Breaking ranks with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference of which he is an executive committee member, Abdul Ghani Bhat, leader of the Muslim Conference, met Dineshwar Sharma, the Centre’s Special Representative on Jammu Kashmir, because, according to him, “dialogue is the only effective and civilised way of addressing issues bedeviling relations between nations or peoples”.
Ahead of Sharma’s first visit to the Valley in early November, the Hurriyat’s Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Yasin Malik, had issued a statement against any engagement with Sharma. “…For any Kashmiri to be part of this futile exercise will only undermine our internationally acknowledged legitimate and just struggle, nourished by the blood of our martyrs and great sacrifices and hardships rendered daily by the masses,” the JRL statement had said.
However, Bhat, a former chairman of the Hurriyat who has been left out of the JLR, met Sharma at his home in Srinagar on November 27 during the latter’s second visit to the Valley. Reports that a second separatist leader was also in the room could not be confirmed.
Days after the meeting, he told The Indian Express on Wednesday that there was “bound to be a difference of opinion” in any group of individuals “with heads on their shoulders but (differences) should not be misconstrued as confrontation, much less as a different path. We follow the same path, occasionally collectively, occasionally individually”.
“(Mirwaiz Omar Farooq) said a few years back, who the hell is Geelani. He is on record. But now he recognizes him as his head in JRL. We break to make ourselves. It does not matter,” he said. Declining to elaborate on his meeting with Sharma, the one- time teacher of Persian said he would release a formal statement on that “in due course”. He said seeking a negotiated settlement on the dispute of J&K was one of the ways laid down in the APHC’s constitution.
“It is very close to the constitution of the APHC if you talk in terms of a dialogue with India and with Pakistan in an effort to find a way out,” he said. “APHC is not a grouping of angels on earth. We are human beings, we can go wrong, I may go wrong, but what needs to be understood is that all of us support dialogue under the APHC constitution”.
He said the difference of opinion in the APHC was a sign of the “good health” of the separatist grouping.
“So what if there are fissures. The entire world wants peace, and when you seek peace, you seek settlement of the disputes that threaten peace. This is so straight, mathematically correct,” he said.
The Hurriyat leader said in supporting dialogue, “I probably represent the best of each one of us in the south Asian region. I don’t want to die tomorrow in an atomic holocaust, I don’t want to burn alive with my kith and kin and the entire region. Who wants it? Kindly bring him by the ear to me. I want to talk to him and understand his politics”.
The Hurriyat leader said the situation in the region was getting “explosively” volatile and “we have to be alive to the dangers inherent in the situation”. A nuclear-weaponised region, said Bhat, “enjoins a duty on its leadership” to work for peace.
“We wish well for both India and Pakistan. But we in Kashmir want to establish our identity. I want to be called either a Pakistani or an Indian, I don’t want to be called as a man representing the dispute on Kashmir. I am the dispute talking to you — I don’t want that. And for that, I want a dialogue to happen between India and Pakistan to happen as quick as possible,” he said.
Asked about those who were opposed to dialogue on the ground that nothing had come out of numerous rounds of talks, and had picked up the gun for ‘azadi”, Bhat said: “It is the memory of collective discontent, it is alienation…The collective soul of Kashmir was wounded right in the beginning in 1947. The wound is bleeding. It cannot be addressed with food, or clothing or carpets or buildings. It has to be addressed”.
“Azadi,” Bhat said, “implies I have the freedom to decide what I choose to decide, it is a recognition of the right of a people to self-determination”.