Dialogue on cards on Kashmir? Why it would be difficult to get Hurriyat on board
On Sunday, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti made an impassioned appeal to separatist groups in Kashmir to join dialogue with the Centre. Taken at its face value, her line of argument was persuasive: “Today you have an offer of dialogue. Centre is saying come and talk to us. Such an opportunity doesn’t come everyday,” she said in her address to the party workers in Srinagar.
“We always say that there has to be a political solution to Jammu and Kashmir. The Army or CRPF or police cannot resolve it… There is an offer of dialogue, I request all stakeholders to come forward to save Jammu and Kashmir and its economy.”
But the following day, separatists in their response had nothing but contempt for her. They regard mainstream leaders as “pro-India” and therefore a part of the problem in Kashmir. Besides, separatists don’t think that the mainstream leaders have the agency to make a policy statement on behalf of the government of India and hence such statements are mostly ignored, if not derided right away.
But they do lend their ears to what the Centre has to say and so respond in all seriousness. For example, in their response to the recent chorus of noises about the dialogue from New Delhi, the top separatist trio of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik expressed their readiness to talk provided Centre removes the “ambiguity” in its stance towards Kashmir.
The ambiguity that is sought to be cleared are “the contradictions” in New Delhi’s position on talks: “While Mr Rajnath Singh says there should be dialogue with both Kashmir and Pakistan, he also says that both Kashmir and Kashmiris belong in India. Sushma Swaraj says no talks with Pakistan unless terror is stopped,” the statement issued by the trio said. “All this ambiguity leaves little room for us to consider talks for the sake of talks. Only talks for the resolution of the problem in Kashmir warrant a response.”
To paraphrase the separatist view of the dialogue with the Centre, they want four things: one, a formal extension of the talks offer; two, a dialogue without the requirement of its being held within the ambit of the Constitution; third, a process geared exclusively to the resolution of Kashmir issue; and fourth, involvement of Pakistan in talks.
Their rationale for Pakistan’s involvement goes like this: “As J&K is a divided territory and half of it is in Pakistan, this dispute has three stakeholders India, Pakistan, and people of this land. Meaningful talks based on a clear agenda underlined by a sincerity of purpose among the three stakeholders is an assured and peaceful way to resolve the conflict of Kashmir in all its forms and dimensions.”
“We are only being realistic. If there has to be a dialogue, it has to be for the resolution of the basic Kashmir issue. And it can only happen if the dialogue for it satisfies the conditions in which such a resolution can take place,” Mirwaiz says.
Mirwaiz as the head of a separate Hurriyat amalgam has earlier been a part of several rounds of dialogue with the Centre. First one, with the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was called an “institutionalised dialogue”. The process was carried over into the succeeding UPA regime but was discontinued when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to broaden the dialogue to include other “stakeholders” in the state. Hurriyat pulled out of the process, sore at being “downgraded as one among many political stakeholders in Kashmir”.
This was followed up with secret talks with the then home minister P Chidamabaram in 2009, which too was abandoned when it was exposed by a newspaper. Following this, a veteran member of the Mirwaiz faction Fazl-e-Haq Qureshi was shot at by unidentified gunmen and critically injured. Earlier, suspected militants have killed an uncle of Mirwaiz and burnt his family’s century-old school in Srinagar for talking to the centre in defiance of its opposition by the militant groups.
Now Mirwaiz, along with Geelani and Malik are a part of a united separatist front called Joint Resistance Leadership and this has made the separatist participation in dialogue even more difficult. Any decision to join talks has to be thus based on consensus among the three leaders. Geelani has the hardest and the maximalist line on the dialogue among the three and would never join a dialogue without a concrete agenda.
Hurriyat’s approach so far to talks has a wide social approval. On social media, the amalgam’s reiteration of its longstanding stance on an engagement with New Delhi has been largely welcomed by the people. Similarly, Mehbooba’s call for separatists to join dialogue has evoked derision.
“Government of India have deceived everybody in the name of dialogue. They gave nothing to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in Kashmir, Longawal in Punjab, Laldenga in Manipur, Asom Gana Parishad and so many other people,” posted one Shabir Ahmad on Facebook. “This is a political gimmick of India. Mahbooba also knows that but to remain in power and to defame Azadi sentiment she repeats (the call for) dialogue”.
The talk about the dialogue has also evoked some thoughtful commentary n the local press. “The Hurriyat’s response to the dialogue overture is reported to have been to ask for details to the contradictory statements by BJP leaders. But the Hurriyat must respond to the talk-of-talks with an eye at the long-term, theoretical if you will, reasons for the dispute over the J&K State,” wrote historian and the academic Siddiq Wahid in an article in Greater Kashmir. “In the past, the talks were about the symptoms of the occupation: political prisoners, human rights violations, Pakistan’s involvement or not, lack of cross LoC interaction and gender sensitive issues. But for the Hurriyat and all political action groups it is time to push for a truly dialogic political forum on the core, the crux, of the dispute”.
The situation as of now is thus uncertainly poised. Any fresh progress will depend on what the Centre has on its mind. Home Minister Rajnath Singh is slated to visit J&K on Eid to review the security situation in the state. The BJP itself wants an extension of the ceasefire beyond Ramadan. These are positive developments and show that the Centre is working to some plan on Kashmir. A dialogue with Hurriyat would be important to build on the potential gains from the ongoing ceasefire. But as it complexities would bear out, it would be a while before an engagement is instituted.