Hurriyat: A liability for Kashmiris

No negotiation without representation

During the struggle against the British Raj, the Indian National Congress sought to represent Indians across the spectrum, while the Muslim League was formed to represent the interests of the Muslim minority. Moving beyond these well-known facts, there is another contrast between these two outfits – the Congress sought and fought elections, the Muslim League shied away from them. The Congress ended up with an intra-party democratic ethos; the Muslim League consisted of various establishment-types who were afraid of losing their positions of privilege upon the exit of the British. Several decades later India carries on the democratic tradition in letter and spirit, while Pakistan struggles under the yoke of a pervasive military and a calcified ruling establishment. The quom is as left out of the Pakistani ruling class as it was under the British rule.

A similar situation is playing out in Kashmir. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference consistently avoids having to prove its popularity in elections, choosing to call for a plebiscite which it knows well enough wont be called. The absence of democratic vision and principles makes Hurriyat a huge liability for the Kashmiri people, because radical Islamists are certain to plunge in to fill the ideological vaccuum as they have in Pakistan. Several decades after independence, that country is still not certain about the role of Islam in the Pakistani state. The resulting confusion breeds fundamentalism and threatens peace and stability both within and without.

Unless the Hurriyat is prepared to take a democratic route – maybe without prejudice to its stand on secession – it risks turning Kashmir into a fundamentalist cesspool. Prospects for lasting settlements are most uncertain when they are made with unrepresentative institutions; the aim of negotiations must first be to get the Hurriyat to prove its popularity first.