Post-1996, Mufti Sayeed rallied behind Indo-Pak relations and eventually created a political space for unionists in militancy-hit Kashmir. Though coming at the fag end of his political career, Mufti’s soft politics made him distinct from his opponents, reports Riyaz Ul Khaliq
Even the bed-ridden (now late) J&K’s chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was sensitive enough about the upshot of Pathankot attack. While the whole Kashmir was guessing of his well-being, he shot his statement of condemnation: “Such dastardly acts are aimed at creating uncertainty and derailing the peace process between India and Pakistan”.
That was Mufti Sayeed, who post-1996 cut an image of an ardent advocate of Indo-Pak relations. The new role began after staging comeback to state politics two decades ago. He gave the unionist politics a new narrative by stating that any government, a unionist one, will be successful in J&K only when India and Pakistan have good relations.
This was a clear departure from politics played by his nemesis Farooq Abdullah who might have lost the count of his statements wherein he “bombed” Pakistan for Kashmir problem. But, Mufti—the seasoned politician known for his calculated political manoeuvres, was cut from a different fabric.
Credited with opening of cross LoC bus service, first time since partition, in 2015, Mufti toured border areas of Jammu region, asserting that places like Suchetgarh will be opened, too. But, Mufti of 2015 was different, believes Prof Noor A Baba, a political commentator.
“The opening of borders is not a new thing,” he says, “it has been happening in West. In J&K’s case, the idea was generated by civil society, cross border intellectuals and track-II diplomacy.” Mufti’s first stint witnessed a “Himalayan” changes. Kashmir was just coming out of throes of decadal conflict. It was a best opportunity for the politician of Mufti’s stature to strike a change. “What equally comforted the people was his healing touch doctrine,” says a Srinagar-based scribe. “It was his game. And unlike his fellow unionists, Mufti made it a point that Pakistan needed to be engaged.”
Mufti’s coming into J&K politics actually provided the space to unionists, continues Baba. “His slogan,” he says, “Goli say Nahi, Boli Say changed the narrative of unionist politics here.” What led to this change was Mufti’s Pakistan mantra. “What Mufti did was—he started calling Pakistan as stakeholder and a must to ensure stable J&K,” says Baba.
But, Sidiq Wahid, an academician-commentator believes Mufti’s Pakistan bogey wasn’t possible sans “New Delhi’s generosity”.
“Obviously,” he says, “this (Mufti’s call for Pakistan engagement) needed synergy between Delhi and him.” Wahid says that Mufti was successful in opening of the borders and “that is what all stakeholders want”.
Mufti took the step and facilitated the opening of Muzaffarabad route, he says, started cross LoC trade besides rehabilitating Pak trainees. “But the question remains whether these steps were successful?” Wahid asks.
A “strong” advocate of Indo-Pak bonhomie, Mufti’s politics post-2000 focused on dialogue. It was in his tenure that government of India officially invited All Parties Hurriyat Conference for bilateral engagement which was positively responded by a faction, too. “Surely, it was on his insistence that Hurriyat Conference needed to be engaged that GoI started negotiation, however, they failed,” the scribe says.
Mufti’s masterstroke was his belief on soft politics—the emerging negotiating medium between opponents worldwide. “You see,” Prof Baba says, “unlike Farooq Abdullah who out rightly rejected Pakistan and Hurriyat Conference, Mufti adopted the soft power and facilitated people-to-people engagements, trade. That’s way he was successful.”
Even Mufti’s classmate and Hurriyat Conference (m) executive member, Prof Abdul Gani Bhat says despite political and ideological differences, Mufti was for peace and friendship between Indian and Pakistan. “And he played a key role in his life to promote friendly relations between these two hostile countries,” he says.
But in his second stint as CM lasting for over nine months, Mufti wasn’t at his fluent best to recreate his 2002-05 ‘magic’. But the man who thanked Pakistan besides separatists and militants soon after his oath ceremony wasn’t all hushed up. There was “Mufti hand” behind Modi’s latest surprise visit to Pakistan, a report suggests. “It was Mufti’s an hour long meeting with PM Modi in October that was one of the reasons why such a meeting happened.”
Ess Ahmad Pirzada, a commentator who writes on separatist politics of J&K, says since Pakistan has always been “beloved” to Kashmiris—and this where Mufti, known for witty politics, stepped in. “His disbanding of SOG, Ikhwan and ensuring corruption free governance gave people something new,” he says. “More so, when he talked Pakistan as being stakeholder, he made his space into public domain.”
Pirzada claims that Delhi needed someone to legitimise its claim again on Kashmir. “And Mufti proved to be best man,” he says. “Nineties was plagued by excesses unleashed by NC. It was then Delhi brought Mufti to clean it to empower Delhi, once again.”