The slugfest over NSA level talks between India and Pakistan has brought into focus Kashmir’s separatist leadership after New Delhi asserted that any engagement between Islamabad and pro-freedom leaders was unacceptable to it.
Last time, the separatists were at the centre-stage of Kashmir politics in the summer of 2010 when an anti-India uprising swept the Valley. That time an unnerved New Delhi rushed a parliamentary panel to Kashmir to reach out to the pro-freedom leadership, as a fire-fighting tactic.
As war of words between New Delhi and Islamabad resulted in cancellation of the talks last week, the separatists were seen emerging as the “only beneficiary” of the confrontations.
“The Hurriyat had got sidelined… But now they have got a new lease of life and today they stand as the only beneficiary. It is a great beginning for them after 2010 as you (New Delhi) have made them a third party to Kashmir discourse,” argues noted political commentator Happymon Jacob who teaches at JNU, New Delhi.
The separatists came into prominence also after Union Minister for External Affairs ShushmaSawraj invoked Simla agreement to cite that third party like Hurriyat has no role in bilateral issues between the two countries. By the time her media briefing concluded, the Minister had already brought to the center-stage the separatist discourse.
“It was a self defeating strategy on part of India to draw a red line on engagement with Pakistan. This way you are shooting on your own feet and limiting your options,” says Prof Jacob.
New Delhi may justify its position saying it couldn’t have been seen giving up on its stand less than a year later when Foreign Secretary-level talks got aborted between the two countries because of Government Of India’s opposition to the meeting between separatists and Pakistan leaders.
But at the same time, Pakistan-separatists engagements are nothing new and even New Delhi have in the past officially reached out to separatist.
In 2004 it was the then Prime Minister AtalBihari Vajpayee and his Deputy LK Advani who welcomed and held talks with separatists in New Delhi. When Manmohan Singh replaced Vajpayee, he picked up the threads and held talks with separatists in 2005 too.
That year, the then Pakistan President ParveezMusharaf held two meetings with Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairman MirwaizUmer Farooq—first in New Delhi and later in Islamabad. The two again met in the September of 2005 in New York as India and Pakistan were inching closer on a dialogue path. The Government of India never raised objections to these meeting, giving a sense that both the countries were in favor of keeping separatists on board.
So why should India now object to Pakistan leaders meeting separatists and why to draw a red line?
One may argue that Modi-led Government is trying to pursue an aggressive policy and the move to put an end to the practice of any visiting Pakistan leader meeting separatists in New Delhi is part of that policy. This could explain the failed FS-level and NSA level talks in less than one year and now the bitterness between two countries despite Ufa initiative at the highest level. But then Islamabad too has sent a message that no forward movement could be achieved in relation between two countries minus Kashmir and separatists.
“The real question is where New Delhi will go from here given its renewed stand. The Hurriyat is not going to go anywhere, it is there,” says renowned academic and political historian, Siddiq Wahid.
Kashmir, after cancellation of Indo-Pak talks, has come back in the international limelight and the Hurriyat was now “at the front and at the center” of the discourse concerning Kashmir, said Wahid. “They (separatists) have gained prominence in a sharp way at a time when the discourse was altogether different.”
Post-2010, the separatists were “pushed away” from the center-stage particularly when there was little to be seen in terms of any political activity from their side. The strict curbs put on their movement by the State Government to reach out to people and garner support in favor of their political opinion had only helped New Delhi’s cause, experts opine.
“Every time there is a situation related to Kashmir the separatists will come into focus. They were facing crisis after 2010 and now suddenly they have become beneficiary,” said political scientist at Jammu University, RekhaChoudhary.
She argued New Delhi was “getting trapped” in its own policy when it didn’t allow separatists to meet Pakistan leaders last August.
“You (New Delhi) have already said no to such meetings. It is your official position now. Where will you go from here?” she asked.
For Prof Jacob, New Delhi’s objection to separatists meeting with Pakistan leaders last year was “never a well thought out policy”.
“Now that you have committed a mistake, you are trying to justify it by committing another mistake,” he said.
Amid the slugfest and deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan, separatists find a reason to rejoice as, in the words of the Prof Jacob, Government of India has “brought them back on the center-stage”.