Dwarika Prasad Sharma
It is well known that the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, formed in 1993 as a “united political front to raise the cause of Kashmiri separatism”, was the creation of Pakistan’s ISI. The Pakistani spy agency quietly did it in answer to the oft-repeated question of then Union home minister S.B.Chavan, whenever he was asked why a dialogue was not being started with the Kashmiri rebels: “But, tell me whom to talk to when there are a hundred tanzeems there?”
Whom to talk to is still an arguable question. Observing the long wave of protests in 2016, triggered by the death of young Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a strong suggestion began to be made that a dialogue should be held with the youth. Wani had become a poster boy of Kashmir militancy by not only his social media outreach, but by his penchant for being seen in photographs of himself with his buddies-in-arms, whose names were also circulated. This marked a new, open confidence in contrast to the earlier cloak-and-dagger attitude of terrorists.
But there is hardly any cohesiveness in this young movement, where martyrdom is professed as a higher goal than enjoying fruits of victory.
The Hurriyat has come into focus once again after the publication of ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace’, which is in the format of a conversation between former RAW chief A.S.Dulat and former ISI chief lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, moderated by journalist Aditya Sinha. (The journalist has kept himself up-to-date on Kashmir affairs. In 1996, he wrote a biography of then chief minister Farooq Abdullah.)
Durrani, who was ISI chief in 1990-92, when terrorism in Kashmir was at its peak, has admitted in the book that the Hurriyat was the creation of the ISI. He says: “I think that the formation of the Hurriyat to provide a political direction to the resistance was a good idea.” He adds that what he did not, however, consider a good idea was “giving up handle on the movement-letting the factions do what they bloody well wanted to…” Dulat was joint director of the IB in Kashmir in 1990.
Contrary to the qualified opinion of the Pakistani spymaster on the creation and the later state of affairs of the Hurriyat, it is generally looked upon well in Pakistan as a handy proxy, since its founding credo is the Pakiatani line that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed state. It does not have any international affiliation, since Pakistan wants to project it, like the organisation is at pains to depict itself, as an indigenous movement. It has an “elected” convener in Pakistan, though.
After the publication of the book, there has been a cacophony of reactions among several Pakistani journalists and political figures, who, apart from damning Durrani’s observations across the board, have reasserted that country’s official stand that the Hurriyat is a “purely indigenous organisation”. The Pakistani army has taken a serious view of Durrani’s observations, set up a court of inquiry, and barred him from leaving the country till the inquiry continues.
Now, what is the state of affairs of the Hurriyat at present? Has the Pakistani Deep State “given up handle” on the organisation’s factions? This is far from the truth, as no assessment suggests that Pakistan does not control their strings and loosen its own purse strings for them to fund terror and subversion. It is true that Pakistan has not browbeaten the factions into presenting a unified face, but none is going off the beaten line of secession from India, which suits Pakistan.
After the death of Burhan Wani, Hurriyat leaders came under direct verbal assault from his successor commander Zakir Rashid Bhat, alias Zakir Musa, who threatened to behead them for calling the Kashmir issue political and not religious. His slogan was “Sharia or shahadat” (Islamic law or martyrdom). He was perhaps harking back to the early days of Kashmir violence when some terrorist groups and other extremists called for establishing a “Nizam-e-Mustafa” (or Prophet Muhammad’s Order, System and Law). In the context of Kashmir, this, of course, was not visualised as a humanitarian concept but as one to establish the dominance of Islam. One manifestation was the pogrom of Kashmiri Pandits.
Hizbul Mujahideen, under directions from its Muzaffarabad-based chief Syed Salahuddin, dissociated itself from Musa’s statement. He quit the HM, and is now, according to an unconfirmed claim, chief of an “al-Qaeda cell Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind”. The HM has reportedly even issued directions to hunt him down, labelling him an “Indian agent”.
Burhan Wani’s death, and the wave of empathy for young militant leadership that it set in motion, threatened to weaken the hold of the Hurriyat. The stone-throwers and other protesters expressed impatience with the one-day, two-day bandh calls of the Hurriyat and wanted longer calendars to be issued. Geelani and his team had been giving short-period bandh calls fearing a reaction from traders, especially those running the tourist trade, and the general public. The Hurriyat got the excuse that it badly needed to try to revalidate its relevance, and gleefully started issuing long protest calendars.
The Hurriyat has lost its earlier sheen and is no longer seen as a league of venerated persons. A friend in Kashmir pointed out that there was no flap when the National Investigation Agency subjected some Hurriyat leaders to sustained questioning on receiving funds from Pakistan to feed terrorism. The new breed of militants, who are self-trained and do not cross the border to get training at camps run by the Pakistani army, probably just tolerate the Hurriyat leaders. They are not in the same league as separatists like Yasin Malik, who laid down the gun in 1994 to opt for talks, and Shabir Shah, who never took up the gun but asserts that Kashmiris are “being listened to” after they took up the gun.
But one will have to give the devil his due. They do have a challenging role cut up for them. The Hurriyat leaders say that a dialogue has got to be conducted with the “relevant people”. The new militants represent a new reality and a new relevance, as do the child stone-throwers who come to their aid when the heat is on from the security forces. While the children have to be counselled by the older members of their families and elders of the community, the Hurriyat leaders will have to work hard to try to bond the young militants into a fairly cohesive force. Not to bake their own chestnuts, but to make them realise that the culmination of any struggle has got to be talks. The sooner they realise it the better. Fighting the state is not going to lead them anywhere.
This, believe me, will be good for the Hurriyat leaders’ own relevance, nay, survival. In the case of the child stone-throwers, the Hurriyat leaders can do better than Masarrat Alam-ing them.
(The writer is a Senior Journalist)
Dwarika Prasad Sharma