“We need short-term and longer-term measures that addresses the resolution of Kashmir issue”

Since its constitution in December 2000, the non-profit Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR) has remained involved in Kashmir. It was a key initiator of the recent visit of a group that met various stakeholders in Srinagar. Its Executive Secretary Sushoba Barve tells Kashmir Life that visit will have a follow up. Excerpts from an interview:

Sushoba Barve.
Sushoba Barve.

KASHMIR LIFE: You were part of the group led by Yashwant Sinha to Srinagar? Was it a CDR initiative or it was a different exercise?

SUSHOBHA BARVE: The CDR has set up a Concerned Citizens Group for Kashmir. Yashwant Sinha, Jairam Ramesh, Brinda Karat, Wajahat Habibullah, Kapil Kak, Prof Badri Raina, Bharat Bhushan are among some of those who are part of this group. Each one has joined in his/her individual capacity and not representing any political party. The Group’s meeting was held in New Delhi on October 21. After our discussion that day it was felt that in view of the serious situation on the ground, a smaller group should visit Kashmir immediately. At short notice it was not possible for everyone in the group to go hence a smaller group visited Srinagar from 25-27 October. CDR coordinated the logistics part as well as setting up all the meetings in Srinagar.

KL: In Srinagar, the impressions are mixed. One impression is that the group was sent by government of India and other impression is that it was initiated at the request of the state government.

SB: Neither impression is correct. This is an independent civil society initiative.

KL: Unlike the all party delegation that was boycotted by all, your team was welcomed everywhere. Who did the magic?

SB: I don’t know perhaps different factors came together. I guess we went at the right moment when all the stakeholders were ready to meet us. The composition of the group was also important as several in the group are known faces in Kashmir. CDR’s own work over the years has credibility and has touched many people. But above all presence of Yashwant Sinha may have added the magic that you talk about combined with other factors.

KL: What was the general impression of the Kashmir’s separatist leaders? What did they tell you?

SB: Important thing was that they welcomed us. Our group told them that we had come with humanity in our hearts and to share the pain and suffering of Kashmiris.  They shared their perspective on last four months of the situation on the ground, about the killings, injuries to people, thousands who are under arrest and students under PSA including minors. They expressed their disappointments about India and anguish.  They shared that until the Kashmir issue was resolved things won’t change. They also wanted certain steps taken to create conducive atmosphere on the ground.

KL: Did you make any promise to Kashmiri separatists?

SB: No we did not make any promises. We did put the thought about the importance of education and reopening of schools and educational institutions before them. We did say to them that on our return we would sensitize people of India about what we had heard in Srinagar.

KL: By the way, why JKLF leader Yasin Malik boycotted you?

SB: You must ask him. We have no clue. We wanted to go to the hospital to enquire about his health. We are happy that he is now released. We wish him good health as he is a frail man with lot of medical issues.

KL: How do you see the happenings in Kashmir since Burhan Wani was killed?

SB: It is very sad and painful. The happenings though are not totally unexpected as we were getting reports from the ground during the past year which was indicating turbulence. Despite that this could not be prevented is very unfortunate. For me personally this has been a time for deep introspection about our failing as individual as well as an Indian nation.

KL: You visited Kashmir, met a cross section of people, saw the obvious. What next? What are you doing with your findings?

SB: Different members of the group have spoken to different newspapers and given interviews, some have also appeared on television channels.  All this is being done as part of sensitizing the Indian public about Kashmir. We hope to meet relevant people in the central government and share our findings with them. We have also met and talked to the Chief Minister.

KL: Kashmiri separatists gave you a detailed idea of what they want. What happened since then?

SB: Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik have been released. In our meeting with the Chief Minister we gave her suggestions based on what we had heard from the separatist leaders as well as from Civil Society Groups. There was strong sentiment about the education of the children. That prompted us to visit Geelani saheb again. Each side will have to take that first step towards creating conducive atmosphere. I guess one step at a time. If both sides continue with taking the next step, we should see change on the ground. People are facing lot of hardships. The larger issue of Kashmir can be addressed after creating conducive atmosphere and building confidence. We need short-term measures and longer-term that addresses the resolution of Kashmir issue.

KL: Is this group being formalized into a Kashmir Advisory Group?

SB: We would continue our efforts as a civil society initiative as we are convinced no change is possible through one meeting, but requires a sustained efforts and dialogue over a period. We want to be engaged in sustained efforts.

KL: You have been involved with Kashmir for a long time. How do you see Kashmir getting closer to peace and settlement?

SB: It is going to need a lot of hard work to build trust and confidence after this present crisis. This has completely broken down. I agree with the Kashmiris that unless the resolution of Kashmir issue is taken up and addressed we would continue to have these upheavals after short intervals. This time around India’s Parliament as well as many intellectuals have spoken up and have written about the need to address the sentiment of Kashmiris. I believe peace will come if all stakeholders are willing to take some hard and difficult decisions that have been long pending. In this no doubt Delhi will have to take the lead. We have to keep on trying and talking and widen the dialogue process with people of India as well, for their support is crucial.

KL: In 2010, Congress was slightly prompt in responding to Kashmir situation than BJP in 2016. What is the reason?

SB: Delhi is not a monolith. Most people were taken by complete surprise as it came so unexpectedly. But I cannot answer as to why BJP did not respond promptly.

KL: There is an impression in Kashmir that Delhi wants youth to get into arms so that militancy resurfaces and Kashmir becomes easily manageable. Is it correct?

SB: I would find that hard to believe that anyone wants new militancy to emerge in Kashmir. Don’t forget the chief of Northern Command who spoke of the need for all sides to sit around the table for a dialogue.

KL: Why is Delhi so reluctant in engaging Pakistan?

SB: I guess after initial missteps the Modi Government did try to make up and reached out to Nawaz Sharif Government in the latter half of 2015. Modi and Sharif met in Paris, the NSA’s and foreign secretaries met in Bangkok, Sushma Swaraj went to Islamabad and Modi visited Lahore on December 25. All this happened in a short span of time. Just when it was looking promising, unfortunately Pathankot happened. Yet India’s response was restrained and it allowed the Pakistan investigation team to visit Pathankot. But Pakistan never allowed Indian investigators to go there. Therefore it would be incorrect to say that Delhi has been reluctant to engage with Pakistan.

KL: Do you think the frequent brawls on the border between India and Pakistan is helping either side?

SB: Very clearly these border disturbances are not helping either country. There is lot of collateral damage and those living close to the LoC and IB are suffering and taking severe brunt of this.

KL: Do you think, situation is getting closer to war or another Kargil-like situation?

SB: I don’t believe either country wants war and let us hope we don’t get there.

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