The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hurriyat shuffle pleases Delhi

New Delhi, July 14: Moderate Shia cleric Maulvi Abbas Ansari’s election as chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference is being regarded as a “positive development” by the Centre, though nobody knows how the internal rift within the organisation will finally play out.

“For now, the Lone brothers (Sajjad and Bilal) have had their way and kept out a hardliner like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Lones are asserting themselves and that’s a positive development. Ansari is a good man and a soft-liner, but we have to wait and see if he will be able to assert his authority,” said an official.

The Centre is happy that Geelani, regarded with suspicion by North Block as a pro-Pakistan leader, has fallen out with the Hurriyat. “At a time when there is a move for talks between the two countries, a person like Geelani will be of little use and could, in fact, vitiate the atmosphere. Pakistan, for now, wants the peace process to continue. Geelani will be of use if the peace move disintegrates,” the bureaucrat added.

Under Ansari, Delhi expects the Hurriyat to tone down its rhetoric, though officials agree that it is best to wait and watch how he shapes up.

Delhi also feels that Geelani will find it difficult to float a new outfit immediately, a view confirmed by sources in Srinagar. This is because militants have put pressure on the Hurriyat to present a united front to the public.

The Hizb-ul Mujahideen, especially, is keen to ensure that the Hurriyat stays together and that the organisation becomes the voice of Kashmiris in case India and Pakistan resume talks on Kashmir. This is also why Hurriyat leaders wish to visit Delhi and meet Pakistani diplomats at the high commission here.

For the Hurriyat, which has lost much of its credibility with the international community by boycotting last year’s polls, it is vital to keep open communication channels with both India and Pakistan if it wants to be part of any solution to Kashmir. Moreover, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s healing touch policy has taken much of the wind out of the Hurriyat’s claim that it voices the concerns of Kashmiris.

Although no one is sure if Ansari will be able to resurrect the Hurriyat and make it an important player in Kashmir, the maulvi is regarded by many as the “right man” to head the Hurriyat. As a Shia cleric, he has been preaching unity among Shias and Sunnis living on both sides of Kashmir.

He is also generally respected.

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