The moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] led by the Kashmir Valley’s head priest, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, is under the scanner for ‘meeting’ Hafiz Saeed — India’s wanted man for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and Syed Salahuddin — the supreme commander of the United Jihad Council [UJC], an alliance of various militant outfits operating from Pakistan-administered Kashmir [PaK]. Sections of the Indian media termed Hurriyat’s recent visit to Pakistan as “terror conclave on Indian passport”.
Prior to their trip to Pakistan, the Hurriyat leaders claimed “they will talk business” but many perceived their visit as “remote controlled” in the first place. Now the Indian media is astounded after reports emerged that a Hurriyat delegation also met the alleged “26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed and Chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, Syed Salahuddin, on Pakistan soil”.
India is firm that Saeed is the “Mumbai attacks mastermind”, but Pakistan maintains there is “lack of evidence” to “prove his guilt” in the court of law.
Even the supporters of the larger autonomy to the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir like Dr. Kamal A. Mitra Chenoy, well-known expert in International Affairs, felt “outraged” by the reported meeting of Hurriyat leaders with Saeed and Salahuddin.
Prof. Chenoy — Chair, Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, School of International Studies, Jawahar Lal University, New Delhi – opined that it is a case of “bad judgment” on the part of the Hurriyat to meet “terrorists”. “Not only is Hafiz Saeed wanted by India in connection with the Mumbai terror attacks, he is also an international terrorist wanted by the Americans. I’m a supporter of the larger autonomy to Kashmir, but I will be outraged to hear that the Hurriyat leaders from Kashmir have met Saeed in Pakistan,” Prof. Chenoy told Dawn.com on phone from the Indian capital, New Delhi.
“If indeed they [Hurriyat leaders] have met the Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] chief in Pakistan, they would be losing friends. They have been going to Pakistan on a regular basis. I don’t think that is an issue. But what benefit would they get by meeting an international terrorist?” he remarked.
A delegation led by Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq last month visited Pakistan and reportedly met Jamaat-ud-Dawa Chief, Hafiz Saeed and Hizbul Mujahideen Supremo, Syed Salahuddin, there. It could well be the case that the Hurriyat wanted to build a broader consensus on the issue of Kashmir, keeping in view the importance of all the major stakeholders of peace vis-à-vis Kashmir.
“Several leaders of Hurriyat are married to Pakistani women. They have their family connections with Pakistan. That again is not an issue. Some people in Kashmir were sympathetic towards Hurriyat’s visit, hoping for something positive. But it seems that the Hurriyat has been badly advised by their friends in America and the United Kingdom. Their reported meeting with Saeed has not served any purpose,” Prof. Chenoy added.
India’s weekly magazine Tehelka quoted one of the Hurriyat delegates as “confirming” this controversial meeting. “Both Saeed and Salahuddin told us [Hurriyat delegation] that militancy in Kashmir would escalate after the US-led international troops depart from Afghanistan in 2014,” Tehelka reported while quoting an unnamed Hurriyat delegate.
According to Tehelka, the Hurriyat delegation also met Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who reportedly ruled out his country’s support for armed uprising in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir in future. The magazine also said that the meeting with the Pakistan Army Chief in Islamabad was well-publicised, but interactions with Saeed in Lahore and Salahuddin in Islamabad were kept private.
The Hurriyat Conference, meanwhile, is mysteriously tight-lipped on this issue. The APHC leaders are neither divulging details of their ‘meeting’ with two militia commanders nor denying meeting them. Their silence is only contributing to the ambiguity surrounding the ‘meeting’.
“Whoever we meet, we speak our mind right unto his heart, why should people make noises for just nothing…How does it matter who we meet? Who we meet is not important, what you talk about there is important,” Prof. A G Bhat, a senior Hurriyat leader, was quoted by India Today having said so.
Pakistan had invited Hurriyat’s top brass to visit the country last month. The Hurriyat delegation that visited Pakistan from December 16-28, 2012, included its chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, Bilal Ghani Lone, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, Musadiq Adil and Agha Syed Al-Hassan.
The APHC is an amalgam of various political, social and trade organisations based in the summer capital Srinagar favouring a ‘palatable’ resolution to the Kashmir dispute. Earlier, Hurriyat’s visit to Pakistan drew flak from various quarters. Many well-meaning political pundits dismissed their exercise as “futile”. Now the alliance finds itself in a tight-spot for a different reason.
There is an outrage in the Indian press with regards to the Hurriyat’s controversial decision to ‘meet’ Saeed and Salahuddin.
This media hype and rage startled some analysts like Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches international law at the Central University of Kashmir. “There is nothing new in such meetings. Hurriyat leaders have been meeting them in the past, too. Even the photographs of such meetings would appear in the press. It is a non-issue. It seems that the charged Indian media is now trying to deflect the attention of the masses from domestic discontent and shameful cases like the Delhi gang rape. Indian media is deviating attention from the real issues,” Dr. Showkat told Dawn.com from his home in the Kashmir Valley.
On the contrary, some leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], the principal opposition in India, are demanding action against the Hurriyat leaders for meeting militant commanders. The BJP has accused the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance [UPA] federal government for “encouraging Hurriyat leaders to hobnob with anti-India elements abroad by allowing them to visit Pakistan.” The Hindu nationalist party leaders have held Congress responsible for encouraging “Hurriyat’s anti-India tirade, not only on Indian soil but also in Pakistan”.
But Dr. Showkat terms such a statement from the BJP as “sheer hypocrisy”. “These are clear double-standards from the BJP. People do remember very well how the then Indian External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh [senior leader of the BJP], had accompanied three top guerrilla commanders — Moulana Masood Azhar, Sheikh Omar and Mushtaq Zargar — for their release in exchange for hijacked passengers of an Indian Airlines flight in 1999,” he said. The episode is remembered as the Kandahar hijacking.
Meanwhile, Congress party spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit has also lambasted the Hurriyat delegation for ‘meeting’ the two radical S’s: Saeed and Salahuddin, in Lahore and Islamabad. “People going to Pakistan is not a problem with us but if the groups from here [India] go and breach trust and meet the agencies of people in Pakistan who are particularly anti-Indian, that needs to be stopped,” Dikshit told reporters.
Irrespective of the media excitement and mystery surrounding the controversial meeting with Saeed and Salahuddin, the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq should actually clear the air for the sake of its own credibility amongst the people in Kashmir, India and Pakistan. Hurriyat’s silence could add to the confusion, invite volley of questions from various quarters, and possibly allow some to cast doubts over the amalgam’s standing too.
The writer is a professional journalist with international experience. He has worked as the Editor at Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Germany. Previously, he has also contributed features to the BBC website. Send your feedback at: firstname.lastname@example.org