In a dramatic development, a Track-11 team, headed by the former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, has met Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani at his residence. The team, according to Sinha, held talks with Geelani “in a cordial atmosphere”.
The five-member team includes former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, who served in Jammu and Kashmir, ex-Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, veteran journalist Bharat Bhushan and activist Sushobha Barve. Sinha said theirs was an “independent initiative”.
The team also met moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and later Shabir Ahmad Shah.
However, it was the meeting with Geelani that had an element of surprise about it. Earlier, on September 4, Geelani had shut the door on Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and veteran communist leader D Raja, who were part of an all-party delegation on a visit to Kashmir. This had run into some criticism in Valley with a section of people arguing that the hawk should have met the visiting leaders.
In the past, Geelani had met non-government delegations from New Delhi. However, none of these meetings led to any sustained engagement or follow-up with a direct dialogue with New Delhi.
“We came here for humanity. Our motto is to share the grievances and pain (of Kashmiri people). I hope the state of unrest will be resolved soon,” Sinha, who visited Kashmir first time on a Track-11 mission, told the media.
The members of the team, however, took pains to distance themselves from the government, nor tried to encourage the hope that a breakthrough was in the offing.
“Our job is to share the pain of people and if in some way we are able to do it, we will think our visit has been successful,” Sinha said. Similar sentiment was expressed by Wajahat Habibullah, once a high-ranking J&K bureaucrat. The Hurriyat faction led by Geelani later issued a statement.
“Conversation took place in a cordial atmosphere. Geelani Sahab reminded the visiting team the historical perspective of the Kashmir issue, pending for its final resolution since 1947. He said that people have rendered huge sacrifices for settlement of this long standing dispute,” Hurriyat said in a statement. “All the people and leaders should be released and the cases against them should be withdrawn so that after consultation a common and collective point of view can be put forward.”
The Mirwaiz later talked about his meeting with delegation at a press conference.
“I told the team that Government of India should tell the people of the country the truth about Kashmir. Only truth telling on Kashmir’s history and the prevailing situation will create conditions for the resolution of Kashmir,” the Mirwaiz said. “New Delhi needs to start a serious and purposeful dialogue on Kashmir. Talking for the sake of it will make situation worse”.
The state government, on its part, hailed the meetings of the delegation with separatists. “We welcome the talks. It is only the dialogue that can pull the state out of the current imbroglio,” Education Minister and the state government spokesman Naeem Akhter said. “Violence is no solution. Past seventy years have proven that the recourse to extreme means has got us nowhere”.