In 2000 during a debate on autonomy resolution in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the then chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah got angry after being accused by media and political commentators of being a Pakistani for arguing autonomy for the state. He said, “If all these members are Pakistanis, then India has no business here and it should leave.”
The discourse around Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has not really changed much since then.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took over as chief minister in March this year and subsequently under a court order senior separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat was released. This angered a large section of the media and they described Mufti as a pro-Pakistan chief minister. They accused him of releasing Masarat Alam Bhat. Mufti, who has been a former home minister of India, and is now the topmost elected member of Jammu and Kashmir, is being described as a pro-Pakistan chief minister exactly by those who had earlier hailed the 2014 elections in Jammu and Kashmir as verdict for Indian democracy and India. So, which argument do you want to propound? Do you want to say that the wide-scale participation of people in democratic elections in Jammu and Kashmir is a verdict in favour of India but the elected chief minister is pro-Pakistan?
Now take the case of the Hurriyat Conference. A large section in New Delhi argues why should the Pakistan national security advisor (NSA), Sartaj Aziz, talk to Hurriyat? As if, it were happening for the first time in history.
In January 2004, the Hurriyat leaders – Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Bilal Gani Lone, Abdul Gani Bhat, Moulana Abas Ansari and Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi – met the then deputy prime minister LK Advani in New Delhi for official talks. After Advani, the Hurriyat leaders had also met the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Later, addressing the media, Advani also referred to efforts by Vajpayee to make peace with Pakistan.
When the UPA took over, the Hurriyat Conference held another round of talks with then prime minister Manmohan Singh on September 6, 2005. Later in September 16, 2005, Mirwaiz met then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in New York. During the meeting with Musharraf at the Roosevelt Hotel, which according to reports, lasted over an hour, Mirwaiz briefed Musharraf on his talks with Manmohan Singh.
Mirwaiz also met Musharraf in New Delhi in April 2005 when Musharraf had come to the Indian capital to watch an India-Pakistan cricket match and later in Islamabad in June 2005. It indicates during the dialogue process between India and Pakistan, Hurriyat was in the loop and it was meeting top leaders of Pakistan frequently. And all this was happening in Congress rule.
Now one fails to understand why Congress is objecting to the Hurriyat meeting with the Pakistan when it allowed such meetings to take place not only in New Delhi, but also in Islamabad and New York.
In past ten years, Pakistan has also engaged with mainstream leaders of Jammu and Kashmir. Remember the one-on-one meeting between Parvez Musharraf and Omar Abdullah in Islamabad in 2006? During the meeting with Mushrraf, Omar Abdullah presented National Conference’s autonomy report to then Pakistan president, which was passed by his father, Dr Farooq Abdullah in 2000 in the J&K Assembly. This is the same report that the NDA had rejected without seeing. During his visit, Omar Abdullah also met the then Pakistan foreign minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri.
Later in March 2008, Asif Ali Zardari and Mehbooba Mufti addressed a joint press conference in Islamabad. Mehbooba had said she hoped that the new political leadership in Pakistan would carry forward the “peace process” initiated by President Pervez Musharraf and former Indian premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Engaging separatist or mainstream leaders by Pakistan is part of history and India has always facilitated it for carrying forward the dialogue process as both countries consider Kashmir an important issue. It is not something that is happening for the first time now. And let us not forget that after the release of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru allowed Sheikh to visit Pakistan where he was received by then Pakistani foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at Rawalpandi airport. Later, he held talks with the then Pakistan President Ayub Khan. Was Sheikh Abdullah not a separatist by all means?