All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC)
An alliance of 26 political, social and religious organisations, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was formed on March 9, 1993 as a political front to further the cause of Kashmiri separatism. The amalgam has been consistently promoted by Pakistan in the latter's quest to establish legitimacy over its claim on the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. After years of cold shouldering the outfit, unconfirmed reports indicate that the Union government has opened channels of communication with the outfit. Speculation on a proposed dialogue between the two parties had begun in the aftermath of the then US President Bill Clinton’s South Asia visit in March 2000. The cease-fire declared by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) in August 2000, had partially buried these speculations, particularly with the alliance criticising the Hizb decision. In the aftermath of the Prime Minister’s announcement of an unilateral cease-fire on November 19, 2000 (which holds until May 2001), reports of contacts being established between the Union government and the alliance have resurfaced.
The origins of the Hurriyat are traced to the 1993 phase of the Kashmir insurgency. The initial euphoria of armed struggle against Indian security forces, which surrounded terrorist violence during the late Eighties, and early Nineties had subsided in the face of counter-insurgency operations launched by Indian security forces. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) with its pro-independence ideology had been marginalised as a terrorist outfit and replaced by a network of extremist Islamic outfits sponsored and controlled by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Parallel to this, Pakistan was aggressively pursing an agenda of attempting to portray its proxy war against India as an indigenous uprising against Indian sovereignty and internationalise the issue. It was in this context that the Hurriyat was formed as an umbrella body for all over-ground secessionist organisations. Since the international community frowned upon the resort to violence by non-state actors, the Hurriyat was an ideal platform to promote the Kashmiri secessionist cause.
Another version claims that the Hurriyat is a creation of the US interests in Kashmir and was formed through the efforts of a Washington based think-tank US Institute of Peace (USIP ) under the then presidentship of Robert Oakley, a former US ambassador to Pakistan. Certain developments do indicate that it has had active backing from US official sources, particularly the US embassy in India (when prominent Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone was injured during a security force action in the early Nineteen Nineties, he was reportedly rushed to New Delhi and visited each day by officials from the embassy).
The outfit's main role has been to project a negative image of counter-insurgency operations in the State, and mobilise public opinion against security forces. The alliance has consistently followed up local allegations of security force excesses, and in several documented cases, distorted facts to suit its propaganda goal. For instance, the Haigam firing incident of February 16, 2001 was portrayed as an assault on a peaceful gathering whereas, as later indicated in news reports and SF clarifications, the army contingent fired upon the mob only when they were blocked and prevented from moving.
Until the initiation of the current peace process (year 2000), the outfit had been strident in its criticism of Indian sovereignty over the State and had organised a series of strikes and boycott of official functions such as the August 15 Independence Day and January 26 Republic Day celebrations. Another annual strike called by the Hurriyat is on October 28, the day in 1947 when Indian security forces moved into the State in response to the ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh’s appeal for assistance in repelling the tribal raiders from Pakistan. The alliance has also boycotted all elections held in the State and its top leadership was taken into custody after the 1999 parliamentary elections. Despite trumpeting its self-professed status as the ‘sole and genuine representative’ of the people in the State, the outfit has steadfastly refused to participate in any democratic process to prove this claim. The only endorsement received so far for this claim has come, as mentioned from Pakistan. A ‘non-paper’ on the Kashmir crisis, presented by Pakistan to India during the 1998 Colombo summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), had demanded that India recognise the Hurriyat as the ‘sole representative’ of the Kashmiri people. This demand that was rejected outright by India.
The Hurriyat came into the limelight during the March 2000 Clinton visit. The audience granted by the President to a two-member delegation in Washington prior to his South Asia visit and speculation that he would meet the Hurriyat top leadership during the visit, contributed to an increased legitimacy that the alliance now commands. The release of all prominent leaders, under detention during 1999 and early 2000, fuelled speculation that the alliance would be invited for a dialogue with the Indian government. The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen cease-fire and its subsequent withdrawal in September-October 2000 later overshadowed these speculations. In particular, the Hurriyat was overshadowed after it officially termed the Hizb cease-fire declaration as precipitous and hasty. In a contrasting turn of events, the Hurriyat is currently the only secessionist outfit in Jammu and Kashmir to have responded positively to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s November 12, 2000, announcement of a unilateral cessation of offensive operations.
In 1996 as in 2000, the Hurriyat had distanced itself from initiatives for dialogue that did not involve Pakistan. In March 1996, the Hurriyat had criticised an initiative by certain terrorists, grouped under the banner of ‘Forum for the Permanent Resolution of Jammu-Kashmir’ that had commenced a dialogue with then Union Home Minister S B Chavan. This stand was repeated later, in August 2000, during the cease-fire declared by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the consequent two rounds of talks held with the Indian government. It was only in the aftermath of the November 27, 2000 unilateral cease-fire declared by the government that the Hurriyat, reportedly with the sanction of Pakistan, expressed its willingness to enter into a two-way dialogue with the Indian government sans Pakistan.
Even as all terrorist outfits refused to reciprocate the November 27, 2000, cease-fire, the Hurriyat announced measures to initiate a negotiation process. Varying from its stand that any negotiations must include Pakistan, the Hurriyat offered to participate in two parallel bilateral negotiations, with the Indian and Pakistan governments.
A proposal floated for a Hurriyat delegation to visit Pakistan and commence talks with terrorist outfits based there was mired in politicking and consequently remains still born. Initially there was a stalemate over the composition of the delegation, with the Hurriyat demanding that all members of the alliance’s executive committee be issued visas. The Union government refused to issue any official response to this demand. On January 11, 2001, the alliance announced a five-member delegation including Syed Ali Shah Geelani. In an apparent response, Union Home Minister LK Advani was reported, on January 18, as saying, during a press interview, that that only those ‘eligible’ in the Hurriyat Conference delegation would get passports. After an initial show of unity, where the alliance said that it would not change the composition of the delegation, later statements hinted that changes in the composition of the delegation could be made. The issue has reached a point of stalemate since.
Meanwhile, the government in an official statement on April 5, invited all Kashmiri groups to participate, with the government, in negotiations to end the crisis. Two days before this, Union Home Minister LK Advani announced the nomination of KC Pant, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, as the government's nominee for the proposed talks.
Initially displaying confusion, the Hurriyat failed to issue an official reaction to the government's invitation for talks. The alliance's top-most decision making body, the Executive Committee, on April 15, referred the issue to the Working Committee and the larger General Council which includes the seven members of the Executive Committee and representatives of all constituent parties. After a session of the Working Committee on April 21 and that of the General Council on April 23, the issue was tossed back to the Executive Committee which, on April 28, rejected the government's offer.
This stand was an endorsement of the views expressed by several Hurriyat leaders, including its Chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat (who were speaking for themselves) rejecting the invitation for two reasons. First, the government had failed to permit a proposed delegation visit to Pakistan to confer with terrorist outfits based in that country and second that the invitation was open to all Kashmiri bodies, which meant that the government was not willing to endorse the amalgam's self-assumed mandate of being the 'sole genuine representative' of the State's people. The Hurriyat's official rejection taking both points into consideration said that "We are ready to enter into a dialogue with the Centre provided we are allowed to go to Pakistan, and New Delhi accepts Hurriyat Conference as the only representative body in Jammu and Kashmir." Stressing the second point, the statement added that the alliance "...is not ready to join the crowded train which goes nowhere’
Despite this apparent warming of relations between the Hurriyat and the Union government, differences of opinion continue to persist. With the Haigam and Maisuma (February 16, 2001) firing incidents creating fresh fissures, the Hurriyat began to stoke public dissent against the actions. The Union government in its response resorted to preventive arrests of the Hurriyat leadership. Even after officially welcoming the unilateral cease-fire and all its subsequent extensions, a Hurriyat spokesman, on March 2, 2001 described it as a cover for alleged human rights abuses by Indian security forces in the State.
The Hurriyat has been plagued with dissension from within on numerous occasions. For one, there is a clearly defined hawk and dove faction divide with leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani overtly supporting terrorist violence, particularly of those outfits which espouse an orthodox Islamic future for the State. In contrast, constituents such as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (Malik) have renounced the agenda of violence. The issue of a possible future for the State outside the sovereignty of India too has generated an internal divide with Geelani and some others openly espousing accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan and the JKLF demanding an independent status for the State. The issue of foreign mercenaries and Pakistan-based outfits that operate without any indigenous membership or leadership too has created controversies within the alliance.
In 1998, when Syed Ali Shah Geelani was elected chairman of the alliance, other Hurriyat members Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah dubbed it as a Pakistani take-over. SAS Geelani, the nominee of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) has publicly favoured the accession of the State with Pakistan and termed the Kashmir crisis as a religious issue rather than a political issue. The chairman of the alliance had, in early March 2001, formally requested the JeI to replace Syed Geelani with another representative, a request that was denied even as the Jamaat, declared Kashmir issue to be a political issue rather than a religious issue.
While dissension within the amalgam is fought out in public under the façade of ideological causes, the element of individual ego clashes invariably appear in the conflicting statements of warring leaders. The election for the chairman in year 2000 gave rise to these ego clashes that have continued to simmer till date. The main protagonists in this clash have been SAS Geelani and the People’s Conference leader Abdul Ghani Lone. The two have clashed over the role of foreign mercenaries in the ongoing terrorist violence, and over the status of the crisis with Abdul Lone terming it as a political issue and SAS Geelani terming it as a religious issue.
Even as the alliance serves as a political front for terrorist campaign in the state, its relationship with the various terrorist and over-ground separatist outfits has been uncomfortable. Several leaders have faced allegations levelled by these outfits with regard to misappropriation of funds, diverting themselves from the goal of secession and compromising with the Union government. Even while welcoming the idea of the proposed delegation visit to Pakistan, outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) have termed it as a waste. Another over-ground outfit, the Dukhtaraan-e-Millat (DeM) on December 10, 2000 while criticising Abdul Lone’s statements against foreign mercenaries, also called upon the terrorist outfits to take action against him. In the same statement, Abdul Lone and other Hurriyat leaders such as the Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik were accused of participating in a deal with India and going to Pakistan as part of the deal. In October 2000, Abdul Lone was accused by the Al-Barq of siphoning off arms and funds meant for the secessionist movement in order to strengthen his position in the event of a power struggle after the region attains ‘independence’.
The alliance’s claim to be the sole representative of the Kashmiri people has so far been endorsed explicitly only by Pakistan. While this claim has predictably been challenged by the National Conference, the ruling party in Jammu and Kashmir, it has also come under challenge from other elements such as Amanulla Khan, the chairman of his own faction of the JKLF and Shabir Shah, a member of the alliance before he quit in 1996. Consequent to the alliance’s positive response to the Prime Minister’s cease-fire offer, Pakistan-based terrorist outfits too have questioned Hurriyat’s credentials while maintaining that they cannot be ignored in any potential solution to the Kashmir issue. Even while criticizing the September 2000, Hizb cease-fire and subsequent negotiations with the Union government, the Hurriyat had, in a veiled acceptance of the process, insisted that ultimately only the alliance could be considered as the representative of the people.
The alliance's largely functions as a co-operative body with an Executive Council composing of seven members drawn from the main constituent outfits. The Executive Council is the highest decision-making authority. It comprises: