The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Consolation election catch for Delhi

Srinagar, Aug. 23: Former Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Khaliq Hanief’s decision to contest the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has come as a shot in the arm for the Vajpayee-led government, though the move is unlikely to have much impact at the grassroots level.

Hanief said his Kashmir Resolution Movement would put up candidates in most of the 86 Assembly constituencies in the state. Calling for the release of political prisoners in the state, the former Jamaat leader said his aim would be to find a peaceful political solution to the Kashmir issue and begin talks with New Delhi after the elections.

Hanief was secretary to Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani before his views eventually brought him apart from his hardliner leader. Hanief used to represent Geelani whenever the latter was unable to attend Hurriyat’s executive meetings.

Post-September 11, the former Jamaat leader openly called for a change in strategy. He publicly spoke of putting an end to violence, saying that international opinion had changed radically and that militancy could no longer be the answer to Kashmir’s problems.

It was also about this time that Hanief began meeting Dulat, the man sent by the Prime Minister’s Office and entrusted with the task of roping in separatists for the state elections. Hanief’s links with Dulat infuriated the pro-Pakistani Geelani and he was expelled from the Jamaat about three months ago.

Everyone expected Hanief to take the plunge and contest the elections sooner or later. But the assassination of Abdul Gani Lone and the fear psychosis that gripped Kashmiri separatists afterwards shelved his plans for a while.

Now with elections in the state less than a month away, Hanief has officially announced his decision. “It is unlikely to have a snowballing effect on fence-sitters, he is not that important enough,” says Rashid Hussain, a government employee in Srinagar.

For Dulat, who had worked hard behind the scenes to organise a third front in Kashmir, today’s developments might come as a consolation.

Delhi believes that despite the initial hiccups and the demoralisation that had set in after Lone’s death, there would be a much larger participation in these elections.

“After all we do not live in an ideal world, we have to make the best of a given situation,” a senior aide of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said last week, when questioned about the governments plans to get separatist leaders into the fold.

Abdul Majid, a chemist in Lal Chowk, said Hanief was not a big name and added that his participation would hardly make a difference.

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