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Will Delhi follow Mirwaiz’s lead?

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's recent appeal to the militants to end the armed struggle and support the ongoing peace process is of great political s...

Written by Rekha Chowdhary |
January 22, 2007 11:42:47 pm

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s recent appeal to the militants to end the armed struggle and support the ongoing peace process is of great political significance. The appeal, made during a dinner meeting with Sardar Attique Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan Administered Kashmir, is based on the logic that militancy has led to a situation of impasse. “We have already seen the results of our fight on the political, diplomatic and military fronts which have not achieved anything other than creating more graveyards.” Arguing that “we are not prepared to sacrifice any more of our beloved ones”, he called for an end to the era of militancy that started 18 years ago.

To make such a statement is an act of audacity. Already the Mirwaiz and the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) that he heads are facing condemnation from certain quarters. Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for a general strike last week to contest the initiatives taken by this moderate faction of Kashmiri separatists. The strike call had the support not only of organisations like the Dukhtarane Millat but also the Hizbul Mujahiddeen. And now the United Jehad Counci, an alliance of militant groups, has also rejected the Mirwaiz’s call.

‘Betraying’ the ‘cause’, ‘selling out to the Indian government’, are some of the allegations that the Mirwaiz and his team will have to face. Apart from the separatist and militant organisations named above, even a common Kashmiri may ask the question: is this the end for which thousands of Kashmiris lives have been sacrificed? The task taken up by the Mirwaiz is by no means easy. In a situation where the gun reigns supreme, speaking one’s mind is not unproblematic, especially if it means going against the grain of militant politics. No one knows this better than the Mirwaiz, whose own father, Maulvi Farooq, a respected Kashmiri leader, was an early victim of such circumstances.

However, what the Mirwaiz has stated had to be said. That era of the armed struggle is over is not the personal opinion of one Hurriyat leader but the common sense of the times. The armed militancy had stirred separatist sentiments in Kashmir in the post-1989 period and had brought thousands of Kashmiris on the streets chanting the slogan of “Azadi”. The militancy at that time not only had the approval of the masses but was also glorified. The militants were seen by Kashmiris as “our boys”. Since then, a lot of water has flowed down the Jhelum. Violence that was meant to ‘free’ the people and define a new future for Kashmir, started taking the toll on Kashmiri society. The ‘gun culture’ was the term coined by Kashmiris to define the plight of people caught in the crossfire between the security forces and the militants. The gun culture also meant that weapons were used freely to gain political ascendancy and to eliminate fellow travellers on the separatist road. The cadre of the pro-independence JKLF, that had initiated the politics of violence, was itself eliminated by Pakistan-controlled Hizbul Mujahideen. Yaseen Malik, a JKLF leader, was the first militant leader to accept the futility of violence, when he adopted Gandhian methods of struggle as early as 1994.

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Abdul Gani Lone was the first separatist to acknowledge the changed reality of Kashmir. Entering into a debate with hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, he took the position that the movement was an indigenous one, having no connection whatsoever with the global jihad. He debunked the role of jihadis, the foreign militants operating in Kashmir. It was during his visit to Islamabad in the context of the marriage of his son, Sajjad Lone, that he conveyed the message that armed militancy had served its purpose and the time for dialogue had come. He had to pay the price for changing the political discourse with his life in 2001.

It was the course chalked out by Lone that facilitated the subsequent peace process at the internal level, especially the possibility of the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat Conference to enter into a dialogue with the Centre. Dialogue has now become a legitimised process, although militancy continues unabated.

The Mirwaiz, it can be argued, does have the required authority to address the issue. First, it is only from the separatist space that the call to end militancy can be of any value. Despite the fact that separatist space is split into numerous factions, the faction led by the Mirwaiz remains the largest one. Second, the Mirwaiz himself has said often that the Hurriyat he leads does not represent any particular constituency but the popular sentiments operating in the separatist space. This sentiment is now to be perceived to be in favour of change.

Kashmiris, generally, have endorsed the changed political discourse, especially the out-of-the-box ideas of General Musharraf — particularly his statement on the irrelevance of UN resolutions. But the movement forward on this idea depends on the response of militant groups, and the response of the militant groups would depend in turn on the initiative shown by the Government of India. The Mirwaiz has done his job. Now the responsibility lies on Delhi to take the discourse to its logical conclusion.

The writer is professor, Political Science, University of Jammu

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