Defining Moment

The June 2 trip of the historic Srinagar – Muzaffarabad bus has gained a high-profile aura because of the composition of its passengers. Having ferried hundreds of less known members of separated Kashmiris families across the line of control, this time the passengers include some leading lights of the separatist camp. Apart from the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which is understood to have increased the strength of its team to accommodate some of its disgruntled constituents, the other prominent leaders boarding the bus are Shabbir Ahmad Shah heading his Democratic Freedom Party delegation and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman, who decided to go it alone, after authorities did not clear his 17-member team in its entirety. Even as the hardline Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani preferred to stay back, at least for the time being, the groups making it to Muzaffarabad are embarking on an historic journey across the man-made line drawn not as much on some ravines, mountains and plains as on the body and soul of Kashmiris which has existed for more than half a century leaving the divided families in perpetual agony for none of their faults. Regardless of their political hues, from pro-Pak moderates to pro-independents, a red-carpet reception awaits the separatist leaders during their Mission Kashmir. For the young articulate Mirwaiz, it would be an emotional journey as he seizes the opportunity to visit the graveyard of his grandfather, Mirwaiz Muhammad Yousuf Shah, who died in exile after being forced out by the cruel circumstances that visited the former princely state in the wake of India’s partition.

In retrospect, the separatists’ visit across the line of control was always on the cards ever since the moderate Hurriyat faction entered into what was termed as its "path breaking" dialogue with government of India a couple of years ago. It was high on the amalgam’s agenda which seeks a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute besides an end to human rights violations and release of political prisoners languishing in Indian jails. While the interaction between New Delhi and Srinagar remains deadlocked, the rapidly changing atmosphere across the Indo-Pak sub-continent marked by a slew of confidence building measures has brought about what the former chairman of Hurriyat Conference, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, in his inimitable style, termed as the transformation from geo-politics to geo-economics in which both the countries see their destinies inter-linked almost inseparably, with or without any external facilitation.

Well, that makes the circumstances immensely propitious for a purposeful and result-oriented effort for a major breakthrough on the 57-year old vexed dispute over Kashmir that has so far led to four wars between the neo-nuclear rivals of the South Asian region and has the potential of many see as a flashpoint threatening global peace. Having graduated from their compulsive hostility and belligerence, the two countries would seem to be moving forward, albeit hesitatingly, and, given an element of sincerity and determination, may well rewrite a much better and relaxed future for themselves. It is this historic opportunity that the Kashmiri leadership has to grab with a sense of urgency and foresight.

Notwithstanding the bureaucratic spanner thrown into the separatists’ trip, which though may have eventually vanished by the time they arrive in Muzaffarabad, the moot point would be its likely impact on the on-going peace process. While Islamabad and New Delhi may have walked the extra mile to synergize their respective and mutually divergent positions, it is time the separatists met with their hosts, this time in Islamabad and possibly some time later in New Delhi, with a unified and cohesive blueprint. One has a hunch the Kashmiris travel across the line of control without any passports or visas may well be the preliminary manifestation of what Pakistan president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, terms as the "irrelevant borders".

Sadly, however, the separatist leaders, who are never tired of claiming, variously and together, to be the the real representatives of Kashmiri people, do not see eye to eye on most issues, basic or peripheral. Given the immensely conducive atmosphere, unless they have some short-term personal axes to grind, there is no reason why they should not sink their differences once and for all. One need not remind them that the on-going peace process owes its progress to the people of the two countries who, having high stakes in it, are obviously in the driver’s seat now. Before they miss the real bus, they should read the writing on the wall and rise to the historic occasion unitedly rather than presenting themselves as a fragmented lot. Indeed, the Wednesday’s bus ride across what has come to be known as the "Peace Bridge" could well be a defining moment for the history of Kashmir.

‘If you want to know your past, examine your present conditions, if you want to know your future, examine your present actions’ — A Chinese saying.