Bon Voyage, Mirwaiz

We must not miss the political message and symbolism of this visit

Statecraft

HAPPYMON JACOB

The All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC-M) leadership is currently in Pakistan after a gap of five years to hold discussions with the Pakistani leadership, creating yet another controversy. I have often been critical of APHC’s political course of action despite the personal admiration that I have for the Mirwaz, Umar Faroq, and some of the others in the group. For one, but for the calm and non-condescending personality of Umar Farooq, the coalition of over 20 parties would not have stayed under the same political roof for such a long time.
Not unsurprisingly, the APHC and the Mirwaiz are being criticized by a number of Kashmiri intellectuals for undertaking this trip to Pakistan: while some of it is valid, most of the criticism is unfair and misplaced. Here’s why.

Limited agenda and bad timing

Critics are right that the APHC is visiting Pakistan with a limited agenda and at a bad time. While one wonders why APHC chose to visit Pakistan at a time when Pakistan itself is in deep political flux. Didn’t they know that in politics timing is everything? The elections are around the corner in Pakistan and the present regime there is most likely going to lose power in upcoming elections. The current President may not even be in the country after the elections thanks to the many cases of corruption pending against him. Hence anything that APHC discusses with the current regime will bear limited dividends in the days to come. I think there is some validity in this argument. What about the rationale for the visit? I am not too convinced that the APHC could have asked for anything better under the circumstances. Let me explain. First of all, so much water has gone under the bridge since the 2007 visit of APHC to Pakistan. For one, Indo-Pak relations and the peace process were at their height in 2007 and more so there was a certain peace deal that was being finalized between the two sides with the full knowledge of the AHPC (they may or may not acknowledge that though). Today, the dialogue process is just picking up; the major stakeholders in the region are waiting for the US-NATO pullout to begin from Afghanistan; and nothing in New Delhi and Islamabad will have any political shape or form till the new governments come to power in these two countries. Hence there are far too many variables that need to fall in place for anything concrete to happen on something as vexed as the Kashmir conflict. So under these circumstances, the APHC could have either waited or started mediating: they have chosen the latter. 
More so, the two countries have now seriously begun their talks on all outstanding issues including Kashmir. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the APHC to insist that the Kashmiri opinion is heard when they talk to each other about Kashmir.

It’s now or God-knows-when
Secondly, five years, let’s face it, is a very long time. If the APHC does not visit Pakistan now, they might as well wait for three more years since one hopes that by 2015 we might have a clearer understanding of where the region is heading. So it’s now or God-knows-when.
But then why visit Pakistan at all? Let me quote the Mirwaiz: “The purpose of the visit would be to bring Kashmir to the fore. We would stress on Islamabad to bring Kashmir back on its agenda…we want to clear the impression that the CBMs on small issues like trade are not going to help Kashmir. You have to address Kashmir issue to bring permanent stability in South Asia.”
To do so the APHC will be meeting with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Foreign Minister Heena Rabbani Khar, PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharief, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan and leaders form the PAK.
To my mind, for the APHC to have achieved anything more than this is asking for far too much.

Why it is a good visit
I would go on to argue that there is a symbolic political value to this visit. First of all, by planning and undertaking this important political visit the APHC is proving that they still have the resourcefulness and wisdom to negotiate between the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan which happens to be the primary aim of the coalition. Indeed, this visit should be seen in keeping with one of the declared aims of APHC as laid down in their constitution: “To make endeavour for an alternative negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute amongst all the three parties to the dispute -- India, Pakistan and people of the Jammu and Kashmir -- under the auspices of UN or any other friendly countries, provided that such settlement reflects the will and aspirations of the people of the state.”
Secondly, this visit also highlights the distinct and special place that Kashmir has in Indo-Pak relations. What should be noted here is that this visit is being organized with the green signal from New Delhi. While APHC’s critics have used this to argue that it is acting under the directions of New Delhi, I would adopt a different line of argument. APHC is not an underground organization and if it has to visit Pakistan to talk to them on behalf of the Kashmiri people, there is no way they can do so without the go ahead from New Delhi. This does not in any way mean that APHC is compromising on their basic goals by deciding to use Indian travel documents: after all, this visit is a part of the agenda to change that very status quo. More so, if the declared objective of the APHC is to negotiate between the two states, how can they do so without visiting, meeting and talking to the two sides? Indeed, if anything, the Hurriyat has to be more proactive in talking to both India and Pakistan.
In other words, what the APHC’s detractors are missing is the political message and symbolism of this visit. How often do you see a dissident group from India visiting a foreign country to negotiate between the two countries? Never. That is precisely what the Mirwaiz and the senior leadership of the APHC is doing in Pakistan now and that is precisely why they are doing the right thing.

Lastupdate on : Sat, 15 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 15 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 16 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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