Vol. XLII No. 23 June 10, 2018

J&K: Steps Needed to Begin Dialogue

ONCE again, there is some talk about talks to be held on Jammu & Kashmir.  On May 26, the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, in a media interview said that the government is ready to hold talks with Hurriyat, if the Hurriyat leadership is ready for such talks. As far as Pakistan is concerned, he stated that the government is ready to hold talks with Pakistan if it comes forward to hold talks but added that terrorism promoted by Pakistan has to end. 

Three days later, the Joint Resistance Leadership of the Hurriyat comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik responded that they are ready for talks if the central government clears the ambiguity regarding the dialogue. The statement issued by them also stated that “dialogue among the three stakeholders is the best process and option available”; the three stakeholders being India, the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan. 

These developments have come in the background of the ceasefire which was announced by the central government against the militants during the period of Ramzan. Further, on May 29, the Director General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan discussed and agreed to strictly enforce the ceasefire declared in 2003 along the Line of Control and stop shelling along the border. 

Despite some militant attacks within the valley, overall there has been an improvement in the situation and relaxation of tensions in the valley in the first twenty days of the ceasefire. 

However, the people in the valley do not have much faith in the prospects of a political dialogue starting towards finding a political settlement.  This is because, the situation in the valley has steadily deteriorated since the Modi government assumed office four years ago.  The adoption of a hardline security stance and the use of coercive instruments of the state to suppress popular protests have only given a spurt to militancy which has now been energised by the influx of a large number of local youth. 

There is also the past history of attempts by interlocutors to prepare the grounds for a political process which did not produce any worthwhile outcome. During the Vajpayee government and the UPA government, there were many such interlocutors, the last being the three-member team headed by Dilip Padgaonkar.   None of the reports or findings of the interlocutors saw any action being taken. 

The BJP-led government had appointed a former Intelligence Bureau Chief, Dineshwar Sharma, as an interlocutor last year. He has recently stated that, “Unless we are able to address sentiments and bring down violence, it will be difficult to think about any political dialogue, any political solution.”

This reflects the flawed understanding of the central government.  In a situation where hundreds of young men are flocking to the militant cause, the efforts to bring down violence has led to the killings of young militants by the security forces and their “martyrdom” attracts more youth to join the militancy. The “sentiments” that Sharma talks about is an euphemism for the deep alienation that the people harbour towards the Indian State. 

What is required in order to start a meaningful dialogue is to take steps to restore some degree of trust between the people of Kashmir and the centre, so that conditions for a dialogue are created. 

This requires a set of measures. Rajnath Singh, who will be in Srinagar from June 7 to conduct a review meeting on the security situation after the ceasefire, should extend the ceasefire for another specified period. In order to signal a change from the brutal repressive policy adopted so far, the authorities should announce the withdrawal of the use of pellet guns against stone-pelters and protesting youth.  Separatist leaders like Shabir Shah, who are being treated as common criminals in jail, should be released. There should be an announcement that any excess committed by security forces on civilians will be investigated and prompt action taken.

If such measures are announced along with a specific offer for holding talks with the separatist leadership, then there is scope for a political dialogue to begin. 

Along with that, the offer of talks with Pakistan that Rajnath Singh extended, should be taken forward.  But it cannot be conditional to what both the home minister and the defence minister stated that talks and terror cannot go together. If the National Security Advisors of the two countries can meet and talk, if the DGMOs can confabulate, there is no reason why a broader dialogue cannot be initiated with Pakistan.  Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to arrive at some modus vivendi with President Xi Jinping at Wuhan, similarly, there is the need for a diplomatic initiative on the Pakistan front. 

(June 6, 2018)