Once Again

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In the midst of Doval doctrine, BJP identified the “right moment” to engage with Kashmir politically. As Dineshwar Sharma,  a man from the security apparatus landed in Kashmir, he had a baggage of  his predecessors to fight with. Tasavur Mushtaq details his five day visit in an effort to explore why the response was distinctly different

As the routine bored the boy, goes a Kashmir folk tale, he cried aloud: “Wolf, Wolf, the wolf is taking away a lamb.” There was instant response from the farmers working in the fields. “Where is the wolf?”The boy laughed and replied: “It was just a fun. Now get going all of you”.

In next many days, the boy played the same trick. He continued to get response till it was established the boy is lying. One day, wolf came and took him away. He cried butnobody came to his rescue.

 The Parallels

After 112 civilians, mostly teenagers, were killed and 3000 others injured in the 2010 uprising, the UPA government in Delhi had a late autumn announcement on October 13, 2010: “three interlocutors chosen for J&K to hold sustained dialogue with all sections of the people in Jammu and Kashmir.”The announcement came from the then home minister P Chidambaram.The trio comprised DilipPadgaonkar, M. Ansari and Prof Radha Kumar.

Before formalizing the process, Chidambaram led an all-party parliamentary delegation (APD) to Srinagar and Jammu on September 20 and 21. The aim as revealed by Chidambaram was “to move forward on the path of finding a solution to the problem.”

However, report of the trio gathers dust and their leader DilipPadgaonkaris no more.

On October 23, 2017, seven years later after the three interlocutors started to “find the path”, government in Delhi, this time led by BJP, appointed a new Kashmir point-man, Dineshwar Sharma to “hold sustained dialogue” with people of J&K. It followed a year after more than 95 civilianswere killed in 2016 unrest, triggered by BurhanWani’s killing in July, as around 15000 people survived with injuries, mostly with pellets.

The announcement again came from the Home Minister,this time by the incumbent,Rajnath Singh, BJP’s senior leader. Singh made this declaration over a month after he announced that the government would seek a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem by following a policy of 5Cs – compassion, communication, coexistence, confidence-building and consistency.

Like his predecessor, Rajnath too visited both capital cities prior to the announcement. The only difference this time was “Sharma is a centre’s representative, a security man and has asked for legitimate aspirations.”

On both the occasions the mandate seems to be same. As Chidambaram said in 2010 that there are no “red-lines” for the team of interlocutors, Rajnath this time said “Sharma has mandate to decide whom to talk to in J&K.”

Once his appointment was formalized, Sharma started talking in Delhi itself. “I am open to dialogue with everybody – all Indian citizens living in J&K,” Sharma said in Delhi.

Trying to strike a chord, Sharma, a former spy said “as far as I am concerned, I am emotionally attached to Kashmir, almost all the time is available for Kashmir.”“Solution” apart, Sharma is keen to address the “radicalization of youth” as he insisted “we have to save Kashmir from becoming Syria.”

And 10 days after his appointment, Sharma was extended Z-security cover, on the eve of his maiden landing in Srinagar. Prior to his visit, nothing was revealed about his plan. Durbar had already packed up and started resuming routine in Jammu, for the six-month stint. He was received by the divisional administration and escorted straightway to HariNiwas, erstwhile nerve centre of counter-insurgency, where many delegations met him.

When the statement was released officially in the evening of his first day visit, his audience included “Youth Sports Forum Qamarwari, City FM owner Tariq Bhat, Students Association Pattan, Youth Sports Fraternity, Gujar Association led by Peace Forum Ganderbal, Shikara Association and Youth Forum Kupwara.

On second 2, official records reveal many more delegations met Sharma. The prominent ones were PDP youth president Waheed Parra, Sanjay Saraf, J&K WattanPrast Party, Red Winter Youth organization, voice of youth, and many other individuals.

The day three, his last day in valley, Sharma came out of HariNiwas to meet unionists. He dropped atthe residences of former chief minister Omar Abdullah and state congress chief GA Mir and later met individual law makers and other political leaders. He flew to Jammu after having a cup of tea with Prof SaifuddinSoz.

The only news, other than a clear denial to the meeting, from separatist camp was that somebody from the government had gone to knock at the doors of Syed Ali Geelani. As claimed by the spokesman of Hurriyat (G), that the “state representative arrived during the intervening night of November 4 and 5, and expressed his desire to meet Geelani to facilitate his meeting with designate interlocutor”.

In a brief informal talk with media, Sharma said, “I will speak to Hurriyat conference if they are willing to talk to me.” Though that did not materialize owing to “rejection” call from the separatist camp.

Omar Abdllah, who had a brief close door meeting with Sharma said “centre is responsible for the cold response to him because Delhi made his task “difficult.”Responding to “legitimate aspirations” statement, Omar said “the legitimate aspirations of people of J&K is an interesting formulation. Who gets to decide what is legitimate?”

“Fighting militants is part of security strategy,”a senior police official told Kashmir Life, “but using the same mechanism to deal with public anger on the streets had its own fallouts.” He said dialogue, however, continues to be the only plausible solution.

 The Contradictions

After being in power for over three years now, BJP led government in Delhi felt a need to have a political engagement. A deviation from “no talks” to “talks with all stakeholders”, they finally appointed a man with security background. Sharma’s intelligence background is seen as a questionable qualification for him as an interlocutor. Official circles, however, believe otherwise.

Sharma’s appointment was a landmark development in the governance structure but seemingly, therewas no synchronization at multiple levels. It led to a series of doublespeak.

With 24 hours after the appointmentof “centre’s representative”, army chief BipinRawat said it will not impact army operations. “The government has appointed him. Let him work. His appointment is not going to affect Army Operations,” Rawat said.Then he wenta step further: “Union government’s strategy on Kashmir has worked” and “India was negotiating from a point of strength.”

While PDP welcomed Sharma, the“interlocutor”, its ally, BJP gave it a different spin by term him as “centre’s representative.”

“The Government of India has appointed an officer. He is not an interlocutor,” DrJitendra Singh, anMoS in PMO, said. “Where does it say (he is an) interlocutor? In which order?”

Singh even denied the existence of Kashmir issue. “Kaunsavishey? Koi issue nahinhai (What issue? There is no such issue),” Singh said. “Jammu and Kashmir is like any of the other states of India.”The only issue to be addressed, he added, was how to get back areas of Kashmir under illegal occupation of Pakistan.

Creating another controversy and going against the Agenda of Alliance, the bible of the BJPDP alliance, Singh said: “no talks will be held with the Hurriyat leaders.”

 

The Experience

Kashmir is not new to dialogue. For most of the post-partition era, Kashmir has either been seeking a dialogue or actually sitting on negotiation table. With changing regimes, only the names have changed. The process stayed and had no results on the ground.

“I have very little expectations from this new interlocutor,” DrFarooq Abdullah, National Conference, recently re-elected president, said. “Like it was done before, he will come, meet people and that will be it.”

Justifying his argument, Dr Abdullah referred to earlier processes of interlocution. “In 2010, then UPA government appointed a group of interlocutors who visited the state and had detailed discussions with every section here,” he said. “Why can not there report be dusted and seen first?”

Kashmir has seen succession of interlocutors in past three decades. The first one was APD led by Rajiv Gandhi in March 1990. After this there were many underlying efforts to “break the ice,” said an official working with central government.

With change in regime in Delhi, former Prime Minister AtalBihari Vajpayee, who is reference for a soft approach among Kashmir politicians, both unionists and separatists, flew to Srinagar and made that historic peacemaking speech in August 2000. The follow up was done by KC Pant in April 2001 and the process was wound up in 2002.  The same year saw new man Ram Jethmalani under Kashmir Committee banner. Though Jethmalani managed to hold talks with separatist leadership, but again nothing came out of it.

The next year 2003, BJP appointed N NVohra, the present governor of state to initiate dialogue. Vohra, a former bureaucrat managed to get moderate separatist to meet LKAdvani, the then home minister. With no concessions offered, the impasse sustained. Few months later, current Finance Minister ArunJaitley was engaged to talk, but it was brief stint with no results. Later former RAW chief A S Dulat and journalist R K Mishra too had their hand, but were again failures.

With change in regime in Delhi again, congress led UPA government had a roundtable conference in February 2006. It led to the setting up of five Working Groups led by eminent person and experts. All the groups completed their job within the time frames they got. Reports were submitted but not discussed at the appropriate levels. Now they are consideredas good as forgotten.

In 2010 when Chidambaram announced the process of dialogue, it was believed that solution is at hand as he said that the “contours of a political solution to the Kashmir problem should emerge over the next few months.”

Chidambaram’s optimism had first reaction from Syed Ali Geelani when the octogenarian termed it as a “dirty trick.” He put forward his conditions of 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”. The conditions were neither debated nor discussed.

Aimed at restoring normalcy, it took three interlocutors a year to complete the process and compile a report and finally submitted it on October 12, 2011. The official records suggest that 700 delegations met the interlocutors. The report has many suggestions, but none of the suggestions saw the light of day.

The 2016 crisis witnessed BJP’s old hand YashwantSinhaget involved into Kashmir. Leading the Concerned Citizens Group, Sinha met people across ideologies. He compiled his report after multiple visits. “India has lost people of the valley emotionally,”Sinha told a media group after he failed to meet the Prime Minister NarendraModi, even after seeking an appointment.

“Kashmiri leaders wanted more than what New Delhi would offer. There was no meeting point. Talks covered the gamut of problems. But the two sides were so distant from each other that the dialogue would not go very far,” veteran journalist and keen Kashmir watcher KuldipNayar wrote. “I have visited Srinagar as an interlocutor many a time but I could not offer anything close to what they wanted.”

The Fate of Process

Prior to his arrival in valley, the joint separatist leadership rejected any possibility of engaging with Delhi’s point man. Terming his appointment as “new tactic”, they said “to be part of this so-called dialogue process would be a futile exercise for any Kashmiri since this new tactic has been adopted by the Indian government after its failure to crush the aspirations of the freedom loving people through military repression.” However they said “Our stand on dialogue requires the basic acknowledgment that there is a dispute that has to be resolved.”

Separatists apart, this time even unionists were feeling low over the announcement. The past memories have shadowed the hope, said a student of Kashmir University.

The ruling coalition partner PDP itself understands that there is “trust deficit.” When party Vice President Sartaj Madni led the delegation to meet Sharma on day three, he expressed hope that the exercise undertaken will culminate into meaningful and tangible outcome, despite difficulties. Madni is quoted to have told Sharma that “dialogue process should be seen as a sincere and honest effort to address issues than a mere response to violence.”

A senior PDP leader showed his disappointment over the appointment. He saidthey have conveyed thisto Sharma in most appropriate words. “What is fun in talking to mainstream parties? We do not challenge the state’s accession to the union, so the talks will have to be with those who see India as an occupier, the separatists.”

The surprising statement came from the erstwhile interlocutor Radha Kumar. While raising apprehensions, she said the centre’s stand of only looking at what it considers to be ‘legitimate aspirations’ will ‘kill the dialogue even before starting it’.

“If the government says it is going to decide what is legitimate and what is not, what aspirations are and aren’t, it is killing the dialogue even before starting it,” Kumar told media in Delhi. “Rajnath Singh’s choice of words had put dialogue process on precarious grounds.”

The exclusion of Pakistan makes the process uninviting, said a Srinagar based political reporter. “For any dialogue process to be meaningful and result-oriented, it has to include the three main parties – India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris,”Pakistan’s foreign spokesperson Nafees Zakaria, insisted. But Delhi is unwilling to see Pakistan’s role, albeit officially.

The visits

After announcing the names of three interlocutors in 2010, Chidambaram attested credibility to their names by saying that they were public personalities with “a good track record”. During their visits, the trio assured people that “we have got the assurance from the government on implementing the solution.”

Seven years later, as already one of themhas died, the report is gathering dust along with earlier reports submitted by working groups and individual interlocutors in last many decades.

But as Kashmir streets whisper this time, there is little credibility left for the people engaged to talk for arriving at a “solution” as Delhi’s reputation in Jammu and Kashmir is severely dented.YashwantSinha, put his experiences aptly: “you just have to visit the valley to realise that they have lost faith in us.”

“If India negates what their prime minister JawaharLal Nehru promised us publicly in Srinagar, how can we believe that closed door meetings of some official who has security past be fruitful,” asked Mushtaq Ahmad, a retired government officer. “Had there been a solution in their mind, it would have been implemented long ago – we would not have had to wait 70 years for it.”

Sharma is known as “gentleman spy”. He has promised to “study the previous reports.” But his maiden visit to Kashmir did not invoke much enthusiasm. Before taking off for Jammu, Sharma was “hopeful” about his job. But he has to fight the negativity of the baggage of his predecessors. He was aware of it when he said: “I do not have a magic wand but my efforts have to be judged with sincerity and not through the prism of the past.”

An entrant to valley as assistant director of Intelligence Bureau in 1992, Sharma 25 years later, has a tough task at hand and it remains to be seen the contours of talks he undertakes.

Has the stick done its part and will the carrot work now? As said by a middle rung police officer, “the Doval doctrine has reached a dead end.” Really?

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