Signals from Pak to Hurriyat: Avoid talks.
The Hurriyat leaders have come back from Pakistan with "advice" from the Pak Army to not start any direct negotiations with the Indian government for at least another year, signalling the onset of a season of mixed signals from across the border.
The seven-member delegation of Kashmiri separatist leaders led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, had detailed discussions on this with both Pakistani Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as well as ISI DG Lt Gen Zahir-ul-Islam during their visit last month.
It's learnt that the Kashmiri separatists pushed for a role in the ongoing talks between the two countries, urging the Pakistan Army to go back to former Pakistan president Gen Pervez Musharraf's four-point formula. However, sources said, neither Kayani nor his ISI chief were enthused by the suggestion and while they were supportive of the current dialogue process, there was no indication of how they intended to proceed on the Kashmir issue.
At one point, the separatist leaders brought up the feelers coming from New Delhi to start talks with these Kashmiri groups within a domestic framework. The advice on this was in the negative.
The message was clear that Rawalpindi did not see this as an opportune time for investing energy on Kashmir, especially because a lot is expected this year in both domestic politics and on the Af-Pak front as US troops plan their withdrawal from the region.
The delegation also met LeT's Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and Hizbul Mujahideen's Syed Salahuddin, both wanted for terror attacks in India. Saeed is said to have made it clear that use of violence was the only way to resolve the Kashmir issue. However, sources said, they too gave the impression of "lying low" this year.
In contrast, the meetings with Pakistan's political parties were far more positive. Parties across the board impressed on the separatists that dialogue was the only way forward, indicating that Hurriyat too should invest in the effort. PML(N) leader and former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif told them that he had laid an excellent foundation for this through the Lahore Declaration in February 1999, but the Army under Gen Musharraf had sabotaged it by staging Kargil.
The most accommodating was cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan. He is believed to have told the delegation that they could frame their demands and give it to him, which he promised to reflect verbatim in his manifesto. In other words, he told the separatist leaders that their formulation would be his party's position
But the larger message was not lost on the Hurriyat leaders: no direct channel with the Indian government for, at least, a year. This, insiders said, has also got New Delhi thinking that there is more than what meets the eye in this election year for Pakistan. Kayani, it may be noted, also finishes his term in September this year.