Notwithstanding the massacres, unrest and detentions, there has rarely been any period during last two decades when New Delhi was not in touch with Kashmiri separatists. Even during the turbulent years of militancy, the then Kashmir affairs minister was reported hobnobbing with the ‘most wanted’. Once ‘in’, they were even willing to help the governor’s government to neutralize the state employees’ strike that ended after 73 days. The story continued off the media glare.
Being in touch with its opponents is nothing new in statecraft. The Irish rebels came to the negotiating table after decades of informal rounds. In case of Kashmir, however, making the informal contact into a formal structure has been a difficult process. There have been serious factors responsible for this. Sometimes it was for want of an agenda and sometimes it was the capacity, or lack of it, of individuals and groups to deliver, that bedeviled the process. From the separatist point of view, want of seriousness and sincerity of purpose from the government was a major issue, a stand now mellowed down a lot.
The process, however, created a long list of people who were negotiators, pointmen or the deal makers. These included R K Mishra, Ram Jathmalani, Saif-ud-Din Soz, Wajahat Habibullah and scores of sleuths from state and central intelligence.
The system was formalized only in 1995. Barring an exception, almost everybody had ‘talks’ with the central government. Regardless of the achievements, here goes the list of who talked, when and what. Now when New Delhi is keen to opt for ‘quiet talks’ off the media glare, there is a huge question mark over the earlier rounds between separatists and the government.
In 1995 summer, five erstwhile militant ‘commanders’ with various outfits agreed to begin talks with New Delhi. They launched their group by attacking Hurriyat. Finally, a team of home ministry officials landed in Srinagar and held talks. They wanted a series of measures including the postponement of assembly elections. MHA rejected almost every demand that led to an impasse though they had one “sitting” with the then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda. Nothing changed in Kashmir but the ‘talks’ helped in transforming the men who wanted to solve Kashmir. There was no follow up and it reached a stage that one of the ‘commanders’ took the public hearing route of the Prime Minister to remind him of the talks.
Firdous Baba alias Babbar Badar of Muslim Janbaaz Force became a member of the state’s upper house during the National Conference government. Medical assistant Ghulam Rasool Shah who was once popular as Hizb ul Mujahideen’s Imran Rahi contested many elections unsuccessfully, the recent one being 2009 parliamentary elections. He lives in a police-protected life in Kupwara and Srinagar. All others are dead. Abid, the erstwhile confidant of Hizbullah founder was done to death by his beloved’s family. Muslim Mujahideen’s deputy Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Lone was assassinated by militants the same way his minister brother Mushtaq Ahmad Lone was killed. Bilal Khan alias Lodhi who as the boss of al-Baraq banned cigarettes dabbled with many political parties and finally landed in Peoples’ Democratic Party that made him an MLC. Last year he resigned and decided to contest independently but died of a cardiac arrest in an army camp where he had allegedly gone to seek some support to ‘democracy’.
On July 24, 2000, Abdul Majid Dar, the chief of operations of Hizb-ul-Mujahidin announced a unilateral ceasefire for three months and initiated an unconditional dialogue with Delhi for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir. Security forces responded with “minimized as well as limited” operations. In the first round of talks on August 3, the Hizb leadership comprising four commanders, point man Fazl Haq Qureshi and his friend Musadiq Aadil submitted a set of 12 suggestions to be implemented as CBMs. Amid violations of the tacit agreement and pressure from PaK based militant leadership, the cease-fire was called off within a fortnight. Afterwards, some of the commanders returned to ranks. But in last nine years, most of them were killed. These include Abdul Majid Dar, Abdul Hamid Tantray alias Commander Masood, Farooq Ahmad Mircha and ‘Commander Asad’.
The ‘talks’ were never followed up as the backtracking had a severe credibility crisis for the militant commanders. At that time, though the militant commanders had approached the Hurriyat leaders, the latter were indecisive over supporting them. At a later stage, they even opposed the idea.
The appointment of the then deputy chairman planning commission K C Pant as the chief negotiator for Kashmir came as part of the unilateral ceasefire that prime minister Vajpayee announced in November 2000. Given the terms of reference of the initiative and Pant’s engagement in Srinagar during his long sojourn, separatists refused to interact with him. However, Shabir Ahmad Shah announced he would talk. One of the most popular separatists at one point of time, Shah was then feeling isolated after being expelled from the Hurriyat for indiscipline. He had a series of talks with Pant but when nothing came out from the process, he simply gave up and called it a day.
Hurriyat Conference opposed all earlier initiatives on talks. But in August 2002 it started a series of meetings with the Ram Jethmalani headed Kashmir Committee that had the then deputy prime minister L K Advani’s mandate to invite the separatists for discussing “reverent issues”. The engagement led to a formal invite from Advani. By that time, however, Hurriyat had suffered a split. Syed Ali Geelani had floated his own Hurriyat. Many constituents like JKLF and Jamat-e-Islami preferred remaining equidistant from the parallel Hurriyats. This left only four organizations in the pro-talks Hurriyat – Muslim Conference, Peoples Conference, Awami Action Committee and Itehad-ul-Muslimeen. The first round was over on January 22, 2004, and a day later they had a courtesy call on prime minister A B Vajpayee. The second round of talks took place on March 27, 2004. In the second round, the issue of human rights and the case of detainees were taken up and Advani said “substantive issues” would be taken up in June when the third round would take place. Change of guard prevented the third round in June that eventually took place on September 5, 2005, in which the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he would consider troop reduction to boost the peace process. There were no follow-ups.
At the peak of his tussle with moderate Hurriyat, Sajjad Ghani Lone led a team to the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s office on January 14, 2006. His team comprised Peer Hafeezullah Makhdoomi, Qazi Yasir (Mirwaiz, South Kashmir), Rashid Mehmood and Advocate Rashid Lone. Prime Minister asked him to draft what he intends to say and it led Sajjad to author a 266-page study – Achievable Nationhood, which he released in January 2007. It is not known if Dr Singh got a copy. What is known is that Sajjad contested the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 with a ‘heavy heart’ and lost it in a heavy turnout with a heavy margin.
JKLF leader Yasin Malik had a meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh in Delhi on February 17, 2006. He suggested talks between separatists and New Delhi in a third country. For irreversibility of the peace process, Malik said involving militants was a must. Malik presented a set of CDs containing “an honest, transparent democratic verdict of people” whereby 15 lakh people wanted to be included in the peace process. There has been no reported follow up so far.