Don’t give Hurriyat undue importance

Don’t give Hurriyat undue importance

By MANOJ JOSHI | 22 August, 2015
Hurriyat is not that powerful, but is useful as a vehicle of separatist protest.

The Mumbai case is seen by New Delhi as an important benchmark for Pakistan's anti-terrorist commitments, and forms the centrepiece of the Ufa statement's commitment to focus on terrorism. But the assurance to discuss "all outstanding issues" is also part of the statement and it is the basis on which Pakistan is insisting on meeting the Hurriyat leaders.

At the end of the day, the case of the two sides hinges on interpreting the joint statement. Pakistan says that issues relating to Kashmir will be taken up, and, after all, in a dialogue where no agreed agenda has been drawn up, no one can stop them from doing that. In addition, they have declared that they will "consult" with the Hurriyat prior to meeting the Indian NSA.

Now this Hurriyat business is essentially a genuflection to Pakistan's long-standing Kashmir agenda and is aimed at domestic galleries. The Hurriyat mainly represent themselves and while they have a capacity to bring Kashmiri towns to a stand still through a hartal, they have little or no power to do anything else. Previous Indian Prime Ministers — Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh — went along with it knowing fully well that it mattered little.

For some reason, the Narendra Modi government has decided to shift the goalposts and declare that the touchstone of Pakistan's bona fides as a dialogue partner would be when they turn their backs on the Hurriyat.

Two things happen because of this. One, the Hurriyat gains far more importance than it really deserves. Second, by turning its back on the Hurriyat, India is ignoring a minor, but useful role they play as the vehicle of separatist protest in the Valley. As long as the protest is confined to the Hurriyat statements and hartals, we can live with it. But the moment it goes underground and is manifested through an armed movement, it becomes dangerous.

The Modi government's Hurriyat allergy is not new. It was the reason why it called off the foreign secretary level dialogue in August 2014. So, it would have behoved New Delhi to have obtained clarity from Islamabad on the issue before plunging into the talks. There were enough signals from Pakistan that they intended to bring up Kashmir, yet, New Delhi went ahead with the NSA level talks.

In the past, whenever there were differences in interpreting a particular agreement or commitment, the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan would intervene to remove the blockade. So it was when Dr Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf overruled their officials and permitted trans-LoC movement in Jammu & Kashmir without passports. In 2009, in a bid to talk peace with Pakistan, Singh assented to the following sentence to be added to the Sharm el Sheikh joint statement: "Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Baluchistan and other areas." This blew up in his face and prevented any further outreach to Pakistan.

That is a spirit that has all but evaporated, not just because a hardline government is in power in New Delhi, but the fact that Indians remain unhappy over Pakistan's foot dragging on the case relating to the Mumbai attack of 2008 organised and executed by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and probably supported by some ISI personnel.

Earlier this month, Tariq Khosa, the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan penned an article in Dawn, detailing the case against the LeT in Pakistan. Leading off from the Ufa statement and the

India-Pakistan commitment to discuss "all outstanding issues" and the condemnation of "terrorism in all its forms", Khosa said Pakistan had to acknowledge that the attack was "planned and launched from its soil".

As the chief investigator, he laid out the case in Pakistan including the details of the training camp at Thatta, Sind and the recovery of explosive devices matching those of Mumbai. The fishing trawler used by the terrorists to hijack the Indian trawler was also recovered, as were the conversations over VOIP. The commander, his associates and financers were also arrested and brought to trial. Yet he acknowledged the foot dragging in the trial.

The true hallmark of a regional power, which India should be, is the ability to shape the discourse in the countries around you. When it comes to Pakistan, we seem to be failing again and again. Some commentators say that by breaking with the past, Modi is working along a new plan. They refer to official spokesman Vikas Swarup's statement on Friday evening wherein he declared, "The people of both countries can legitimately ask today what is the force that compels Pakistan to disregard the agreements reached by two elected leaders and sabotage their implementation." The government is working to a strategy to drive a wedge between the two Sharifs — elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief Raheel Sharif.

If so, this strategy is not new, and is unlikely to yield results in the short term. Pakistan may have an elected government, but the reality there is that the Army calls the crucial shots, especially when it comes to dealings with India. No civilian leader has been able to change this, and not for the want of trying. Of all people Nawaz Sharif knows this well given his 1999 experience. Change will come, but principally through the efforts of Pakistanis themselves.

However, adopting an inflexible attitude in negotiations and dialogue is the worst way to pursue it, especially since Nawaz Sharif will be blamed for the breakdown, not Raheel. In real life, problems are not solved through rigid application of principle, but through negotiation and compromise.

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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