Hurriyat chairman, Abbas Ansari, and replaced him with Masarat Alam as interim chief. They also suspended the seven-member executive council, and set up a five-member committee to review the Hurriyat constitution.

Geelani also left the Jamaat-e-Islami, and formed his own party, the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir, in August 2004.

The Mirwaiz faction split in 2014, when four of its leaders — Democratic Freedom Party president Shabir Ahmad Shah, National Front chairman Nayeem Ahmad Khan, Mahaz-e-Azadi chief Mohammad Azam Inqlabi and Islamic Political Party chief Mohammad Yousuf Naqash — left.

The Hurriyat Constitution

The APHC constitution, describes it as a union of political, social and religious parties of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, set up to:

* Wage a peaceful struggle to secure for the people of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the UN charter and the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council, the exercise of the right to self-determination, which shall include the right to independence.

* Make endeavours for an alternative negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute amongst all the three parties to the dispute — India, Pakistan and people of the Jammu and Kashmir — under the auspices of the UN or any other friendly country, provided that such settlement reflects the will of the people.

* Project the ongoing struggle in the state before nations and governments of the world in its proper perspective, as being a “struggle directed against the forcible and fraudulent occupation of the state by India”.

Relevance of Separatists

The separatist leadership across the ideological divide represents a major political constituency in J&K, which will likely remain relevant for as long as the issue is not resolved. This political reality on the ground can be understood by looking at the public political agendas of the two major pro-India political groups — the ruling People’s Democratic Party and the opposition National Conference. These two parties share the support of the largest chunk of the electorate that takes part in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. While the NC seeks autonomy and a return to the 1953 position where New Delhi had authority only over Defence, Communications and Foreign Affairs, the PDP’s declared political agenda has been self-rule, wherein they seek autonomy, plus a joint mechanism between two parts of J&K to turn the region into a fusion of India and Pakistan.

These political agendas, which are widely publicised during election campaigns, border on separatist politics. There is, in fact, very little difference between the larger political framework for the resolution of the Kashmir issue that is publicly envisaged by the Mirwaiz faction and the PDP. The difference is that the Mirwaiz group has not agreed to join the electoral battle prior to a solution.

It is obvious that if the two major pro-India political groups seek votes for an agenda that seeks different degrees of separation from the Indian Union, the separatist political discourse remains relevant. Besides, there is an inherent flaw in an assessment that seeks to judge the relevance of separatist leaders by the same yardstick that is applied to leaders participating in electoral politics.

The separatists are relevant because of a sentiment, which is not voted on in any election. The other reason why they remain relevant is their utility to the state at times of crises. When Kashmir was up in arms during the public agitations from 2008-10, New Delhi sent high-level delegations to speak to the separatists in a bid to calm tempers.

The fact that Pakistan considers the separatists as representatives of the people is also an important reason to think of them as relevant on the ground.


New Delhi drew the red line on Islamabad talking to the Hurriyat in August 2014, and reiterated its position this month. However, Pakistani officials have been talking to the separatists around the time of India-Pak dialogues for 20 years now MAY 1995: Pakistan’s President Farooq Ahmad Leghari met separatist leaders in New Delhi when he came to attend the SAARC meeting. It was Leghari who began the tradition of meeting the separatists.

JULY 2001: General Pervez Musharraf met separatist leaders in New Delhi before the Agra summit with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee

APRIL 2005: President Pervez Musharraf again met separatist leaders from Kashmir in New Delhi

APRIL 2007: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz met separatist leaders at Pakistan House on his visit to New Delhi. Aziz visited India as head of SAARC, and also had a separate meeting with Prime minister Manmohan Singh.

JULY 2011: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met delegations led by Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at the Pakistan High Commission. Khar was on a visit to New Delhi to meet her Indian counterpart S M Krishna

NOVEMBER 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Advisor on Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz met with Kashmiri separatist leaders at the Pakistan High Commission

The Hurriyat Top Three

Syed Ali Shah Geelani
Veteran hardliner faces challenge from a harder line

The octogenarian Geelani is the most prominent public face of the separatist struggle in Kashmir. Geelani was a primary school teacher employed by the J&K education department when he became a member of Jamat-e-Islami in 1959. Thirteen years later, he contested the 1972 Assembly elections from his home constituency Sopore, and won. He was re-elected to the Assembly in 1977 as a Jamat-e-Islami candidate.

In 1987, Geelani was instrumental in bringing together the Jamat-e-Islami and several other social and religious outfits in the Muslim United Front, which fought the elections. It is widely believed that the elections were massively rigged and triggered armed militancy in Kashmir, Geelani managed to win for the third time.

After the armed resistance began in 1989, Geelani resigned from the Assembly and took a lead role in separatist politics. When the Hurriyat was formed, he became its member, and later its chairman.

In 2002, when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became Chief Minister, Geelani was in jail. On his release, he accused People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone of fielding proxy candidates in the Assembly elections, and called for his expulsion from the Hurriyat. When the Hurriyat didn’t accept his demand, Geelani broke away and formed his own faction. A few months later, he divorced the Jamaat-e-Islami, his organisation for 45 years, to form the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat.

Though an ardent supporter of Pakistan, Geelani vehemently opposed President Musharraf’s four-point formula for resolution of the Kashmir issue, calling it “surrender”. At that time, the Mirwaiz faction was favoured by both India and Pakistan, who gave it the central role in Kashmir. By 2008, however, the Hurriyat moderates were marginalised, as they failed to deliver on the ground.

A heart patient who lives on a pacemaker and a malignant kidney, Geelani started to re-emerge as an important leader in 2008, when he launched an agitation opposing the transfer of government land to the Amarnath shrine board. The agitation was repeated in 2010.

Geelani’s strength is seen in his successful mix of a “consistent and uncompromising political stance on Kashmir” and organised street resistance. With his Jamaat background, religion is an important part of Geelani’s worldview and politics. He also enjoys substantial influence over the militant movement.

For the first time in decades, it now seems Geelani’s authority has come into question from the new breed of militants with more hardline views. Geelani has been publicly critical of the ISIS and its methods, and has questioned the wisdom behind a group of Kashmiri youths raising Daesh flags during protests in Srinagar. Geelani had earlier opposed the entry of al-Qaeda into Kashmir.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
Chief cleric of Kashmir prefers negotiations

Kashmir’s head priest carries a great deal of weight on his young shoulders. The head preacher of Jamia Masjid, Srinagar, Umar was anointed the head of the Awami Action Committee (AAC), a constituent of the Hurriyat, at just 17, after the assassination of his father, Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, in May 1991. Considered a moderate, Umar favours resolution of the Kashmir issue through peaceful negotiations. Though he has never denounced the armed struggle, he maintains a safe distance from militant groups. Though the AAC was once considered pro-Pakistan, Umar has preferred to remain non-committal on whether he supports accession to Pakistan or independence.

Yasin Malik
Militant commander turned non-violent activist

From a top commander and pioneer of the militant movement in Kashmir, Yasin Malik has come a long way. He gave up arms and decided to follow the path of non-violence as the only means of struggle.

Yasin Malik was one among the several Kashmiri youth who crossed to Pakistan in the late 80s for arms training. In fact, he was one among four area commanders, the others being Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Ajid and Javid Mir. The ‘HAJY’ group, as it was known, was allegedly tortured in police custody for its support to Muslim United Front (MUF) candidate Mohammad Yousuf Shah in the 1987 elections. Mohammad Yousuf Shah, of course, is now better known as Syed Salahuddin, chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Malik’s stint as a militant was short-lived — in 1991, he was arrested and jailed for three-and-a-half years.

After his release on May 17, 1994, Malik changed his ways and became an ardent advocate of non-violence. He is now in favour of a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue, but not until Kashmiris get a place on the Indo-Pak bilateral table.

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