In an atmosphere of internecine violence and deep-rooted pessimism, Dineshwar Sharma’s visit to the Valley unravelled along expected lines: The Hurriyat turned down offer of talks with Sharma while censuring BJP-led Centre for its aggressive K-policy. Will a reluctant New Delhi engage Islamabad in coming months or is Sharma bringing much more to the table when he returns to Kashmir next time?
The government of India’s representative to J&K, Dineshwar Sharma’s maiden visit to the Valley concluded on the expected lines: The separatists boycotted him, prominent trade bodies stayed away from any meetings, mainstream issued words of caution, punctuated by the betrayals of past, while ordinary people couldn’t care less.
To put up a show, it were some obscure and lesser-known delegations which met Sharma during his three-day stay in Srinagar, raising issues ranging from local governance to growing unemployment. The former spy held meetings with heads of various political parties as well while National Conference working president Omar Abdullah met him at his residence in “individual capacity”.
But the takeaway from Sharma’s visit to Kashmir is that he would be following the already treaded path on Kashmir: noting down the divergent political opinion ranging from seeking autonomy to self-rule. In Jammu, the discussions are expected to be around the “discrimination” meted out to the region. The challenge for Sharma and the government of India, however, remains the stand taken by the Hurriyat to not be part of the new initiative.
Talking to reporters on November 8, Sharma, who was in Kashmir a day ahead of the killing of Burhan Wani which put the region on fire last year, when asked by a reporter here whether he would go an extra mile to reach out to separatist leaders, said he would try his level best to meet them. “I will try my best,” he responded.
In a belated response to the talks offer, separatists have ruled out becoming part of any dialogue process with New Delhi’s interlocutor. They have called the offer as an “exercise in futility” and described the BJP-led Centre’s initiative as “nothing more than a time-buying tactic” due to “international pressure and regional compulsions”.
In their first formal response to the announcement made by Union home minister Rajnath Singh on October 23 that Sharma would hold sustained dialogue with all stakeholders in the state, separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik questioned how New Delhi would address or engage with Kashmiri people’s “political will and aspiration of self-determination” when it even rejected the autonomy guaranteed under the constitution.
“In principle, the pro-freedom leadership has always advocated and supported sincere and productive dialogue as a means of conflict resolution over Jammu and Kashmir. It entails all participants to acknowledge that there is a dispute that has to be resolved. But the GoI continuously refuses to accept this basic premise,” the separatists said in a joint statement, hardening their stance.
A senior separatist leader said the announcement of talks at an internal level was “provisional and lopsided effort” which, according to him, won’t yield any result till Pakistan was not taken on board.
“This initiative will never get us anywhere. It has never happened in the past, it will never happen in the future either. You are probably ploughing a field to sow seeds which never will grow into plants…,” the separatist said, emphasizing that taking Pakistan onboard was a must for a permanent solution to long pending Kashmir problem.
“You can’t leave Pakistan out. I have no misgivings about that. This (taking Pakistan onboard) is the only way a solution to the larger Kashmir problem can be found out,” the separatist leader said. “The dialogue should be ideally held simultaneously among the three parties to the dispute including India, Pakistan and Kashmiris”.
The separatists have referred to the government of India’s initiatives in the past to appoint interlocutors and said that such exercises have yielded nothing. The first attempt at a dialogue begun soon after the militancy erupted in 1990, when an all-party delegation led by Rajiv Gandhi, visited Kashmir in March 1990. This visit was followed by at least two attempts by New Delhi to engage separatists and militants through back-channel initiatives but in vain.
The first formal effort by New Delhi for a dialogue was made in April 2001 when former union minister KC Pant was appointed as New Delhi’s first official interlocutor to hold talks. While Hurriyat Conference refused to meet him, Pant met separatist leader Shabir Shah who wasn’t part of the Hurriyat then. The initiative was shelved in 2002 without any breakthrough.
The same year, noted lawyer Ram Jethmalan-led eight-member Kashmir Committee took birth in August 2002 to open informal communication channels with separatists. The other members of the committee were Supreme Court advocate Ashok Bhan, former law minister Shanti Bhushan, journalists Dileep Padgaonkar and MJ Akbar, retired Indian Foreign Service officer VK Grover and eminent jurist Fali Nariman.
Failing to make any headway, the panel was replaced by current governor NN Vohra (a former home secretary) in February 2003. The initiative too didn’t yield any results as separatists insisted that they will not talk to anybody other than the Prime Minister.
The appointment of senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley as New Delhi’s point-man on Kashmir and involving former RAW chief AS Dulat also failed to bring forth any results. The decision of the separatists to stay away from the Round Table conference announced by then Congress-led UPA government in 2002, arguing that all stakeholders should be involved, ultimately saw the initiative dying its own death.
Years later, in 2010, following the killing of over 120 civilians in forces’ action during the months-long uprising, the government of India appointed three interlocutors—Dilip Padgaonkar, MM Ansari, and Prof Radha Kumar—to suggest a roadmap for resolving Kashmir. Though the team submitted a detailed report after holding a series of meetings with people, the report was never acted upon, with both the Congress-led UPA-II and the incumbent BJP led government at New Delhi ignoring its recommendations.
“You (the Centre) have been talking on Kashmir but what did you get out of it. Kashmir is an issue between India and Pakistan; they fought wars on Kashmir; they signed agreements; their armies met in battlefields and then their leaders met in Tashkent, in Shimla, in Lahore, in Islamabad. Why? The government of India went to United Nations. Kashmir is a dispute no doubt about it but the solution to it lies in New Delhi and Islamabad and not in the streets of Srinagar, Jammu or Ladakh. Any engagement between the two nuclear countries is extremely likely to give the results,” said separatist leader Abdul Gani Bhat, adding Kashmiris have had to make sacrifices because of the India-Pakistan rivalry and they should be taken into confidence in the way that Pervez Musharaff and Atal Bihari Vajpayee did.
The fact that there has been no clarity on Sharma’s mandate and the contradicting statements from several Union ministers during the last week over the nature of his job have only added to the pessimism in the Valley. Political analyst Noor M Baba said the appointment of Sharma seems more to be “supplementing” the ongoing “military action” in Kashmir rather than a political initiative.
“Didn’t they [the separatists] talk to the government of India earlier? What did they gain out of it that time? Even a single prisoner wasn’t released that time,” he said, referring to talks held between Hurriyat and government of India earlier.
After his meeting with Sharma, Omar Abdullah said that he suggested to the interlocutor that he should widen the ambit of the dialogue process. “Staying at the guest house and waiting for the people to come to him wouldn’t work,” Omar said in reference to Sharma’s stay at Hari Niwas guest house after his arrival here. Coincidentally, the guest house used to be a notorious torture chamber during the peak days of insurgency in Kashmir.
At Hari Niwas, Sharma met delegations including members from one Modi Army and Rahul Gandhi’s Fan club. There were also delegation representing Auto Rickshaw drivers and travel agents.
Surely, Sharma and government of India need to do more to make the initiative credible and result oriented. The new representative has promised to come back but he should bring much more to the table when he returns.