When the All Parties Hurriyat Conference split recently, most predictions about its inevitable collapse had already exhausted themselves. Ever since its founding in 1993, the 25-party APHC, the first overground, separatist political front recognized by both India and Pakistan, has been beset with friction. Its clearly defined moderate and hardline factions, their frequent jockeying for supremacy have ensured that the Hurriyat has remained riven by dissension for most part of its existence.
Leaders including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who spearheaded the current split, have consistently supported jihadi violence, especially by outfits which foresee an orthodox Islamist future for the state. Parties like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front have renounced violence as part of their agenda. On Kashmir’s future, Geelani and others espouse accession to Pakistan, while some others including the JKLF demand an independent state.
Differences within the Hurriyat have been most apparent every time steps towards peace have quickened between India and Pakistan. In 2000, the Hurriyat was openly divided on the issue of the Hizbul Mujahedin’s ceasefire and its subsequent talks with the Indian government.
Abdul Ghani Lone’s assassination last year brought internal differences within the Hurriyat to the fore. More recently, soon after Maulana Ansari’s election as the new chairman, the organization has been divided on the question of dialogue with the Indian government. Ansari’s willingness to engage in direct talks with the Centre without Pakistani involvement at an initial stage in the dialogue has been opposed by others who demand third-party intervention, preferably by the Americans.
Differences have widened since the 2002 state assembly elections — when Geelani accused “proxy” candidates of the pro-dialogue People’s Conference (Lone) of participating in the polls despite a unanimous Hurriyat resolution to the contrary.
The present scuffle between the Hurriyat’s two factions will simmer for a while. While Pakistan has adopted an ambivalent stand towards Geelani, his faction has claimed the support of several Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahedin and Jamiat-ul-Mujahedin. The “moderates”, led by Ansari, echo the mood of many Kashmiris, as popular resentment against Pakistan-backed terrorists and foreign mercenaries has grown. Also, the recent Pakistani delegation led by Jamiat-Ulema Islam chief, Fazlur Rahman, also favoured the dialogue process
Don’t lose track
These recent developments in the Hurriyat would appear to be a setback for India’s Track II diplomatic efforts. Pakistan, partly responsible for the Hurriyat’s creation in 1993, has however downplayed the split. In the days since the split there has also been a palpable tempering of stances on the part of the more moderate faction. At first, Ansari’s supporters in the Hurriyat threatened disciplinary action; now show-cause notices have been issued to the “rebels” asking for an explanation.
The split appears the most serious in the Hurriyat’s decade-old history; at the same time, doubts about its permanency remain. The Hurriyat speaks in different voices, its actions are often contradictory and at cross-purposes; managing an unwieldy coalition may have reduced it to an “amalgamation of compromises”, yet the Hurriyat continues to occupy an important space in the region’s polity. Its leaders can claim a certain mass following in places under their influence; individually, they remain in danger of being relegated to irrelevance.
Fears remain that the moderates will be marginalized or will eventually be eliminated from the political space they currently occupy, as the Geelani faction has the support of the more jihadi groups. It is here that the international community, by pressing on with its insistence on dialogue, must boost the prospects of Hurriyat moderates; India for its part should not allow the frequently reviled Track II efforts to lose momentum.