By Syed Mujtaba
The idea of interlocutors is neither new nor a sure-fire solution. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has seen a succession of them over the past two decades, beginning with the visit of an all party delegation led by Rajiv Gandhi in March 1990 at the beginning of the militancy. Balraj Puri and Dr Karan Singh also participated in some initiatives to bring a settlement but they bowed out soon.
While there were a number of political initiatives during the 1990s, the first major attempt at a political dialogue was initiated only in April 2001, when the central government appointed former Union Minister KC Pant as its interlocutor for peace talks with Kashmiris. This was a follow up to the initiative by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had led an all-party delegation to the Valley in August 2000 to garner an impression of ground realities in that state. Pant’s mission, however, was a non-starter because the Hurriyat Conference insisted that there could be no negotiations without the involvement of Pakistan. The real reason for Pant’s failure was Islamabad’s desire to be included in the talks and its refusal to allow New Delhi to work out any agreement directly with Kashmiri politicians. Pant’s mission was wound up in 2002 without achieving anything.
In 2002, the so called Kashmir Committee was formed under the leadership of Ram Jethmalani. The committee did manage to hold talks with the separatist leadership but nothing eventually came of it or its recommendations.
In 2003, the BJP led government in New Delhi took two initiatives towards finding a solution. It first appointed former Home Secretary, NN Vohra, in February of that year as a sort of interlocutor on Kashmir. His brief was, however, vague and the government did not seem to have a clear roadmap. Vohra managed to get the moderates in the Hurriyat to meet and initiate a dialogue with the then Home Minister, LK Advani, who in the end could offer no concession and the stalemate continued. Subsequently, in July, the government appointed senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley to engage with the Kashmir Government and various political parties in the Valley. Jaitley held some meetings but could not come up with any solution acceptable to any political party. After that, a couple of other interlocutors – including former RAW chief, AS Dulat and the late journalist, RK Mishra – tried their hand at starting a dialogue but they were equally unsuccessful.
The first major initiative on Kashmir was the ‘Round Table Conference’ announced by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, on 25 February 2006. All Kashmiri mainstream political parties welcomed the move but added that all shades of opinion should be included to make the roundtable a success. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the Hurriyat Conference, welcomed the conference initially and Shabir Shah too hinted that he might come.
In early December 2010, Home Minister, P Chidambaram, said that the “contours of a political solution” to the Kashmir problem should emerge over the next few months. The separatists continued to stay away from the meetings. Earlier, separatist strongman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, slammed the appointment of the interlocutors as a “dirty trick” played by New Delhi to deceive US President Barack Obama. He continued to maintain that there was no point in discussing anything with the interlocutors, unless the Indian Prime Minister first accepted his five points: “Accept Kashmir as disputed territory; demilitarise Kashmir; release political prisoners; prosecute all security forces personnel responsible for the killings of 112 persons during the summer of unrest; and revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.”
In their final report, Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar, and former information commissioner, M.M. Ansari, had urged the Centre to reduce the army’s visibility, urgently address human rights violations, review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the forces powers without corresponding accountability, and lift the Disturbed Areas Act. But the same recommendations were never put before parliament for discussion nor for debate.
The concerned citizens’ group, led by Yashwant Sinha, has been active since 2016. The extent to which they had any kind of official backing or sponsorship is not clear. Their observations and remarks on the Kashmir situation have been trenchant and against the grain of official policy.
In a recent bid to find a solution, the Narendra Modi government has appointed former Intelligence Bureau director, Dineshwar Sharma, as the interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir. There seems to be considerable confusion regarding the mandate given to interlocutor, whether he is a POLITICAL negotiator or he is in Kashmir only to listen to all shades of opinion and offer suggestions to the Home Minister. As Dineshwar Sharma’s visit to the Valley commences, Hurriyat Conference, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has already claimed that an official of the state government approached them for facilitating a meeting of the separatist leader with the Centre’s special representative. The outfit claimed that its leaders would not meet the Centre’s special representative for Kashmir. “A state representative, on the intervening night of November 4 and 5, expressed desire to meet the Hurriyat chairman to facilitate his meeting with the designate interlocutor,” said Hurriyat and added that “forced negotiations” have no political or moral justifications. “We reject the dialogue offer…It is mere rhetoric and wastage of time and no section of Hurriyat or group will meet designate interlocutor or participate in this futile exercise.”
As the Government of India decides to restart dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir, the best instrument of dialogue would be the expression of their choice through a ‘vote’. India and Pakistan need to enter into a dialogue on the future of Jammu and Kashmir and the people of the State would have to participate in this dialogue through their vote supervised by the United Nations. The people of Kashmir have no other fair and reliable means of entering into any dialogue with India, except through a free and fair plebiscite. The process has been duly crafted by the United Nations and the two countries have accepted the forma. The appointment of former Intelligence Bureau chief, Dineshwar Sharma, as New Delhi’s new interlocutor, is dubious and without any merit. Kashmir is not an administrative or a security problem that could be entrusted to an intelligence officer.
Syed Mujtaba is a world columnist club member and could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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