There may be a new point man on Kashmir, but Hurriyat is unlikely to take the bait
The appointment of a fresh interlocutor - former Director of Intelligence Bureau Dineshwar Sharma - has taken Kashmir by surprise. Fewer people expected the union government to come up with such an initiative in light of its hardline security centric approach towards the state.
However, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Opposition leader Omar Abdullah have welcomed the move, with the latter expressing readiness to “keep an open mind and wait to see results of the dialogue process”.
But separatists in the state have restrained from issuing a statement. Though the success of any interlocution hinges on the engagement with them, they have not yet taken the bait.
"We will meet and respond," said Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. "We have yet to get a complete sense of what is on the mind of Government of India and how it wants to pursue talks in the state."
A fresh start?
However, a senior separatist leader said the appointment of an interlocutor is in no way an improvement over the initiatives of the past and "on the contrary had further downgraded the nature of the outreach".
"It seems only the repackaging of the old initiatives on the state with a far smaller remit than the previous ones could boast of," said the leader. "How would it even begin to address the bigger questions about Kashmir?"
The leader indicated that the separatist groups are unlikely to engage the interlocutor "as it wouldn't serve any end" and reduces Hurriyat to “one of the hundreds of stakeholders in Kashmir”.
“Besides, how do we talk. Seventy percent of our leadership has been imprisoned in Tihar and Kot Balwal jails. Only few leaders are free,” he said. “Are talks held in such an environment? This is nothing but another tactic to buy time.”
Earlier, Hurriyat had boycotted the three-member group of interlocutors headed by the late Dileep Padgaonkar which was appointed by the UPA Government in 2010 following the extended unrest in which 120 Kashmiri youth lost their lives.
The group, which included Dr Radha Kumar and MM Ansari, held consultations with a large number of political and civil society organisations over one year and compiled a report recommending strengthening of Kashmir's autonomy and review of all the central laws extended to the state. However, the report found few takers in the government and has since been put into cold storage.
"So we have to start it all over again? Once again yet another interlocutor will come, hold meetings with diverse social and cultural groups identified as stakeholders, prepare a report only to be consigned to dustbin," said the columnist Naseer Ahmad . "I don't think this would make even the least difference in Kashmir".
As articulated by Naseer, the announcement of the new interlocutor has generated a deep sense of déjà vu in Kashmir. The move has met with an endemic cynicism.
“What happened to NN Vohra's report, PM's 5 Working Group reports, Autonomy Report, J&K Assembly's unanimously passed Greater Autonomy Resolution?” asked senior journalist Ahmed Ali Fayaz in a tweet. “What happened to Radha Kumar, Dileep Padgaonkar report? What happened to Sajad Lone's "Achievable Nationhood"? Who in #Kashmir trusts Delhi?”
The initiative is set to run into the familiar problems in Kashmir. Much like in the past, the separatists will stay out of it leaving Sharma to follow the lead of his predecessors and holds talks with insignificant organisations. Adding to the complications will be the narrower mandate of Sharma considering the BJP’s extreme integrationist outlook on Kashmir. And Hurriyat which represents the state’s separatist extreme will hardly like to be seen to engage with an interlocutor who has little to offer in response to their demand.
Already, in an interview to Catch, Mirwaiz said that any dialogue would have to include Pakistan.
“You can’t leave Pakistan out. This is the only way a solution to the larger Kashmir problem can be found out,” he said. “Such a dialogue should be ideally held simultaneously among the three parties to the dispute - India, Pakistan and Kashmiris. It can also be sequenced. First between New Delhi and Kashmiris or between New Delhi and Pakistan to be followed by the inclusion of the third party”.
Another complication introduced into the separatist response to any outreach from New Delhi is the adhoc unity among Syed Ali Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz. So, response to any invite for talks from the centre will have to be jointly decided by them. In past centre only talked to the Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz, something that was vehemently opposed by the Geelani group as a sell-out.
Timeline of the Centre's initiatives on Kashmir
In March 1990, late Rajiv Gandhi led the Centre's first political initiative on Kashmir by heading the first all-party delegation to the state. Gandhi was then in the opposition. Staying at Hotel Centaur on the banks of Dal Lake, the delegation had to face Azadi slogans from the shikarahs on the lake.
As minister for internal security, Rajesh Pilot visited the state several times to explore options for dialogue. He stressed minimising civilian deaths in the clashes between security forces and the militants. His efforts were people-centric calling for the redress of the public grievances and complaints against human rights violations.
In March 1996, the then Union Home Minister SB Chavan met a Forum for the Permanent Resolution of Jammu and Kashmir floated by four former militant commanders Firdos Ahmad Baba alias Babar Badar, Bilal Lodhi, Imran Rahi and Ghulam Mohiuddin Lone. This was the first such official contact between the Centre and separatist actors in the state. However, the initiative was seen as suspect and lacked credibility. The Hurriyat Conference also distanced itself from the contact, terming the initiative as Centre-sponsored.
Pant was appointed as the Centre’s first official interlocutor on Kashmir in April 2001. The Hurriyat Conference refused to meet him. Pant met separatist leader Shabir Shah – then operating outside Hurriyat fold - and the former J-K Chief Minister Mir Qasim.
The Committee, headed by reputed lawyer Ram Jethmalani, was formed in August 2002 to open an informal channel of communication with separatists. Supreme Court advocate Ashok Bhan was its convenor. Other members included former law minister Shanti Bhushan, then The Times of India editor Dileep Padgaonkar, freelance journalist Jawid Laiq, retired Indian Foreign Service officer V K Grover, eminent lawyer Fali Nariman and the then The Asian Age editor MJ Akbar.
Vohra replaced Pant as the new point man on Kashmir in February 2003. Like Pant, he also struggled to make a contact with Hurriyat leaders who insisted they would not talk to any functionary from New Delhi less than the Prime Minister.
Roundtable Dialogue and Working Groups
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched roundtable dialogue on Kashmir in 2006. Separatists declined to participate saying it degraded their position as the only genuine Kashmiri representatives. Three conferences were held in New Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu.
Singh later formed five working groups to deal with effective devolution of powers, bolstering ties across the Line of Control and steps to improve the condition of people hit by militancy in the state. In December 2009, the group headed by former supreme court judge Saghir Ahmad recommended autonomy for Kashmir.
Three-member group of interlocutors
In 2010, the Centre appointed Padgaonkar, MM Ansari, the then Information Commissioner and Prof (Mrs) Radha Kumar, trustee, Delhi Policy Group, as interlocutors to hold sustained dialogue with all sections of the people in Jammu and Kashmir. But as the Hurriyat boycotted the group, the interlocutors held meetings with other diverse political, social and cultural groups over a year and produced a report. However, the Centre has taken no steps to implement the report.