A Fruitless Visit

by Khursheed Wani

Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Kashmir in the penultimate week of the holy month of Ramzan amid a lot of speculation on extension of unilateral cessation of combat operations (UCCO) and a concrete roadmap for talks with the stakeholders especially the pro-freedom leadership. There were speculative reports that he might extend formal invitation to leaders of Hurriyat Conference or Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). The JRL did not call for a shutdown on Singh’s arrival, perhaps an unprecedented gesture. It reflected their positivity. Seemingly they were eager to see some forward movement on dialogue front. A week earlier, the separatist leaders had not categorically rejected Singh’s talks offer but only sought clarity on Delhi’s stance in wake of discordant voices on ceasefire and dialogue process, both with Hurriyat and Pakistan.

Rajnath did not rule out possibility of extending UCCO beyond the month of fasting thorough discussions in security review meetings. Apart from a drastic reduction in fatal casualties during three weeks of Ramzan, the extension is likely because less than two weeks after the culmination of the holy month, the annual Amarnath pilgrimage would take off for 50 days. The central government is concerned about the safe conduct of yearly Hindu pilgrimage because south Kashmir region is highly volatile. Last year, an audacious attack left 8 pilgrims dead and many wounded. In this backdrop, while describing Kashmriyat, Singh likened Hazratbal shrine with Amarnath to emphasize that conduct of peaceful Amarnath pilgrimage was a priority and people must ensure its safety for the sake of tolerant Kashmiri ethos.

On dialogue offer, Rajnath invoked Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Insaniyat, jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat and Narendra Modi’s Ref Fort clamour to embrace, not abuse Kashmiris. However, in essence, he did not give any hint that Delhi was contemplating to move an extra mile on dialogue front. He referred to Center’s special representative’s appointment as a serious development, completely ignoring the ground fact that his intervention and activity has proven to be a damp squib. Rajnath may emphasize that Dineshwar’s 11 visits to Jammu and Kashmir were not for sight-seeing but actually they did not prove to be anything more. During last winter, he delayed his Kashmir visit because snowfall evaded the region for quite long.

he separatist leadership has categorically rejected engagement with likes of Dineshwar Sharma for a valid reason. A decade and a half ago, a section of them has engaged with Delhi for several rounds of talks when the offer came from Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. How is it possible that the same people would engage at a much lower level? We have seen home secretary Kamal Panday arriving in Srinagar to hold talks with Hizbul Mujahideen commanders. Irrespective of what happened to those talks later, the process highlights that engagement was possible at a certain level. Dineshwar Sharma does not fit in that level. Over emphasizing on his interlocution indicates Delhi is not seriously pursuing the dialogue initiative. It wants to buy time, give a false notion of engagement and manage or prolong the conflict.

It was perhaps in this backdrop that Rajnath Singh, during his presser, devoted ample time to articulate his government’s newest efforts to strengthen the security grid in Jammu and Kashmir. From investment of hundreds of crores on building police infrastructure and acquiring high-end weapons, to massive recruitment of youngsters in police and central security forces, he demonstrated the long-term approach of his government. To top it all, he appeared to be more impressed by the convergence of hundreds of sportsmen in Srinagar at a function and inherent talent of the sports-persons belonging to the state.

It is a fact that separatists are not the lone or preeminent stakeholders of Kashmir issue. The other ideologies and political classes have equal stakes. I asked Rajnath Singh a pointed question that if his government was unwilling to talk to separatists, what is stopping the government to engage with pro-India parties for resolving certain issues of consequence between the Center and the state. The PDP is demanding return of power projects to the state and it has been inserted in the Agenda of Alliance document. The National Conference is demanding internal autonomy within the ambit of Indian constitution. Why the Center is not engaging with them on these specific issues. He parried answer to indicate that Centre was in no mood to touch sensitive political issues or alter the status quo. I don’t know whether Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was satisfied with this approach as Rajnath Singh claimed on her behalf.

The status quo-ist approach is unlikely to lead to any forward movement on Kashmir. Even if Delhi’s solution to Kashmir issue is annexing the Pakistan administered Kashmir with India, it is inherently demanding change in status quo. That would require military action or purposeful negotiations, which the government is incapable of initiating. The status quo suits it but it has the worst impact on the suffering people of Kashmir, the worst victims of the conflict. There seems to be no end to the tunnel. Or, in the words of a senior journalist late Dilip Padgaonkar, who too was consumed by the Kashmir conflict, there is no tunnel at all.


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