What led Geelani to soften his separatist stand?
Srinagar: Improving relations between India and Pakistan may have contributed to radical Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Geelani to take a fresh stand that has angered pro-Pakistan elements.
While insisting that he has not changed his stand on Jammu and Kashmir, Geelani has sparked much speculation by saying he would wait for a formal invitation for dialogue from the central government.
But, significantly, he has not set any preconditions for a possible dialogue with New Delhi, something which Geelani has shunned in the belief that talking to the Indian government is a sacrilege.
"Once a formal invitation is received, our Majlis-e-Shoura (assembly of elders) will deliberate on it," Geelani said last week while responding to media reports that New Delhi was proposing to talk to separatists.
Naturally, not everyone is happy.
The United Jehad Council (UJC), a conglomerate of militant outfits backed by Pakistan and based in Muzaffarabad, has warned Geelani not to talk to New Delhi. The group has also threatened to renew attacks if the talks take place.
"We can renew our attacks within a week as we have the capacity to strike against Indian security forces," Hizbul Mujahideen commander and UJC head Syed Sallahuddin said in a statement after reports of the dialogue surfaced.
A Geelani aide did not comment on the UJC threat but said: "We have the will and wisdom to decide what is in the best interests of the movement against Indian occupation (of Kashmir). Nobody should try to create an impression otherwise."
But across the Kashmir Valley, it has been noted that Geelani has not referred to any preconditions when asked to comment on a possible dialogue offer by New Delhi.
"Geelani knows better than anybody else that dialogue is the only way forward," said one political analyst who did not want to be identified by name because of the local sensitivities involved said.
"Though positions remain static on both sides, nobody can shy away from a dialogue process," said a local editor, who also did not wish to be identified.
Others said the prevailing peace in Jammu and Kashmir and the developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan may have led to separatists in Kashmir to think they should not miss a dialogue offer.
The apparent thaw in India-Pakistan relations, with New Delhi getting the Most Favoured Nation status from Islamabad, may also have contributed to Geelani`s seemingly fresh thinking.
"Pakistan and India cannot live in mutual mistrust. Geelani can see the new winds in South Asia. He cannot continue to be in isolation," remarked a ruling National Conference leader.
"It is perhaps (because of) this that Geelani does not want to be seen as an exclusivist," he added.
But has Geelani-who has favoured the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan-really changed his stand? Will New Delhi actually talk to the separatists? Are there cracks in the separatist camp? Is the most vocal anti-India separatist in the Kashmir Valley changing his stripes?
"We cannot be expected to cross a bridge before we reach it," said a close aide of the senior separatist leader, who too did not wish to be identified.
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