EVER SINCE New Delhi canceled the scheduled foreign secretary level talks in August last, Islamabad’s invite to separatists has become a fresh bone of contention between the neighbours. Now, ahead of every new engagement, there is a disproportionate focus on Pakistan’s meeting with separatist leaders than the agenda of the talks. Take the case of NSA-level talks between Sartaj Aziz and Ajit Doval, all media attention is on the invite to separatist leaders. This, in turn, has cast a shadow on the dialogue which is now expected to deliver little. After a year of impasse, the two countries haven’t even agreed on the workable steps to take the process forward. So much so that with two days to go for Aziz-Doval dialogue, there is no agreement even on the talks agenda . India wants the dialogue to remain confined to the discussion of terror but Pakistan wants to bring up Kashmir. By inviting separatists for talks, Islamabad has made its intentions clear. However, the issue at stake is not whether separatists should be invited before the bilateral talks but whether separatist meetings with Pakistan should become a major irritant that they have now been turned into.
New Delhi’s position is that the separatists have no role in Indo-Pak talks, more so, when they are centered on terror than the settlement of the political issues like Kashmir. But Pakistan’s stance is that the meetings with separatists are a common practice and should be treated as essential to any bilateral engagement. That is, if the intention is to find a solution to the festering Kashmir issue between the countries.
And Pakistan has a point. The tradition of the consultations with separatists goes far back to the founding of Hurriyat in 1993 as a political arm to the then raging armed campaign against New Delhi. Led by then a smooth-faced teenager Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and including the top separatist names like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Abdul Gani Lone, Moulvi Abbas Ansari, Yasin Malik and Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, Hurriyat began to be invited to the High Commission for events like Pakistan Day celebrations and for consultations before every Indo-Pak engagement. New Delhi didnt mind it, if only because through the nineties up until the turn of millennium, Hurriyat held a political monopoly in Kashmir. And the centre unsuccessfully wooed the grouping for talks to exercise some form of grip on the runaway state of affairs in the state. But Hurriyat wouldnt settle for any engagement less than a trilateral dialogue between India, Pakistan and the amalgam.
In 1995, the centre even allowed a Hurriyat office to be opened in New Delhi. It was inaugurated by I K Gujral who later became the prime minister. On the occasion, Gujral recited the Urdu verse Auron se Kaha Tum Ne, Auron se Suna Tume Ne, Kuch Ham Se Kaha Hota, Kuch Hum Se Suna Hota (You talked to others, you listened to others. If only you had talked to us, if only you had listened to us). Now nobody in New Delhi seems to care for Hurriyat. This neglect is directly proportional to Hurriyat’s progressive loss of the political weight in Kashmir and the decline of militancy.
But India can hardly do without Hurriyat’s involvement in some capacity in the bilateral talks. The truth is that the Hurriyat’s engagement before every dialogue lends the process an aura of authenticity and purposefulness. This shows the engagement is about the resolution of the pending issues than a merry-go-round we are long familiar with.
Last time when Hurriyat was a vibrant part of the process of the dialogue – between 2003-07 – the neighbours almost pulled off a Kashmir solution on a by and large mutually acceptable terms. The process was aborted by Musharraf’s untimely exit from the scene in early 2008. If India and Pakistan are serious about achieving a durable reconciliation and put the demons of the past to rest, they have no option but to return to this promising process – of course with the inclusion of Hurriyat.
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