Saturday, February 23, 2019 | 8:54 AM

Does India really want lasting peace in Kashmir?

Friday, November 10, 2017

The dialogue offer in Kashmir is a ruse

By Wasim Khalid

Former spymaster Dineshwar Sharma is currently on a five-day visit to India-held Jammu and Kashmir after being appointed by the Indian government as interlocutor for talks with all the ‘stakeholders’ there. According to Sharma, all “legitimate aspirations” of the stakeholders will be addressed.

It took the pro-Hindutva BJP government more than three years to realise the futility of using force to suppress the freedom movement in India-held Kashmir. Until now, the government has mostly relied on a muscular policy to tackle the groundswell for azadi among the Kashmiris. The right-wing regime has given unbridled authority to security forces against rebels, pro-freedom ‘protesters’ and people’s resistance on the ground.

It has also taken extreme steps against resistance leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik. Many of their aides and workers have been arrested on terrorism charges, such as receiving secret funds from Pakistan to foment unrest in Kashmir.

Military operations in Kashmir gained pace after the killing last year of popular militant commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Burhan Wani. Since last July, more than 250 people, including 150 rebels, have been killed by the forces. More than 15,000 have been injured. Lead-coated metal pellets have left over 400 young boys and girls in Kashmir partially or completely blind. However, these draconian measures have failed either to deter the protests or stem the flow of youngsters into the rebel ranks. It is against this backdrop that New Delhi has appointed Sharma as an interlocutor. The appointment of a point man is not only a tacit acceptance of the failure of its policy in Kashmir, it is also an indication that New Delhi is feeling cornered on the Kashmir dispute.

However, the Joint Resistance Leadership of Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik has ruled out talks with the interlocutor, terming the initiative a joke. Sharma’s assertion, JRL said, that he is coming to the valley to “restore peace” rather than address the dispute or talk about its resolution in keeping with the overwhelming majority sentiment of the Kashmiris, limits the scope of any engagement with him and makes it an exercise in futility.

The biggest supporters of a peace initiative on Kashmir are the forces itself. In an interview, Director General of Police S.P. Vaid warned that another trigger could spark another large-scale uprising and the forces “can’t do much in such cases”. Policymakers in New Delhi are also aware that Kashmir is a powder keg.

For any initiative to be meaningful, New Delhi will have to swallow its ego and talk to the Kashmiri leadership that represents the sentiments of a majority of the people, as well as to Pakistan. Interlocutors have always been used as crisis managers to ward off international criticism. Since 1953, New Delhi has deputed interlocutors 11 times for talks in Kashmir to douse the fires of revolt.

Pro-freedom leaders will never engage in talks without Pakistan being on board. New Delhi must realise that any meaningful initiative on Kashmir without Pakistan is unlikely to succeed. For the man on the street, the dialogue offer is nothing but a ruse, no more likely to have an outcome than the last time. On that occasion, the report prepared by the three-member team of interlocutors who met people in all three regions after the 2010 uprising never saw the light of the day.

Even talks for the sake of talks need some atmospherics. New Delhi needs to first take some confidence-building measures in Kashmir. It needs to set political prisoners free and end military repression and the hounding of pro-freedom protesters and leaders. It needs to first listen to the people without conditions.

Nothing of that sort is forthcoming. Sharma’s authority has been already been belittled by senior BJP leaders such as Minister of State Jitendra Singh Rana, who stated that there is no issue in Kashmir and Sharma will talk about development. Sharma himself reduced the importance of his mission by stating radicalisation is a bigger challenge in Kashmir. Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat has made it clear the military operations will continue with full vigour.

Kashmir observers here believe that the interlocutor has been appointed to supplement the ongoing security operations by calming down the volatile situation rather than address the larger political question. Their premise holds substance since the talks offer is a home ministry initiative, unlike previously when prime ministers would directly back such initiatives.

For the moment, it seems that the appointment of an interlocutor with a narrow mandate is to only address the ‘law and order issue’. If that is the case, it will further discredit Indian-sponsored dialogue processes and even further delegitimise pro-India Kashmiri politicians seeking a solution within the Indian constitution.

The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist.