Srinagar: Breaking its months-long silence, the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq held a meeting and reiterated its call for the Kashmir problem to be resolved through dialogue between India, Pakistan and the people of J&K.
Senior executive members of the separatist group met on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Kashmir. Prof Abdul Gani Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari, two former chairmen of the conglomerate, and Bilal Lone were among those who met.
The meeting of the conglomerate, which lasted more than an hour, was the first since the Centre unilaterally revoked J&K’s special status on August 5 last year. “It was a normal meeting. We hadn’t met for a long time,” Lone told the Wire.
Lone said the leaders had actually met to inquire about Ansari’s health, as he has not been keeping well for some time now. “Then, we also got a chance to sit and discuss different things about Kashmir and other issues,” Lone said.
The meeting comes days after Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who headed a parallel faction of the Hurriyat, resigned from the conglomerate and expressed dismay at his colleague’s ‘inaction’.
‘Will continue to pursue peaceful resolution’
Meeting away from the media glare, the Hurriyat reiterated its “basic stand that the Kashmir dispute has to be resolved peacefully as per the wishes and aspirations of people of J&K, among the three stakeholders including India, Pakistan and J&K.”
Following the deliberations, the conglomerate issued a statement, its first in more than 11 months, vowing to continue to work towards the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir conflict.
The Hurriyat faction maintained that “dialogue among the three stakeholders is the best alternative method to resolve the issue that APHC (All Party Hurriyat Conference) has consistently advocated and even participated in,” adding resolution of the Kashmir issue was the “best guarantee of real peace and prosperity” in the subcontinent.
Mirwaiz, who has been under house arrest since August last year, could not attend the meeting, said the statement.
In the months leading up to the Centre’s dilution of Article 370, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) launched a massive crackdown against the separatist camp. JKLF chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik and the second rung leadership of the Hurriyat’s parallel faction, led by Mirwaiz and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, were among those arrested.
The NIA also questioned Mirwaiz, who is the chief cleric of the Kashmir Valley and delivers Friday sermons at the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
After the Centre read down Article 370 and Article 35A and bifurcated the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, all the separatist groups had disappeared from the scene. They also refrained from issuing any statement, even after the government began easing the lockdown in the Valley towards the beginning of this year.
‘Attempts at demographic engineering unacceptable’
The conglomerate has also opposed the new domicile rules under which several categories of people, and employees from outside J&K would be granted domicile rights in the UT.
The rules were introduced after the Centre abolished the Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), which was issued to permanent residents of the erstwhile state of J&K under Article 35A.
“Since 1947, there have also been attempts to change the demographic character of J&K and in August 2019, a final nail in the coffin was hammered in this regard. These attempts at demographic engineering are completely unacceptable to the people of J&K who have totally rejected it,” said the separatist group.
Asking the government of India to stop issuing domicile certificates to “outsiders with the view to change demographic character of J&K,” the group said it was “causing great concern among people and could have serious consequences for the region.” “The APHC members advised people to be very vigilant,” said the statement.
Political analyst Noor M. Baba said separatist groups have been under “public scrutiny for their silence over the situation in Kashmir for almost a year now.”
“This possibly has led to rethinking within the camp. But at the same time, we need to realise that we have been through a very long and repressive spell, when common people even speaking up was seen by the state as anti-national,” said Baba, adding the meeting could be seen as the beginning of “gradual return of separatists to active politics.”
‘New situation has created new opportunities’
Baba also tried to link the latest utterances of the Hurriyat with the stand-off between India and China in Ladakh. “This new situation has created new opportunities. The priorities have changed. We also saw Farooq Abdullah raising the Kashmir issue after maintaining silence for months. They (the Hurriyat) are possibly looking for an opportunity to bring Kashmir back into focus amid the scenario that is developing within and around India,” said Baba.
According to Baba, there some within India believe that the policy of the present regime in New Delhi has “isolated” the country in the neighborhood.
“The government at the Centre has changed the country’s priorities in terms of foreign policy and relations with others in the neighbourhood. Its brand of nationalism is defined by enmity with Pakistan, separatists and Muslim bashing. They invested so much in trying to win over China but failed. This scenario presents an opportunity at a larger level on the Kashmir front,” Baba said.
Analysts have also noted that the meeting of the executive members comes barely days after senior separatist leader Geelani, who headed a parallel faction of the Hurriyat, resigned from the conglomerate which he has led since 2003.
In a detailed communication sent to the constituent groups, Geelani – who is suffering multiple ailments – accused his colleagues in J&K of having failed to respond to his repeated requests to meet and evolve a strategy to face the situation post-August 5, 2019.
The 91-year-old leader, who has been under house arrest for many years, claimed that it were his colleagues in the Hurriyat Conference who let him down, suggesting that he was not to be blamed for the “hibernation.”
Though Geelani’s move came as a surprise for many, within the amalgam it was being anticipated for a long time. “That the meeting took place in the backdrop of Geelani’s resignation is also important,” said Baba.
However, he said the latest statement of the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat was “nothing new” but a continuation of its long stand on Kashmir. “But it is important to see how they will move forward from here,” said Baba.