What does uniting of three senior separatist figures Shabir Shah, Agha Hassan and Nayeem Khan – with Hurriyat stalwart Syed Ali Geelani mean for Kashmir? Little in terms of its practical political fallout. Separatist factions operate outside J&Ks political mainstream and hence their coming together has no upsetting electoral implications for the state. It doesnt mean the merger of the disparate political constituencies which could pose a challenge to the ruling establishment. Its significance, if any, lies in some symbolism: it projects some consolidation of the allegedly hardline separatist forces. It means a return to the Hurriyats original 1993 constitution which makes the implementation of the United Nations resolutions the bedrock of the Kashmir settlement efforts. Or alternatively, it means seeking tripartite negotiations between India, Pakistan and Kashmiris as primary stakeholders for an acceptable solution. Will Shah and Khan who have traditionally supported engagement with New Delhi go along with Geelanis strict approaches to Kashmir solution? It remains to be seen.
However, for now, such potential differences of opinion have little relevance in the prevailing geo-political context where Kashmir has been relegated to the background. The past decade has witnessed a gradual shrinking of Hurriyats political influence. And this owes itself to not one but several factors, the splintering of the separatist leadership being one of them. The Hurriyat diminution in Kashmir politics is also attributed to post 9/11 geo-political factors, leading to Pakistans pre-occupation with the war in Afghanistan and the progressive decline in militancy in Valley. This has reduced the urgency to address the conflict for India and Pakistan. Indias rise on global stage too has altered thecomplexion of Kashmir issue, enabling the country to promote forcefully its own stand on the dispute to a largely sympathetic global community.
The separatist failure arose from the fact that they couldnt relocate themselves and their politics to the changed geo-political context. They failed to recalibrate their approaches and methods, continuing unchanged since the outbreak of the armed resistance in 1989. As world and Pakistan turned its attention away and the militancy ebbed, they were left to fend for themselves. And they didnt know what to do, finding themselves unable to create a robust local politics to survive on their own. On occasions, though, there has been enhancement of the credibility of Geelani relative to other leaders and through 2003-07 Mirwaiz led grouping achieved a degree of relevance in the then promising parleys on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. But the leaders have failed to generate a long-term local political momentum of their own.
Will Geelani, Shah, Agha, Khan being in the same separatist camp change anything? Unlikely. That is, unless they bring in new ideas and the political strategies which helps Hurriyat narrative resonate in the new geo-political context. So far, the separatist groups have depended on sensational chance events or the intermittent public unrest to make themselves relevant rather than work through the routine and be a part of the process. Second, they have displayed a singular inability to enrich and expand the boundaries of Kashmir discourse. True, it is easier said than done. Given the situation, Hurriyat has pretty bad cards to play with both in terms of the prevailing state of affairs in India and the geo-politics. But then the true test of the leadership lies in negotiating these very difficulties and charting a new path for their people.
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