The decision by Syed Ali Shah Geelani to step down from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference is an important milestone in Kashmir and in the separatist strain of its politics. It also marks a turning point for the Hurriyat, part of which is based in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The resignation of the 90-year-old Geelani, who was “chairman for life” of the APHC, appears to have been prompted by how matters have unfolded in the Valley after August 5, 2019, when the Centre stripped J&K of its special status and bifurcated the state into two union territories. His long illness also appears to have played a role. The resignation letter laments the failure of leaders of the APHC constituents to speak out against the changes made in Kashmir. He makes no mention of the moderate APHC faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who, along with Yaseen Malik of the JKLF, had joined hands with Geelani in the protests that followed the 2016 killing of Burhan Wani.
Curiously, much of Geelani’s ire is reserved for the Hurriyat based in PoK. He has spared only its leader, Abdullah Geelani, who he has declared “would continue to perform the duties as my representative” on the other side of the LoC, while flaying others in the PoK-based Hurriyat for “ connecting family members” with power structures in Pakistan, for infighting, financial misappropriation and other misdeeds. From the letter, it seems as if Geelani wishes to leave this act of rebellion against his own party as the last memory of his politics in a fraught moment in Kashmir. Be that as it may, the Hurriyat leadership is now up for grabs, and the rumblings in its corridors, which began to be heard since the National Investigation Agency began enquiring into the finances of several of its leaders and their associates two years ago, will grow louder. Separatism may still be alive in the Valley, but there is now a vacuum in the separatist leadership.
This should have been an opportune moment for moderate and mainstream parties and politics in the Valley. Unfortunately, Delhi has followed an older playbook in seeking to undermine and erode the legitimacy of parties and leaders that espouse moderate and mainstream views. While Farooq and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference have seemed tongue-tied after their release, Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party continues to be detained under the stringent Public Safety Act. While elimination of militancy is an important element in the Centre’s Kashmir policy, it also needs to think about its next political steps in Kashmir.
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