The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Geelani skids on Pak wicket

New Delhi, Dec. 1: Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani ' who Delhi considers Islamabad's voice in Kashmir ' may not remain Pakistan's blue-eyed boy for very long.

A subtle shift is taking place in Pakistan's approach vis-'-vis the two factions of the separatist Hurriyat Conference that Islamabad insists are the true representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. By the time the reorientation is halfway through, Geelani might lose the position he enjoys.

Hints of the change came when Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz met Hurriyat leaders during his recent visit to Delhi to give a hard push to the rival factions to join hands. The attempt did not succeed. But before Aziz ended the meeting at midnight, he made it a point to tell Mirwaiz Umer Farooq that Islamabad treated his faction and the one led by Geelani as equals.

Part of the reason for the change in approach is Geelani's inability to keep pace with the seemingly moderate diction Islamabad now favours.

Keeping in mind the international community's intolerance of hawkish views since the September 11 attacks on the US, Islamabad has realised that hardline rhetoric may not win Kashmiris the world's sympathy.

The Mirwaiz and the others have realised this but Geelani keeps mouthing the rhetoric he has been spouting from the beginning and losing his position as the voice of Kashmiris for the international community. As part of a united Hurriyat, Geelani could have regained that acceptability as a reasonable separatist struggling for rights.

Geelani, incidentally, was the only one among the separatists to have rejected Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's seven-region demilitarisation formula for Kashmir that was 'welcomed' by the moderates.

During his Delhi visit, the Hurriyat leader spoke of a solution to the Kashmir issue ' even Islamabad has stopped pushing this line ' through implementation of UN resolutions, including a plebiscite to let the people of the state determine their future.

Geelani has never taken offence to being labelled a hardliner. According to him, 'only people who stick to their principles and do not demonstrate flexibility in their stand attract this description'.

This was a quality that went down well with Pakistan when it held the same position. But that was before Musharraf started coming up with 'out-of-the-box' solutions.

That Musharraf had secretly met the Mirwaiz in Amsterdam during a personal trip undertaken by the latter recently is also being seen as an indicator that the moderates are being re-positioned in Islamabad's pecking order.

Moderate Hurriyat leaders acknowledge that they, too, had perceived a change in Islamabad's attitude but were not sure what it could translate into.

'Not a lot,' one of them suggested, pointing out that Pakistan was aware that hardliners would not outlive their utility till a settlement on Kashmir was reached.

Besides, they pointed out, there is support for Geelani's inflexible approach in the Valley from militant groups as well as a section of the pro-Pakistani establishment.

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