The landing of interlocutors at Molvi Ansari's house was to offset the impact of the assassination of Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith chief Molvi showkat Ahmad Shah on the possible involvement of pro-dialogue or moderate leaders in the talk's process
On April 20, Ittihadul Muslimeen patron and prominent Shia cleric Molvi Abbas Ansari threw a surprise by meeting Indian Government's three interlocutors. The hour long morning meeting was so secretly arranged that it came as a surprise to media persons when chief interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar announced it in his late evening press briefing. The breaking-news crazy television channels were taken off guards over the meeting as they had not chosen to follow the interlocutors to old city's fortified residence of the separatist leader. The interlocutors' six visits were unyielding lessening the expectancy of breakthrough on the seventh trip in getting the separatists on board.
Padgaokar and his colleague Radha Kumar showered encomiums on Ansari for his pro-dialogue credentials and commitment to engage in fruitful negotiations at appropriate levels. The interlocutors' joyousness was obvious as Ansari offered them much-cherished reason to herald the success of their “mission Kashmir”. After the meeting, the interlocutors began saying that they have held talks with stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir including the separatists.
But, the separatist camp chose to downplay the meeting. Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who is opposed to any engagement with New Delhi or its sponsored negotiators, did not even react to the development. Ansari's own faction, the moderate bloc of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq announced a quick action to escape the blame that Ansari acted on their behalf. Mirwaiz, using his powers as the Chairman of the grouping, suspended Ansari from the Executive Council, the highest decision making body of the APHC, an exceptional position he is holding since the formation of the Hurriyat in 1993. Ansari's party Ittihadul Muslimeen was also suspended as constituent of the amalgam “for the time being”.
Mirwaiz justified the suspension saying that Ansari violated the unanimous decision of the amalgam to not to engage with New Delhi's interlocutors. “The interlocutors are on a mission to divide the pro-freedom leaders. We are not opposed to the institution of dialogue but that can be initiated at the highest level only after discernable changes are seen on the ground level”, he said.
Observers say that the Government of India had two important objectives on the surprise meeting between Ansari and the interlocutors. First, the complete blankness on separatists' viewpoint was filled to some extent. This would help the home affairs ministry to present the interlocutors' report and recommendations as a document that has inputs from all stakeholders of Kashmir issue including the separatists. The purported informal contact with the separatists, as claimed by the interlocutors and vehemently denied by the separatists, was not making any sense.
Secondly, the meeting was important to offset the impact of the assassination of Jamiat-e-Ahli Hadith chief Molvi showkat Ahmad Shah on the possible involvement of pro-dialogue or moderate leaders in the talks process. Interestingly, Ansari's meeting took place 12 days after Molvi Showkat was killed in a scientifically executed blast outside a mosque in Srinagar minutes before he was scheduled to appear on the podium to deliver his weekly sermon.
On the face of it, Molvi Showkat's killing has no direct relationship with the dialogue process between separatists and New Delhi. He had never been engaged with such dialogue and his party, a predominantly religious group promoting Salfi thought of Islam, was equidistant from both factions of Hurriyat Conference. The police investigations, which were partly endorsed by the separatists and Showkat's own party, gave prominence to the internal feud by indicting Sawtul Haque, a breakaway radical group of the Ahli Hadith. However, the insinuations in the police investigation that the radicals were not happy with Showkat's activism in seeking permission from the government to establish Transworld Islamic University and his proximity with certain leaders ( read JKLF's Yasin Malik) was seen as a setback to possibility of moderate's engagement in dialogue process. Then there were reports that Molvi Showkat had met with the interlocutors, which was later confirmed by the latter saying his meeting was specific to the discussions on educational pursuits of his party.
Impact on the relevant real time political discourse in Kashmir is a natural corollary of every high-profile political killing in Kashmir. In 2002, when People's Conference patron Abdul Ghani Lone returned from much talked about Dubai sojourn and threw vibes on participation in assembly elections declaring them “not-a forbidden tree (Shajr-e-Mamnooa)”, an air was created that separatists were embarking on a policy shift. Lone had the backing of an influential Pakistani political elite and Kashmir stakeholders both in New Delhi and Islamabad. However, his assassination on May 21, 2001 wrapped up the process. The forces inimical to the process meticulously hit the target and grounded the entire process.
The pattern was again visible in 2009 when moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference engaged with the Home Affairs Ministry to re-initiate dialogue process, stalled after Parvez Musharraf's ouster from Pakistan's scene and 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Home Minister P Chidambaram roped in the Hurriyat leaders in “secret diplomacy” but the information was selectively leaked to open the secret. The “secret diplomacy” also hit a roadblock when unidentified persons attacked Mirwaiz's confidante Fazlul Haq Qureshi at his Soura residence. Qureshi survived the head-injury in the attack but he would be unable to be mentally or physically active for the rest of his life. After attack on Qureshi, the chapter of quite diplomacy was given a quit burial. The other killings like those of Dr Abdul Ahad Guru, Molvi Mushtaq Ahmad and Pir Hisamuddin took place in more or less similar circumstances.
So, even as police claims suggest that Molvi Showkat was killed in an organizational feud, though there is no strand of plausible evidence, his death is going to impact the political discourse. He was very close to moderate leaders, who are not opposed to dialogue process. It was a natural consequence that the moderates were shattered by his killing and this time they appeared to be more vocal on exposing the killers in order to preempt any such incidents in future.
In this backdrop, the interlocutors meeting with Molvi Abbas Ansari attains significance. Observers say that the Government of India's primary objective to send in interlocutors was to find a foothold in Kashmir after the successive popular anti-India uprisings in 2008 and 2010. One impact of the uprisings was that they barred the leaders in the separatist camp to get publicly closer to New Delhi. However, interlocutors are on a mission to engage with the separatists into a political discourse that according to Padgaonkar, is based on safeguarding the territorial integrity of Jammu and Kashmir and restoration of the special status” of the state.
Interlocutors had been successful in meeting with Molvi Showkat and establishing “informal” contacts with several other separatist leaders. However, Showkat's killing came as a major setback for their process. The “contacts” told the interlocutors that they would not be able to meet them publicly. Sources said that the issue was taken very seriously by the he ministry, which is overseeing the political developments in Kashmir. It was in this backdrop that Molvi Abbas Ansari hosted a breakfast meeting with the interlocutors. The broader message of the meeting was that the moderates would not be cowed down by the forces who go for liquidation of political leaders to stall processes. Why Molvi Ansari opened the doors for the interlocutors, despite prohibition of the amalgam he belongs to, is a enigmatic question. Only the tike will disclose the mystery.