By Riaz Wani
THE MODERATE group, which champions a pragmatic solution `that accepts the ground reality of Kashmir as a state inhabited by a heterogeneous mass of people with different political aspirations', feels hemmed in now. Thus it alternates between restraint and an effort to break free.
THE circumstances surrounding the death of many separatist leaders are street knowledge in Kashmir, but nobody speaks about it publicly. Even the local media refrains from discussing it. The separatists themselves -even those who have personally suffered -prefer to be diplomatic about it.
There has been, until now, a consensus among separatists of all hues that silence on these killings is in the interest of the Kashmir cause. That, however, gave the killings a wicked rationale of their own.
The traitorous acts of the murdered leaders, it was believed by a large section of the population in the Valley, justified their killings. In some cases where such a generalisation appeared too inconvenient to make, the killings were alleged to be the handiwork of government forces.
This is why when former Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat spoke about it, he broke what has been the biggest taboo in Kashmir's separatist discourse.
At a seminar organised by JKLF supremo Yasin Malik in memory of Abdul Ahad Wani, a JKLF ideologue who was kidnapped and shot dead by unidentified gunmen in 1993, Bhat -in characteristically theatrical style -announced that the "time to tell the truth had come". Pointing to a large photograph of Wani, Bhat said it was odd to remember Wani without dwelling on who killed him. He said that Wani, Maulvi Farooq and Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone were not murdered by "the army or the police but their own people".
Bhat's outburst was followed by predictable reactions. The hardline Dukhtaran-i-Millat, a women's separatist outfit, branded him an "Indian agent". Ayaz Akber, spokesman of the hawkish Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, said that Bhat's speech did not deserve a response. Similarly, moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq didn't follow up on Bhat's line of argument in his subsequent speech at the seminar; nor did he contradict him.
Senior Hurriyat leader Bilal Lone, also present at the seminar, didn't say anything. Their silence was significant: Maulvi Farooq was the father of Mirwaiz, and Abdul Ghani Lone of Bilal.
Why did Bhat choose to speak about the killings now, when the Valley seems to have come to grips with the loss? And when the circumstances that prompted these killings no longer exist? For one, militancy is at its lowest ebb. Two, separatists, because of their reduced political clout, are no longer in a position to play the high-stakes game that they did in the early 1990s. Their vulnerability seems to have only increased. Perhaps, what hasdrasticallychangedthedynamics for them -especially for moderates -is the exit of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf.
In the latter half of the general's nine years in power, which saw a movement towards a framework for resolution of Kashmir, the lead ers of the moderate Hurriyat faction, led by Mirwaiz, had emerged asIslamabad'sfavouriteseparatists.
Islamabad had decisively turned its back on Geelani when he chose to opposeMusharraf'sfour-pointproposals on Kashmir and personally accused the general of selling out the state.
The new dispensation in Islamabad has not only gone back on Musharraf's four-point proposals but has also returned to its traditional stand on the state, which is to call for the implementation of UN resolutions, and seeking a right to self-determination. Pakistan, now, also tries to maintain a degree of parity between the various separatist leaders, irrespective of their moderate or hawkish leanings. The Mirwaiz is no longer the sole chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, as he was earlier known, but the head of just one faction. Similarly, Geelani, who in earlier invites was referred to only as buzurg rehnuma (veteran leader), is now again addressed as the Hurriyat chairman.
The sudden policy shift has radically altered the equations between the separatists in the Valley. The hardline Hurriyat faction, whose disapprovalofthetalksbetweenthe Centre and the moderate Hurriyat was irrelevant through Musharraf's tenure, now carries weight. It was this opposition, followed by the assault by unidentified gunmen on moderate Hurriyat leader Fazl-eHaq Qureshi, which played a significant role in ending the quiet dialogue between the Centre and the Mirwaiz group in early 2009.
The moderate group, which essentially champions a pragmatic solution"thatacceptsthegroundreality of Kashmir as a state inhabited by a heterogeneous mass of people with different political aspirations", feels hemmed in under the circumstances.Thereislittlespaceforpoliticalmanoeuvringforthisfactionina scenario where the UN resolutions have again become the central template for the resolution of Kashmir.
More so for Bhat, who holds that these resolutions and the right to self-determination are no longer relevant. But stepping outside this historical framework could be fraught with unknown dangers for them. Hence they alternate between restraint and an effort to break free. Fazl-e-Haq's fate is still fresh in memory.