New pointman on Kashmir

  • Publish Date: Nov 6 2017 2:42AM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 6 2017 2:42AM
New pointman on Kashmir
Talking to separatists will be the key
The appointment of the former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as the new interlocutor for Kashmir by the centre has come as a surprise in Kashmir. Fewer people expected the centre to start a political initiative in the light of its professed partiality for a hardline security centric approach towards the state. And also, there was little in New Delhi’s recent approach towards the state that could have signalled such an outcome
In May, in its response to the Supreme Court’s query on the matter, the centre had replied it would only talk to the recognized political parties in the state once the situation returned to normal and not to the separatists who operated outside the political system. But now the new interlocutor says he is not averse to talking to Hurriyat, should the latter choose to engage him. What is more, the dialogue is sought to be unconditional, meaning there will be no obligation on the part of the separatists to talk within the ambit of the constitution. 
According to the government the need for the talks arose as the situation in Kashmir has shown considerable improvement following the killings of a record number of 160 militants in the state. According to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley the centre has started the political initiative as the “terrorists are on the run”. But are they? While it is true that a large number of the militants were killed this year, the militancy continues to thrive. In recent past, militants have threatened the democratic system in the state by attacking the residences of the senior politicians and the political workers. Over the past five days, the houses of one former and two sitting legislators and three other political workers have been attacked.
Similarly, the appointment came significantly on the eve of the US Secretary of State Rex Tellerson’s maiden visit to South Asia. Tellerson who is now in the region is discussing a regional approach to the peace and stability in Afghanistan with India and Pakistan. So many in the country trace the appointment of Sharma a result of the US pressure.  
However, this quibbling over the motivation behind the appointment of Sharma hardly detracts from the significance of the political initiative. There is a hope that it could put Kashmir on the path to some kind of a resolution. At the same time, there is cynicism too. The move fits into an exasperatedly tried and failed pattern of the past outreaches to the state. Apparently, there is nothing in the initiative that makes it an improvement over the past initiatives. Only difference, albeit by no means redeeming, is the appointment of a former top intelligence official to the job.
Besides, there is so much that is unclear about his mandate. This is already creating a sense of de javu in Kashmir: Yet another interlocutor going through his predictable motions, preparing a much hyped report which nobody will implement. There are also questions that need answer. Would Sharma deal with the fundamental questions about the turmoil in the state? Would he engage with the separatist thought? As of now there are no answers to such questions.  True, he is going to hold consultations with diverse political, social and cultural organizations identified as the stakeholders but will that add up as an engagement.  Such questions have no convincing answer. 
Over the past year,  civil society and political delegations have visited Kashmir to institute an engagement with the dissident voices and the Kashmiri  civil society in the absence of a formal dialogue. First to visit was the Group of the Concerned Citizens headed by former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha. It was followed by the one headed by the Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer. And recently, a Congress delegation headed by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Valley to hold consultations with the  political and civil society groups.
Dr Singh chose to only listen and not issue any statement, nor talk to the media. But he struck a chord as a throwback to a time when New Delhi apparently tried to be sensitive if not accommodative  towards the issues facing the state. The past three years of the NDA-led rule in New Delhi have kept Kashmir on edge. Situation has gotten worse with the union government withholding any political outreach.
Past Initiatives
In past too, there have been many informal initiatives on Kashmir, most prominent of whom was the  Kashmir Committee led by the reputed lawyer and the BJP leader Ram Jethmalani. There were some occasional efforts by the  likes of R K Mishra, Wajahat Habibullah and the former Raw chief A S Dullat  However, their labours were more in the nature of knowing the mind of separatists and establishing a contact between the former and  the centre than developing an outline of a solution on their own. 
The centre has formally initiated three exercises over the one and a half decade where the people were charged with holding a dialogue with the various shades of opinion. in the state and set in process a motion towards some kind of a settlement. First such initiative was led by  K C Pant in  2001. Pant became  the centre’s first official interlocutor  on Kashmir . Hurriyat Conference – then undivided- however refused to meet him. Pant’s biggest success was a meeting with the major moderate separatist Shabir Shah, who then operated outside Hurriyat fold.
Pant was followed by the present J-K Governor  N N Vohra. He was appointed in 2003. Hurriyat refused to meet him, insisting they will not talk to any functionary from New Delhi less than Prime Minister. Vohra’s meetings in Kashmir followed the pattern of Pant. He met social organizations, ethnic groups and NGOs. However, initiative of Vohra who was later made J&K Governor was soon rendered irrelevant by the prevailing situation in Kashmir . The UPA government which took over in 2004 entirely jettisoned the institution of interlocutors, preferring first to deal directly with separatists and then ignoring them altogether. Last of the major initiatives was the appointment of the three interlocutors comprising Dr Dileep Padgaonkar, a noted journalist, Prof. M.M. Ansari, the then Information Commissioner and Prof. (Mrs) Radha Kumar, trustee, Delhi Policy Group. Hurriyat boycotted the group. The interlocutors held meetings with the diverse political, social and cultural groups over one year and produced a report. However, centre has since taken no steps to implement the report. 
The story of the interlocutors on Kashmir is a familiar one in Kashmir. All of them have followed a predictable trajectory before suddenly doing the vanishing act. It starts with the desperate need to find partners for the dialogue – with separatists invariably staying away feeling downgraded for being called to deal with New Delhi ’s low profile emissaries – and ends up with the events overtaking them and rendering them irrelevant to the evolving situation. This has happened with both, informally charged and the formally mandated point men.
One invariable feature that has led to the failure of the past interlocuting efforts is the absence of the contact with  separatists. Therefore the best thing that an individual or a group assigned with the onerous task of resolving the problem can do is to create a sustained engagement with the political groups - and if possible even militant groups - challenging New Delhi's writ in the state and try and achieve an understanding and possibly an agreement. Of course, with Islamabad on board. Every other activity only diverts us from this goal.