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Ansari exits, Mirwaiz enters
Mirwaiz: New man in
 

New Delhi/ Srinagar, July 7: The Hurriyat Conference chairman today stepped down and appointed Mirwaiz Umer Farooq the separatist conglomerate’s interim head.

Maulana Abbas Ansari quit the post at a meeting of the Hurriyat’s executive council in Srinagar and requested the Mirwaiz, its founder chairman, to take over.

Ansari also urged him to establish contact with all executive council members to restore the conglomerate that split in September when hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani walked out soon after Ansari’s election.

Geelani had accused the Hurriyat leadership of not running an effective anti-poll campaign in 2002.

The Hurriyat announced today’s decision in a statement after an hourlong executive meeting. Elections for a new chairman would be held once the unity process was completed, it said.

There was, however, no mention of the third round of talks with the Centre, which was supposed to be the main agenda of today’s meeting. The statement simply said the Hurriyat would continue the process of talks with the governments of India and Pakistan to find an amicable solution to the Kashmir issue.

As the man who led the Hurriyat to the negotiating table this January stepped down, there were indications that the change in guard could help build credibility into its talks with the Centre.

Delhi is not losing sleep over the development, which a senior government official suggested had gone along expected lines. “That Maulana Abbas Ansari was going to step down was clear early in May when he offered to quit if it helped unite the Hurriyat,” the official said. “It is not surprising he actually did.”

Ansari had been under some pressure from within to make way for the Mirwaiz. “Unlike Ansari, Farooq is a more acceptable face in Kashmir as he is also the Valley’s spiritual leader,” a home ministry official said.

Besides, it was felt that the Mirwaiz — the only leader in the Hurriyat with a mass following — had greater credibility both in Kashmir and abroad as a leader of Kashmiris.

Also playing a crucial role was the Mirwaiz’s greater acceptability in Pakistan as a Hurriyat leader. An official hinted that Islamabad had suggested to him to take on the responsibility when he met Pakistan foreign secretary Riaz Khokar on his recent visit to Delhi.

Sources suggest there were concerns in the Ansari-led Hurriyat that its recognition as the representative body of Kashmiris was on the wane internationally. An indication was the decision of the Organisation of Islamic Conference’s secretariat to send an invitation to the Geelani-led Hurriyat faction to attend a two-day meeting of foreign ministers in Istanbul recently.

Home ministry officials suggest that Ansari’s stepping down could be the precursor to a reorganisation within Kashmiri separatist organisations.

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