Now, Quiet Talks

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New Delhi has given a new dimension to dialogue with Kashmir separatists by introducing “quiet talks” or “quiet diplomacy”. Why did the previous dialogues fail and what are the separatists making out of the offer, HAROON MIRANI reports.

In a new twist to New Delhi’s reluctant dialogue with Kashmiri groups, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram coined a new term this week, as he announced a new policy – Quiet Diplomacy.

Chidambaram on his recent trip to Srinagar said that New Delhi would opt for a “quiet dialogue away from the glare of cameras,” with all shades of opinion, to find a unique solution to the Kashmir problem acceptable to almost everyone.

Asserting the seriousness of dialogue Chidambaram said, “The dialogue process will not be a photo-show. It will be a one to one and two on two meeting,” he said.

“We are not shying away from talks and we are not afraid of it,” Chidambaram said. “But talks cannot take place in the full glare of the media. It will be quiet diplomacy till we find broad contours of a political solution. Once it is arrived at, it will be made public.”

Chidambaram’s announcement comes as the moderate Hurriyat Conference was preparing for the resumption of their one to one talks with New Delhi.

The new dimension, like many earlier ones, has found its supporters and detractors as well. If on one side there are apprehensions that the secret talks will hide the identity of participants, topics of discussions and there will be no parameters to gauge the success of talks, on the other hand, it is felt that the talks outside the media scrutiny will be devoid of pulls and pressures.

The biggest apprehension is that people will not be able to know whether the talks are really being conducted. But the supporters of this process say that it will give it a serious touch and in the absence of media pressure, the talks might succeed.

Chairman All Parties Hurriyat Conference (M) Mirwaiz Omar Farooq says that quiet diplomacy will be beneficial in the longer run. “A quiet diplomacy is a useful tool and there are a number of places like the Middle East wherein 70’s and 80’s, this strategy was applied with effectiveness,” said Farooq.

There is a general feeling among the separatist ranks that there has been a change in Indian attitude during the last few months.

“It is for the first time that India has talked outside its traditional stand,” says Mirwaiz. “They are saying that the majority of people’s aspirations cannot be ignored and we need an honourable and a durable solution.”

Hurriyat sees the statements of union home minister and other such leaders as tacit acceptance by New Delhi that Kashmir is a bigger political problem and it needs a political resolution based on people’s views. “This is a golden chance and we need to utilise it,” says Mirwaiz.

Agenda and Time Frame

The separatist leaders are currently engaged in inter-party as well as intra-party talks to fine-tune the agenda for the dialogue process.

According to Mirwaiz, “Our primary agenda is the political resolution of Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of people.”

“Chidambaram has said that New Delhi is ready to listen to people of every shade of opinion so hopefully they will hold talks with other leaders too,” he further adds.

Hurriyat (M) has constituted a two-member committee for a dialogue with leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik and others. The committee comprises of senior separatist leader Fazl Haq Qureshi and Bilal Lone.

“If New Delhi wants to talk with all of us, we are trying to see whether we as a whole can reach to any consensus and project our point of view jointly before India,” said Mirwaiz.

Hurriyat hopes that once the talks get through, the confidence-building measures like the release of prisoners, repealing of laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) will make the environment more conducive.

“It should be a gradual process with indicators of change being exhibited as the time passes,” says Mirwaiz. Regarding the release of prisoners, Mirwaiz says, “We want the release of every Kashmiri prisoner, even if he is involved in the militancy-related incident because militancy too is the manifestation of our political problem.”

Unlike previous dialogue processes, Hurriyat has decided to set a time frame this time. “We will go with a time frame so that maybe after one or two years we will go before people with some solid change,” said Mirwaiz.

But separatists admit that the dialogue process will be a long tedious process and one need not expect any miraculous or quick results.

Previous experiences

The talks on Kashmir issue have been held for the last so many years. Hurriyat Conference too had its share of meetings with two prime ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. In both cases, there was no headway and talks failed. Senior Hurriyat leader and chairman People’s Political Front Fazal Haq Qureshi blames the non-serious approach of the government for the failure of talks. “That was a half-hearted effort and there was a lukewarm response,” said Qureshi. “There was no follow-up action so talks failed.”

Earlier this year Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had blamed Hurriyat leaders for not coming up with demands like the list of detainees. Qureshi says that it was a half-truth, “Actually there was an understanding that government of India will release detainees with not-so-serious offences to make the conducive atmosphere and then both Hurriyat and New Delhi will constitute committees for future actions. But the detainees were never released and neither GOI nor Hurriyat constituted any committee.”

Another senior Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Gani Bhat has a different viewpoint regarding the previous dialogue processes. “Actually there was no substantive dialogue process, it was just a symbolic kind of thing,” says Bhat. “In these meetings, we presented our viewpoint to them and they presented their viewpoint to us and that was it.”

Analysts feel that future talks may be helpful. According to Qureshi, “When talks happen in full media glare, sometimes the press statements of one party annoy the other and its stand stiffens. With the result talks fail.”

Qureshi says at least that kind of situation will not happen this time, “So one possible reason for talks becoming inconclusive will be gone.”

Rekha Choudhary, a political science professor at Jammu University agrees with the claim. “In Ireland, it took years in background talks and quiet diplomacy before they reached common ground,” says Choudhary. “The same success can be replicated here.”

Choudhary dispels the fears that doubts will linger on people’s minds during these talks. “Of course there will be doubts but ultimately both GOI and separatists will have to come with the resolution before the public, press and opposite parties, because without that there can be no acceptable solution,” said Choudhary. “GOI too has to announce the decision to take in confidence the opposition parties as well as the general public.”

Is India changing

In the press conference when P Chidambaram was asked whether India still considered Kashmir as its ‘Atoot Ang’ or integral part, at first he was shocked but then recovered quickly. As everybody expected him to repeat the statement in a big yes, Chidambaram took a surprising stance by declining to endorse or denying the statement.

Acknowledging that there was a “problem” in J-K, Chidambaram said, “I won’t go into verbal gymnastics on the dialogue issue, but the effort will be made to find a political solution after consulting every shade of political opinion.”  The solution could be “unique” given the history and the geography of the state, he said.

“There is a change in India and reality is beginning to dawn on them,” says Mirwaiz.

According to Qureshi the recent international activities like OIC stance, Gaddafi statement and others have also ‘helped Kashmir’.

According to Mirwaiz tense Afghan situation is also a factor that is propelling Kashmir into the limelight and pushing India towards seeking its resolution.

According to Chidambaram, “Solution to Kashmir problem should be arrived at keeping in view its unique geography and history.”

“We cannot copy the solution. You see problems have been resolved in various Indian states. Those solutions cannot be copied for the Kashmir problem, as it has unique geography and history. The solution may turn out to be a unique one, honourable and acceptable to all.

We are working on it.” While moderates see a change in India’s stance hardliners refuse to get “carried away”.

“There is nothing new in the talks offer. India is trying to dilute the international pressure by giving an impression that it wants to engage people of Kashmir in dialogue. No dialogue process is possible unless India accepts the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Syed Ali Geelani.

But moderates say that despite previous experiences talks are the only option.  “Talks are our only option and we have to utilise it come what may,” says Qureshi.

Bhat says that in the absence of talks there is a “chance of catastrophe of war” between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

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