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Hurriyet’s refusal to talk – hopes unabated
By Jawed Matjee, Srinagar

Despite Hurriyet Conference's negative response to the central offer of talks, both sides have not given up hopes of establishing a fresh contact. Barring the ruling National Conference (NC) and some renegade militants, no nationalist outfit criticized the separatist amalgam for not entering into a dialogue with New Delhi. Instead, most of these mainstream organizations have expressed the hope to achieve a breakthrough in near future. All Party Hurriyet Conference (APHC), after lengthy deliberations within the group and outside, announced its decision not to accept the offer on 26 April, after the formal meeting of its central executive. The conference has cited three main reasons for rejecting the invitation extended by central negotiator KC Pant. The amalgam leadership complains that central government failed to allow Hurriyet leaders to visit Pakistan, which the amalgam claims, was earlier agreed to by the government of India. Secondly, the conference says that the talks proposed at present are aimed at brining peace to Kashmir instead of addressing the basic Kashmir issue.

The Hurriyet further argues, in support of its rejection, that a ‘big crowd’ was invited by New Delhi to talks which, the conference considers, was an attempt to cut to size the separatist amalgam consisting of 23 political, social, religious and other organizations. The conference claims to be representing the feelings and aspirations of the general masses in Kashmir, though some other organizations, advocating Kashmir’s secession from India, are also operative in the Valley. In fact delay in allowing the five-member Hurriyet delegation to visit Pakistan represents the main obstacle in Hurriyet’s way to respond to New Delhi’s offer of talks. Hurriyet had proposed that its leaders visit Pakistan to have deliberations with the government of that country, political leaders and Kashmiri militant commanders based there, and on return to talk to New Delhi. The Hurriyet had expressed its willingness to enter into a dialogue with the central government in whatsoever manner, if they are allowed to visit Pakistan.

According to Hurriyet leaders, their Pakistan visit could pave the way to achieve a breakthrough towards a permanent solution of Kashmir problem. However, New Delhi is apprehensive that the visit and subsequent talks between Hurriyet and government of Pakistan officials, may generate the impression of ‘tripartite’ talks, to which New Delhi is deadly opposed. However, besides militant and other separatist outfits, the Hurriyet Conference affirms its plea that Pakistan remains an important party to the Kashmir issue and no solution, whatsoever, could be possible without active participation of Islamabad. The Hurriyet was ready to treat their visit to Pakistan at par with Islamabad’s participation in the talks.
After Hurriyet’s rejection of talks, the centre is understood to have started reconsidering the idea of allowing Hurriyet leaders to go to Pakistan. Some eminent experts like Kuldeep Nayar and Muchkund Dubey, while talking to Kashmiri journalists, criticized the Centre for its delay in allowing the APHC leaders to visit Pakistan.

The ruling NC and some organizations of renegade militants have sharply reacted against the APHC’s refusal of the talks offer. These parties blame the APHC of ignoring the miseries of the people of Kashmir. However, the former Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Syeed termed the rejection as a temporary deadlock, hoping that efforts to bring both the sides to table will continue. His politician daughter and vice-chairperson of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, says that none should get discouraged by the event. Describing the development as unfortunate, the Kashmiri communist leader M Yusuf Tarigami (MLA) said that no issue can be solved without negotiations. The state BJP Vice President Abdul Rashid Kabuli views that both the sides should demonstrate utmost restraint so that a consensus is arrived at. The former state chief minister and president of the Awami National conference (ANC) Ghulam Mohammad Shah, while reacting to the Hurriyet decision, said that talks for restoration of peace are meaningless. According to Shah, participation of all the three parties viz. India, Pakistan and Kashmiris, in the negotiations, was equally essential.

The renegade militant-turned-politician Kuka Parray (MLA) alleged that Hurriyet rejected the offer at the behest of Pakistan. His rival, Liyaqat Ali, also criticized the Hurriyet for its decision not to accept the offer saying that it proves that Hurriyet has no interest in the restoration of peace. The state chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah too criticized the Hurriyet for its decision. He said that the conference should have first talked to the centre and then demanded to visit Pakistan.

Despite a mixed response from the political side, militant outfits have fully backed the Hurriyet move of rejecting the offer. Front-ranking outfit Hizbul Mujahideen termed it as an ‘encouraging decision on expected lines’. The Hizb supremo Syed Salahuddin had suggested to the Hurriyet Conference to reject the offer, just one-day prior to Hurriyet announcement of its final decision. The Lashkar-e-Toibah also welcomed the APHC decision. The outfit not only advocates Hurriyet leader’s Pakistan visit but has also demanded unilateral withdrawal of Indian troops from Kashmir. Another militant outfit Tehreekul Mujahideen has also welcomed APHC decision. The outfit spokesman Jameelur Rahman said that the Hurriyet understood the evil designs behind the offer and rightly rejected it.

APHC leaders have already started post rejection consultations among themselves. The conference has consulted some other separatist outfits in order to ensure a consensus on the issue.

The Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), led by Shabir Ahmad Shah, opted a different course of action. However, prior to taking a decision on the invitation received from KC Pant, Mr Shah sought the opinions of different people in an open seminar held here.

With the APHC rejecting the centre’s offer, some other nationalist organizations have also shown disinterest in negotiations with the centre. This trend has rendered the central move almost purposeless. Most observers here believe that the Centre’s move to offer unconditional talks was meant for separatists, particularly the APHC. By rejecting the offer the conference is said to have rendered the drive meaningless.

In these circumstances New Delhi is believed to have started thinking afresh about the next steps which could bring the Hurriyet closer to talks. The ruling NC is believed to be keen to have negotiations with the Centre. The party wants to plead its ‘autonomy’ demand which was rejected by New Delhi last year. However, there is no denying to the fact that in the absence of separatist forces, Delhi’s talks with nationalist organs of the state will hardly be relevant.
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