One more attempt at finding negotiated peace in Kashmir has ended — with the usual cynicism. It’s part of a tradition of waste…
On August 3, 2000, I was part of a large media presence at Srinagar’s Nehru Guest House where the then Home Secretary, Kamal Panday, and his team was waiting for Hizbul Mujahideen’s top leadership to arrive for discussing the modalities to implement the ceasefire which the militant outfit had announced a week earlier. When the group of Hizb commanders arrived they were taken aback by the sight of so many journalists. I heard Dr Asad Yezdani, who is now in Pakistan, yelling, “What is media doing here. We had agreed to meet them (the government delegation) secretly”. He proceeded to hurriedly pull out a handkerchief to cover his face.
The ceasefire eventually failed, but for reasons other than our presence at the meeting. However, it offered an insight into the interlocutory style of New Delhi. Instead of being cautious, negotiating away-from-the-glare, they prefer the big bang theory. After the 2000 failed ceasefire, Hizbul Mujahideen lost the sting and its leadership got fragmented. Farooq Mirchal, one of its top leaders disappeared while Abdul Majid Dar, the top commander, was killed at his Sopore residence in 2003. Interestingly, Fazlul Haq Qureshi, who was the interlocutor, survived a near fatal attack in December 2009 which left him incapacitated.
After 2002, the Central government’s focus shifted towards the political separatists. The then NDA government appointed KC Pant, the then deputy chairman of the planning commission, its first interlocutor on Kashmir. At the same time, eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani set up a “Kashmir Committee”, with the tacit official of Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, to engage with the separatists.
But much the same pattern followed. Azam Inquilabi, a former militant commander and separatist ideologue, secretly met with KC Pant but the fact that the meeting happened was leaked to the media by official agencies. Shabir Shah, the head of the Democratic Freedom Party braved intimidation and grenade attacks to engage with Mr Pant, but he had to eat a humble pie when there was no response from the Center to his terms of engagement. Pant’s overt focus remained on meeting with taxi drivers and houseboat owners in his quest to find a solution to Kashmir issue.
In April 2003, another interlocutor, NN Vohra, arrived in Srinagar with Prime Minister AB Vajpayee’s invitation latter. Separatist leaders were under the impression that the Center’s special emissary would exclusively meet them with the invitation from the Center to hold negotiations. To their dismay, they received photocopy of the PM’s letter sent to about a hundred “stakeholders”. The contents of the letter received extra coverage in the local media. Even as Vohra did not engage with the separatist leadership, his intervention elevated his credentials to become Governor of the embattled state at a highly crucial juncture in June 2008 when the state was in the middle of Amarnath land row.
After Vohra shifted to Raj Bhawan, interlocution diminished as a priority with the Government of India for varied reasons. The separatists went out of loop as relations between India and Pakistan plunged to its lowest ebb. It was after the turnaround in the Kashmir situation in the summer of 2010 that the Centre contemplated on revival of the process of interlocution.
Following the June 2010 killing of four Kashmiri youngsters in a fake encounter at Macchil sector in north Kashmir and the attempt to pass this off as justified elimination of infiltrators, the situation worsened in Kashmir. The protests called by separatist hawk Syed Ali Geelani intensified when police shot dead a 17-year-old boy in downtown Srinagar, triggering a chain of events. Over the following five months, tens of thousands of people chanting ‘azaadi’ slogans came out on to the streets. More than a hundred of them were killed by police and paramilitary forces. The extraordinary situation compelled the Central government to recall the interlocutory process. The first attempt at reaching out was the dispatch of an all-party group of parliamentarians to the troubled state so that they could observe the ground situation and suggest remedies.
The 8-point agenda churned out by the Home Ministry from the parliamentary delegation’s visit stressed for the exigency of reviving the political dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The appointment of three interlocutors — journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, University professor Dr Radha Kumar and former bureaucrat MM Ansari — on October 13, 2010 turned out to be the end result of the Center’s intervention. The mandate given to the group was to hold wide-ranging discussions with all sections of opinion in Jammu & Kashmir in order to identify the political contours of a solution and the roadmap towards it. The interlocutors visited the state every month, toured all 22 districts and met with 700 delegations comprising 6,000 people. They also held three round-table conferences, public rallies and and countless media interactions.
Over the period of time, the number of interlocutors has increased with the burgeoning number of stakeholders of Kashmir dispute. The team of interlocutors even named the security forces engaged in combat operations in J&K as stakeholders, drawing flak from certain quarters asking whether the State was not representing the security forces.
The separatist groups, which were the actual target of the interlocution, were smart enough not to engage with the interlocutors, perhaps because of their past experiences. Hawks like Geelani would not engage in dialogue as they are stuck in India’s denial of acknowledging Kashmir as an international dispute. Moderates belonging to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s Hurriyat refused to come to the table because they have already held negotiations in the past at the Prime Minister’s level. The zero success with separatists remained the biggest failure of the interlocutors even as they had boasted their informal connections with a battery of Hurriyat leaders and promised the Home Ministry that they would get them on board. One of the Hurriyat leaders, Abbas Ansari, even held an informal discussion with the interlocutors but it only invited him flak. He was symbolically expelled from the amalgam and reinstated only after explaining his conduct before a committee. The interlocutors’ promises to engage with Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership in what they called Pakistan-administered Kashmir also proved to be a farce.
The 176-page document, A New Compact with the people of Jammu and Kashmir, authored by the three interlocutors has been rejected by the dissenting section in Kashmir. But it is not an exercise in futility. The basic objective of the interlocutor’s intervention was to offset the impact of 2010 uprising and showcase the Central government’s seriousness to resolving the Kashmir issue. One might even add, albeit cynically, that the lavish logistics put at the disposal of the interlocutors did not go in vain as it fulfilled a basic Congress objective— to increase the confusion at the ground level.
(The writer is Srinagar correspondent, The Pioneer)