The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cautious Hurriyat seeks consensus

New Delhi, Oct. 23: Fear of militant guns has punctured much of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference enthusiasm for talks at the highest level with the government. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was yesterday nominated to talk to the separatist group.

The Hurriyat leaders met today to discuss Delhi’s invitation to talks but said little else other than welcoming the move. Sensing the mood of the militants, who have rejected the offer as “useless and futile”, the Hurriyat is treading cautiously. It has decided to hold consultations with various groups, including hardliners, to work out a consensus before starting to talk.

Gazi Naseer-ud-din, the self-styled chief operations commander of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, the largest Kashmiri militant group, said while his outfit also favoured talks, India had to first acknowledge that Kashmir “is a disputed issue”.

Delhi has consistently refused to accept the term “disputed” in relation to Kashmir as it means acknowledging the role of Pakistan.

Behind the excuse of holding consultations with all factions in the state lies the Hurriyat hope of winning back some of the smaller groups who went over to the breakaway Syed Ali Shah Geelani faction.

In a bid to woo back the constituents of the Hurriyat who had left, former chairman Abdul Gani Bhat appealed to all political elements who had fallen out with the leadership to come back.

“I hope all of them will get back.… Let us bury the past, capture today and build a brighter tomorrow,” he said in a reference to Jamaat leader Geelani’s group.

The moderate group of the Hurriyat, led by Maulana Abbas Ansari, is caught in a bind. On one hand, Delhi’s invitation can bring it back to the centre stage of politics that it surrendered by opting out of the Assembly elections to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the chief minister, and his People’s Democratic Party. Internationally, too, its decision to boycott the elections was frowned upon by the US and the European Union, both of which had urged it to contest.

On the other, the offer has made Hurriyat leaders the main target of the militants. “The Hurriyat’s problem is to maintain a balance between these two opposing forces. It is an impossible task,” said a senior official familiar with Kashmir affairs.

“The fact is that the Hurriyat leaders cannot take a stand without the consent of the militants. By agreeing to talk to Advani they have become targets of the militants. What happened to Abdul Gani Lone is very much in their minds and explains the cautious stand the Hurriyat leaders have taken,” the official explained.

Lone, a moderate, was shot down.

“They are constantly under threat from the militants and can be eliminated if they stray,” he added. Militant pressure had forced the Hurriyat to call a strike when the Prime Minister went to Srinagar for the interstate council meeting recently.

“Pakistan will never allow talks between the Centre and the Hurriyat. The militants will be forced to ensure that the Hurriyat leaders do not fall into the Indian government’s trap to marginalise Pakistan’s role in Kashmir and treat the Kashmir issue as a domestic problem,” the official said.

The home ministry refused to comment on the Hurriyat’s statement, saying its leaders will get back to the Centre whenever they are ready for talks.

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