(For any dialogue to succeed the primary requirement is a conducive environment. One cannot ask somebody to talk by holding a gun to his temple!)
It is a very welcome initiative from Government of India to hold talks with all stake holders in Kashmir to resolve the basic problem and bring peace to the area. Kashmir problem has been hanging fire for a just and equitable solution for last 70 years. It has not only been a disaster for the local people but has caused immense damage to the whole sub-continent by diversion of valuable funds urgently needed for the welfare of the poor people, towards mutual war efforts. Apart from outright major wars, the two neighbouring countries have been fighting proxy wars with Kashmir being the main theatre of operations. Kashmiris have been virtually turned into guinea pigs for testing the two conflicting ideologies. Not only have Kashmiris suffered physically, economically but also mentally. According to “Doctors without Borders” almost every second Kashmiri is suffering from psychological problems including traumatic disorders.
The new generation of Kashmiris has become totally irreconcilable to the status quo and want a change. They are not under the control of any leadership and now constitute 60% of the population. Thus when declaring that the Government representative is going to talk to all stakeholders, the biggest ones are the youth representing the majority of the population. Let us hope the interlocutor is able to find a way to talk to this generation.
For starting a dialogue one needs a conducive and a peaceful atmosphere. For quite some time Kashmir is not in an environment of peace and tranquillity. Firstly, most of the fundamental rights including even the right to life remain suspended! (Example is AFSPA) Every nook and corner has presence of armed troops whether regular or paramilitary. Even foreign journalists have remarked that Kashmir is at present the most militarised place in the world! Cordon and search operations are going on for suspected militants on a continuous basis throughout the valley. In fact, the Chief of the Army has declared that process of dialogue through the interlocutor is not going to affect the military operations and these are going to continue without any break. There appears to be strange dichotomy in the approach of New Delhi to the present volatile situation in Kashmir. Some of the opposition leaders have characterised the appointment of the interlocutor and starting of a dialogue as “diversionary tactics”! A.G. Noorani terms it “The Kashmir Ruse”! The basis for this observation could be the earlier such attempts for reconciliation and dialogue which have unfortunately all been unsuccessful due to lack of sincerity in approach.
There is no change in the response of the leaders presently heading the movement for “Azadi”! They have rejected the dialogue offer calling it time buying tactics. Earlier they used to demand admission of the existence of a dispute about Kashmir by Government of India before any dialogue. Additionally, it has been often given out by the leaders of the local movement that Pakistan has to be a party to the dialogue. Now, they seem to be totallyunreconciled for any dialogue. This shows that they are under tremendous pressure and do not want to climb down from their extreme position due to the strong sentiments of the youth and the contradictory statements of BJP leaders. Normally, any offer of unconditional dialogue with all stakeholders needs to be given a try if a climate for the same is created by ending repression.
There have been observations by some people regarding the assigning the job of an interlocutor to a former intelligence officer. Many have opined that the task should have been assigned to an upright politician of some standing. Normally, political disputes are best sorted out by politicians rather than intelligence men. However, it is also true that an intelligence officer would be in a better position to know the actual ground situation and who is who of the whole movement especially in a place like Kashmir teeming with intelligence agencies! However as already said, the main catch is the conducive situation. People have to feel that the offer of talks is genuine and the Government of India is really interested in peace. This can be judged only if all the repression is ended. One cannot claim sincerity for peace when a gun is held to ones temple. All restrictions need to be withdrawn. There should be total freedom of expression. Detained people being slapped PSA after PSA need to be released. Cordon and search operations should be halted. Forces presence especially in civilian areas must be decreased. They should be sent back to barracks. Draconian legislations need to be withdrawn. An atmosphere of freedom rather than of fear needs to be established. This is a pre-requisite for any meaningful dialogue intended to bring in peace. Otherwise the whole exercise, as termed by many intellectuals and leaders, is a diversionary tactic for firefighting and not for removing the cause of the fire!
A journalist friend from Chennai has written an article about the dialogue offer stating, “As a flag-waving Hindu nationalist, Modi is in a better position than anyone around to push for a settlement of both the internal and external aspects of the Kashmir problem. But can he display the level of statesmanship it calls for?” Let us hope he does!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir