End of Hurriyat Hitch

At last New Delhi has woken up to the reality on Pakistan-Hurriyat meetings. In a written statement to parliament, the minister of state for external affairs General V K Singh said “there was no bar on their meetings with representatives of any country in India”. The statement represents an almost 180 degree flip in New Delhi’s policy on Hurriyat’s consultations with the Pakistan High Commissioner and the visiting Pakistan dignitaries. This will certainly remove one of the major irritants in the Indo-Pak engagement. And one could only hope that the rethink facilitates the dialogue.

In August 2014, New Delhi dramatically called off the scheduled foreign secretary level talks after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit met the Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah. And ever since the persisting differences over the issue has been a source of unnecessary distraction in the dialogue – albeit the engagement between the two sides has since been marred by the other factors, the latest being the attack on Pathankot airbase.

In retrospect, drawing a redline on Hurriyat’s consultations with Pakistan was a big mistake and an overreaction as also stated by the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Though India has consistently refused to give Hurriyat or Kashmiri leadership a third party status in the talks for the resolution of Kashmir, Hurriyat-Pakistan meetings had become a vital component of India, Pakistan  dialogue. From their symbolic nature to their role in Kashmir politics and the Indo-Pak engagement, the consultations at the High Commission served a gamut of ends for the separatists and their Pakistani interlocutors.

The tradition of such talks 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 teenager Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and including the top separatist names like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Abdul Ghani Lone, 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t settle for any engagement less than a trilateral dialogue between India, Pakistan and the amalgam. The situation in Kashmir has since gone through a profound transformation. Hurriyat is now more or less on the margins of Kashmir’s political landscape.

Now that New Delhi has withdrawn its redline on Hurriyat-Islamabad meetings, one could hope the dialogue isn’t held hostage to the frequent attempts by the spoilers to derail it. There is a need to guard against the easy tendency to call off talks over every untoward incident.  The talks between the neighbours have traditionally been the devious process of the diplomatic merry-go-round which don’t get anywhere. Even Modi’s recent overtures to Islamabad are believed to have been the result of the American pressure and also an attempt to dispel the negative international image generated by his decision to call off talks over the flimsy reason of Pakistan’s meeting with Hurriyat. While such motivations hardly give hope of a sustainable, purposeful dialogue, the engagement between the two countries should be preferable to a lingering state of estrangement with its attendant fraught fallout on the region.

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