Visiting Pakistan Can we expect a breakthrough?

I was in a somber mood.   It was perhaps cover of local magazine that had snatched my morning sanguineness. Three young children in their school uniform and splash of blood stared in my face. The innocent faces of Inayat, Wamiq and Zahid     reminded me of an essay by Edward Said, “Where Do We  Go From Here’? – an essay that he had written during 1995, when it was believed that the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians were supposed to have moved from interim stage into final status of discussions. Much before looking for an answer for the question, ‘where do we go from here yet another question bothered me- where do we stand on date… – groping in the dark I started looking for answers.

Perhaps there is a forward movement. The Pakistan government has invited Kashmir leaders to Islamabad.   It will not be for the first time that the Kashmir leaders will be visiting that country. Many Kashmir leaders – those demanding autonomy or self-governance within union of India and those demanding right to self-determination as envisaged in the UN resolution have been visiting Islamabad. The Pakistan leaders besides having meetings with them have been according warm receptions to them. But this time the traditional list of invitees has been changed- some names have been dropped and some have been added. The drop outs include the two former Chairmen of All Parties Hurriyat Conference   Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, Molvi Abbass Ansari and the People Conference leader and APHC (M) Executive Council Member, Bilal Ghani Lone. The additions include President of Kashmir High Court  Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom and Dukhatarian-e-Milat, chief Ayesa Andarabi (both having no travel documents) and detained leader Shabir A Shah.

Is there something beyond that meets the eye in dropping three names from the invitees’ list, is a commonly asked question. This change ostensibly could not have been affected without consent or consultation of the Chairman APHC (M). Whether this change has something to do with these leaders proactively advocating bilateral talks with New Delhi for working out some ‘interim solution’ or to prune the list of invitees for accommodating the other views is a question that may  be part of internal debate in APHC(M) but it is not much of significance to the ongoing political discourse in the state.

The visit has become significant of common man in the state for Pakistan government extending invitation to octogenarian leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. There is no public statement from him so far if he had accepted the invitation or not but if the statement issued by the APHC(G) to newspapers is an indicator the party rank and file are in favor of his visiting Islamabad and meeting Pakistan leaders.

The Chairman APHC (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has visited on many occasions in the past. He has held meetings in Islamabad and outside  with Pakistan Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Yusuf Raza Gilani, President Pervez Mushraff and Asif Ali Zaradari and many others.   The question arises if the proposed visit of Kashmir leaders including Syed Ali Geelani will be for the sake of visit and meetings with Pakistan leaders for the sake of meeting or they will be transacting some business finding solution to the Kashmir problem. There are indications that this visit will not be for the sake of visit- the question arises what will be the visit all about. There are many unanswered questions attached to the visit- to find an answer to these questions there is need to look at the visit in perspective of other visits made by Kashmir leaders to Pakistan capital.
India and Pakistan leaders have been meeting at the highest level since United Nations Security Passed resolutions on Kashmir. Initially, the meetings revolved around evolving mechanism for holding of plebiscite in the state and subsequently in the wake of the United Nations appointing various commissions in the state they met to find a solution for the dispute outside the Security Council. No Kashmir leaders were involved at any point of time in talks between   the two countries for final settlement of the dispute.

Kashmir leaders were for the first time involved directly involved the  resolution of the dispute in 1964. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah after his release in April 1964 had a number of meetings with the then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. In the words of Altaf Gowhar, Sheikh Abdullah ‘at this time played his cards with caution planted himself as third party in the dispute.’

Nehru deputed Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan. The dilemma that had overtaken Pakistan government at this time makes an interesting reading but despite dilemmas he was accorded a rousing reception on his arrival in Lahore on 24 May. Sheikh accompanied by his lieutenants had his meeting with Ayub Khan on 25 May- there were reports that Sheikh Abdullah had gone with a proposal from Nehru that suggested confederation of India and Pakistan but the records of Pakistan Foreign Office suggest that Sheikh had almost articulated Ayub Khan’s point of in meeting with him that ‘brightened Pakistan Presidents face’.
Nehru died on 27 May when Sheikh was speaking a public reception in Muzaffarabad. It would be difficult to say at this juncture if a solution of the problem would have been worked out had Nehru survived a little longer but after Nehru’s death India further toughened its stand on Kashmir. The uncertainty in the region perpetuated and with every passing day the chances for finding an amicable settlement of Kashmir problem diminished. The India and Pakistan leaders afterwards met many a time till Pakistan’s dismemberment in 1971 but at no point of time were Kashmir leaders involved in talks. There is no history of Kashmir leaders demanding their participation in India-Pakistan talks for resolving the Kashmir problem. It in fact was only in mid-nineties when APHC talked of negotiated settlement as an alternative to implementation of UN resolution that it started raising the demand for participation in talks. Now many  leaders have been forcefully demanding presence of Kashmir face in India and Pakistan talks on Kashmir. On 20 April 2010 the Kashmir Diaspora leaders articulated at the 13th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva  that ‘for last 63 years the two countries have been talking about Kashmir but there was no face of the people of Kashmir. We want to make it clear that when the UN gave the right to self determination, they gave it to the people of Jammu and Kashmir irrespective of their religion therefore their genuine leaders may be involved.’

Historically the second important visit of Kashmir leaders to Pakistan was in 2005, when the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road was opened. The then Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf had invited Kashmir leaders including Syed Ali   Geelani for discussing his four point formula with them. Syed Ali Geelani did not accept the invitation as he looked at a four point formula as a betrayal with the Kashmir cause and saw it as erosion of Pakistan’s stated position on Kashmir.   He also denounced it as “status quo”. The APHC (M) leaders visited Pakistan. No records of the meeting have been made public so far. It however was given to understand that the APHC (M) leaders were in total agreement with the formula and had extended support to it. The formula ironically had support in some pro-India political parties in the state. Seen in this perspective there was an agenda for both the historical visits. These visits also had an approval from New Delhi, one was sponsored by New Delhi and another had been undertaken with the mutual consent of the two countries. On more than one occasions  there were indications that New Delhi had very tacitly agreed to President Musharraf’s formula which was more of status quo with some temporary not guaranteed relaxations for travel and trade.  

The question arises that if there is an agenda for the proposed visit of both the factions of the Hurriyat Conference and JKLF to Islamabad. And also if there is a tacit approval of New Delhi for the visit. Facilitating travel of invited leaders who have been denied travel document earlier will be pointer towards understanding New Delhi’s involvement in the proposed visit.
However, if the leaders are to be believed it is going to be visit without any agenda- and the only agenda could be to explore possibilities of finding a peaceful settlement of Kashmir problem. If this visit of leaders with diverse views happens- it could prove a step in right direction for paving way for ending uncertainty in the state.