Espousing Kashmir Cause- Lessons from Geneva

By Niloofar Qureshi

Speaking on the occasion of the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (Switzerland), the Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farookh gave an impassioned and illuminating speech by emphasizing upon the fact that Islam was compatible with democracy. Those who listened to him were impressed, as the Mirwaiz departed from the conventional approach of supporting his observations with references to the past and instead, reinforced his arguments with numerous examples drawn from the present day ranging from the ‘Arab Spring’ to Bosnia, Kosovo and Bangla Desh. In a veiled reference to the authoritarian leaders in the Muslim world who were strangling democracy, the Mirwaiz asserted that democracy must shape various nations in the Muslim world by stating that, “It is our responsibility and an obligation to make it happen.” In short, his speech made its mark!

Having mesmerized the audience with his emphatic and convincing discourse on the issue of Islam being compatible with democracy, the Mirwaiz went on to the issue of Kashmir. And it is here that the script writer of the Mirwaiz made a grave mistake. Each and every one present there was very well aware that the main purpose of the Mirwaiz being in Geneva was to espouse the Kashmir cause and many had come just to hear his thoughts on the same. Yet, by abruptly shifting the focus of his deliberations from the compatibility of Islam with democracy to the Kashmir issue, the Mirwaiz gave the erroneous impression that he was espousing the cause of a ‘Democratic Islamic Kashmir’. His subsequent warning that followers of any religion could turn to violence if all peaceful avenues of dissent were not available, though made in the global context, was perceived by many as a an oblique reference to Kashmir. And this is what really confused the audience!

While speaking on the Kashmir issue, the Mirwaiz made a bold declaration that, “The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is willing to forgo international facilitation provided both the governments of India and Pakistan agree that the APHC leadership will be fully associated with the peace process at a later stage.” Even though this commitment was conditional, it nevertheless is a positive sign which deserves appreciation. The Mirwaiz felt pained by the denial of ‘self-determination’ which had brought death and destruction to the people of Kashmir because of India’s “mammoth military occupation and savagery.” However, even though he was speaking at a UN Human Right forum as a spokesmen of the ‘oppressed Kashmiris’, his appeal only addressed one section of the ‘oppressed’. This is really surprising as the APHC has always expressed deep anguish for the sorry plight of their ‘pandit brethren’ who had been forced to ‘migrate’ by the Indian Government as part of a ‘grand conspiracy’. By failing to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri pandits languishing in refugee settlements, the Mirwaiz unwittingly committed a colossal diplomatic blunder of projecting the Kashmir problem as a communal issue rather than an ideological one!

While the talk which the Mirwaiz gave on the compatibility of Islam with democracy would certainly find many takers, his take on the Kashmir issue, unfortunately lacked convincing power. Though his proclamation that the APHC was willing to forgo ‘international facilitation’ was praise worthy, but the condition that the APHC should be subsequently associated with the peace process, negated everything. The Mirwaiz should have realized that while speaking at an international forum, untenable ‘conditional issues’, like the insistence that the AHPC be a part of the negotiations to decide the future of the people of Kashmir is in itself, an undemocratic suggestion. This is because though the APHC may claim that it is the true representatives of the people of Kashmir and feel elated for being invited for seminars and conventions by the international community, but the fact remains that the APHC is never taken seriously since has no democratic credentials!

The APHC should therefore seriously consider seeking democratic legitimacy so that its voice is internationally accepted as the vox populi. The APHC would also do better if its approach to the Kashmir issue is ‘inclusive’ and addresses the woes of all sections, whether it is the pandit community in Indian administered Kashmir or people of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan administered Kashmir. But will the APHC listen?

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