Freezing Kashmir

It is after a long time that Hurriyat is back in news – that is, ever since their heady march to the centre stage in the successive unrests through 2008-2010. But the current attention is not about their renewed political relevance as the perceived leaders of these short-lived revolts , it is about the issues that raise questions about their future political role in Kashmir. What started it all off was the news about an alleged 10-year freeze on Kashmir settlement that broke unannounced on the scene. There was also  speculation about their hectic preparations for their possible participation in the next Assembly election. The claims set off a chorus of denials from separatists in Valley, eliciting subsequently an official  rejection from Pakistan government.

However, the alleged freeze of Kashmir issue is not alone that brought separatists back in discourse, Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s activities in New Delhi have also become a subject of debate in Valley. And why not. Never before has Geelani been so open-minded and uninhibited about his interactions in New Delhi as has been the case this winter. This set Kashmir abuzz about the nature  of these meetings. And in an unlikely fallout, the meetings created some fissures within his own Hurriyat faction. Muslim League, one of the major constituents, was prompt to dissociate from the activities, projecting these as some kind of departure from the faction’s approach towards New Delhi.

And finally, capping these unusual developments, Pakistan invited the Hurriyat leadership to Pakistan, fueling once again hopes, howsoever feeble, of some movement on Kashmir. This  is for the umpteenth time in the last four years that Pakistan has extended an invite to visit Islamabad to Hurriyat factions which subsequently have failed to come off.
It was in 2008 that Hurriyat last visited Islamabad where they held a series of meetings with the top leadership of the country. The purpose of these invites has often been to inject a conspicuous Kashmir element into the engagement between the two countries. But if at all the visit comes through this time, it will, even if temporarily, help Hurriyat wend its way back into the news cycle.

However, impact of these developments may ultimately turn out to be transitory. Once, the events play themselves out, it will not be before long that Hurriyat will retreat back into shadows. What will last is Hurriyat’s essential political worth and its success in carving out an independent  role for itself in Kashmir, beyond its abstract significance as the symbolic advocate of the separatist sentiment.

As for the freeze on Kashmir issue, it makes little sense. It is like postponing the tomorrow, which is otherwise bound to turn up at the appointed time. It is like stopping events from happening, forcing entrenched discourses to overnight change their narratives, and sentiments to halt being experienced. On a larger level, it makes little geo-political sense. Unless, there is a formal interim agreement which outlines the contours of how the two countries will approach the Kashmir issue after the passing of freeze period, Kashmir can hardly be deferred.

But there is another dimension to the deferment reports. That is, it is not necessarily their truth but the perception of their truth that makes them so relevant to Kashmir. If a majority of Kashmiris start taking them seriously, it can profoundly alter the political landscape of Valley, may be make the political mainstream more relevant and bring the separatists face to face with their own moment of truth. How will they negotiate the long freeze? What will the absence of the promise of a Kashmir settlement do to their politics? This is something that they have never debated. But there is an urgency for them to think through these questions  with or without the reality of the freeze. Their tragedy is compounded by the fact that under these circumstances they cannot even participate in the electoral process as doing so will instantly deprive them of their separatist identity, without which they will become on par with National Conference and PDP – no, not really on par.