Need to check how Afghan pullout will impact Kashmir, says Mirwaiz Umer Farooq

When a seven-member Hurriyat delegation led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq reaches Islamabad Saturday night, their week-long dialogue with top Pakistani leadership has an agenda: "check how US pullout from Afghanistan in 2014 impacts Kashmir, how to bring the Kashmir resolution at the centre of a possible post 2014 Indo-Pak co-operation in the region and to ascertain as to how Pakistan politicians think about bringing Kashmiri leadership in its otherwise bilateral engagement with New Delhi".

In an interview with The Sunday Express hours before the flight to Pakistan, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq talked about the importance of the upcoming dialogue. Unlike previous visits by the Kashmiri leaders, this time a mist of suspicion has surrounded the aim behind the visit within Kashmir.

"Kashmir is becoming only a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan again. We think it is extremely important that we start talking. We know there isn't any way forward other than to talk," Mirwaiz said. "Elections will be taking place in Pakistan soon and we want to know how they think about Kashmir at this point in time. Pakistan says that they support the involvement of Kashmiris in the dialogue process as a party. We want to know what mechanism Pakistani leadership across the political spectrum has in mind."

"We are scheduled to meet the President (Asif Ali Zardari), Prime minister, Foreign Minister, Kashmir Affairs Minister and other top leaders in the government. We are also meeting Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Jamat-e-Islami leadership, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. We also want to meet the leadership of MQM and other political parties," he said.

Mirwaiz said that there are serious questions as to what will happen in the region after the Americans withdraw from Afghanistan. "Our friends tell us that the West would push for an Indo-Pak co-operation post 2014. We want to know how the Pakistani leadership sees it. We want to impress upon the Pak leadership to push for the resolution of Kashmir issue in the run up to 2014. We understand that the policy decisions taken around 2014 on Afghanistan will set the policy and determine the road map for at least the next 20 years in the region," Mirwaiz said. "We don't want Kashmir to be forgotten at this critical juncture. We want to ascertain how will post 2014 impact Kashmir."

Mirwaiz said the visit follows an invitation of the Pakistan government. "Last time when Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar came to New Delhi. She told us that they want to invite us so that they could talk to us. We believe that we need to talk to both countries to find a way fit Kashmiris as a party. We felt there is no reason to not take this opportunity," he said.

The Hurriyat moderates' trip to Pakistan is taking place in the backdrop of a lot of criticism within Kashmir where critics have questioned the timing and accused the moderates to become "facilitators" for President Zardari to help the ruling party at the time of the elections. In fact, Hurriyat moderates were accused of being always "ready to act as proxy of Indian and Pakistan political establishment".

The leader of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Syed Ali Shah Geelani has been critical of the Pakistan government's current policy on Kashmir. According to spokesman for the Hurriyat (G), Geelani told Pakistan High Commissioner Salman Bashir on Friday that Pakistan government's Kashmir policy is "not matching with the sacrifices, sentiments and aspirations of the people of Kashmir".

Mirwaiz said that the criticism of the visit is unfounded. "They are labelling talks with India a sell out. Now talks with Pakistan too are a sell out. What is the way ahead then?'' he asked. "We know there is no alternative to the dialogue."

Mirwaiz said it is a fact that India facilitated the trip by issuing passports to the members of the delegation. "We think India is acknowledging that it is a political issue at the end of the day. Their (New Delhi's) approach is military. We have been telling them that there is a lot of cynicism in Kashmir vis a viz their policies. We are telling them that how can there be a forward movement when they are not even ready to take a tiny step like removing AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act)," he said. "But if there is a slight chance to create a conducive atmosphere, we don't want to be a stumbling block."

He said India and Pakistan are going ahead on a bilateral track. "We know one visit to Pakistan by Hurriyat delegations will not solve anything. But this engagement is better than not doing anything at all. Both India and Pakistan have to create a space for."

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