Hunched against the bitter December cold, as he walked home alone from Friday evening prayers at his local mosque, it is unlikely that Fazal Haq Qureshi saw the man who fired the shot that shattered his skull. Mr. Qureshi was, however, well aware that death would stalk his journey along the road to peace in Jammu and Kashmir. The veteran secessionist leader, who was playing a key behind-the-scene role in the ongoing secret dialogue between the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, had seen many of his closest friends pay the price for walking that path. APHC chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s father, Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, was assassinated in 1990 for trying to end the violence that had torn the State apart. Pro-dialogue Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Abdul Majid Dar was assassinated by his one-time comrades in 2003. A year later, the Hurriyat’s most vocal peacemaker, Abdul Gani Lone, was murdered by a Lashkar-e-Taiba hit squad.
New Delhi and the APHC must do all they can to make the sacrifices of the doves worthwhile. The odds against success, it is evident, are enormous. In the wake of the Kargil war, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee initiated an ambitious effort to make peace with secessionist groups in the State. Later, after the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan military crisis, both countries renewed their peace efforts. Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf ensured jihadist infiltration across the Line of Control was scaled back; in turn, India opened dialogue with the APHC. In 2006, envoys representing the two governments agreed to shape a resolution of the conflict on the basis of five mutually-acceptable principles. But General Musharraf’s political position had deteriorated by this time, making it impossible for him to sell the deal to Pakistan’s military. Islamabad’s reluctance to be seen as compromising on Kashmir at a time when it is engaged in an unpopular war at home has made further progress on the ‘five principles’ deal difficult. Mindful of the imperative to move towards a solution in Kashmir, New Delhi has begun a quiet dialogue with the Hurriyat. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar hope that their secret dialogue will help craft a consensus around the five principles within Jammu and Kashmir, and thus put pressure on Pakistan to move forward. The attempt to assassinate Mr. Qureshi was obviously to warn moderate leaders to stay away from talks with New Delhi. New Delhi and the APHC must not waver and must stay the course. It is imperative that the murderous conflict that has claimed thousands of lives be ended soon and peace allowed to return to the Kashmir Valley.