by Khursheed Wani
On a chilling December day in 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi distastefully declared that he did not require any advice on Kashmir, he actually approved the hardline his government had adopted in handling Kashmir. The snub was for the then Chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who was seeking to perpetuate his politics by invoking dialogue with all stakeholders of Kashmir issue including separatists and Pakistan.
Modi loathed these propositions because his advisors were insisting on efficacy of an untried prescription that included hard posturing against Pakistan and dealing with the Kashmir dissent with iron hand. These advisors believed that accommodating the pro-freedom leadership in dialogue process pampers and elevates them to undue prominence. These leaders were dealt with harshly. They were jailed or disallowed to move out of their homes. Their political activities were curbed.
This month, the completion of four years of Modi rule came with a big surprise. Modi’s home minister Rajnath Singh, unexpectedly, announced that the government was willing to hold dialogue with Hurriyat leadership and Pakistan. The announcement was follow-up to the unilateral cessation of combat operations (UCCO) against militants during the holy month of Ramzan. As the fasting month is drawing to a close, the dialogue offer seems to be aimed at prolonging the soft pursuit for some more time. The Ramzan is followed by annual Amarnath pilgrimage starting June 28 for 50 days. Ensuring peace on the ground during Amarnath yatra is high on government’s agenda.
The ground situation in Kashmir valley and along the sensitive Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) required immediate intervention. The prolonged delay in dialogue process led to immeasurable sufferings to the people. The border residents in Jammu province have been living miserable lives for the past several months. The warring armies on both sides of border have targeted civilians resulting into many deaths and massive migration on both sides. The situation in south Kashmir region is virtually out of control. The army has been pitted against the people who do not show any qualms in associating themselves with the militants. During every encounter, one or more civilian has been killed while trying to help militants escape. Each encounter and deaths caused by it triggered new recruitments to the militant folds.
It is in this backdrop that the olive branch has been held out. Unlike in the past, the offer of dialogue has not been summarily rejected by the stakeholders. Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), which is the new postal address of the separatist movement in Kashmir, did not rule out engagement in a purposeful dialogue process. On May 29, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik arrived at Syed Ali Geelani’s Hyderpora residence to chalk out a response to the dialogue offer. The triumvirate offered willingness to join the process but observed that there was ambiguity in the offer and several leaders in Delhi interpreted it in different ways leading to confusion. They took umbrage on Rajnath’s Singh’s reference to Kashmir and Kashmiris as India’s own and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s precondition that Pakistan has to stop terror activities. “We have always advocated that being a political and human issue Kashmir needs to be addressed. But not militarily as Government of India has been doing. The dialogue between stakeholders is the best process and option available,” the JRL said.
It is a proven fact that dialogue with separatists has not shown any forward movement or tangible result in the past. The separatists who engaged in such a process lost credibility and silently went into oblivion. When Pakistan approved the process, even if triangular in nature, it gained traction. When Hurriyat Conference’s faction led by Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik’s JKLF engaged with Delhi, between 2003 and 2007, the process saw some forward movement only due to Pakistan’s approval. It was Pakistan’s internal strife that led to the failure of the process.
After years of bickering, Delhi has again reached out to Pakistan. This can generate hope for the sustainability of the process. After Rajnath Singh called for talks with Pakistan, the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan announced adherence to 2003 ceasefire. A synchronised document was released by both DGMOs that halted ceasefire violations with immediate effect. Analysts say that the renewed border ceasefire is linked to both countries involvement in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) led by China and Russia. The militaries of the two countries are joining counter-terror exercises while Modi is attending its summit in Qingdao, China on June 9-10, 2018. It would be interesting to watch as to what Modi says in Qingdao on the further engagement with Pakistan and geopolitical issues of the region.
However, the process has begun at a time when both the countries have entered into election mode. Pakistan’s elected government has completed its term and elections are due in July. In India, Modi has entered into his final year and there are observations that early elections may be announced because BJP is finding itself on a slippery ground. In this backdrop, separatists’ exhibition of willingness to engage in talks and demand for clearing ambiguity is the appropriate response. They can tactfully move further, if such a situation arises. The dispute has already been accepted and the methods employed to handle the rebellious population in Kashmir are being revisited. This is definitely a positive development.