Dineshwar Sharma has task cut out as Kashmir interlocutor: Engaging reluctant Hurriyat a major hurdle
The decision of the Central government to appoint former IB director Dineshwar Sharma as the interlocutor on Kashmir has not generated much hope.
Srinagar: The decision of the central government to appoint former IB director Dineshwar Sharma as the interlocutor on Kashmir has not generated much hope, for the top Hurriyat leadership has previously refrained from talking to central government emissaries and has held talks with either prime ministers or home ministers.
Though the latest call for dialogue has come from Home Minister Rajnath Singh, New Delhi's previous record on even implementation of interlocutors recommendations has been shabby. The central government has offered the dialogue at a time when United States secretary of state Rex Tillerson is on a three-day visit to India and when Kashmir is in the grip of protests over incidents of braid cutting.
The Centre even failed to implement the recommendations of the report submitted by three interlocutors on Kashmir – late journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari – even as they had sought that the constitutional erosion of the state shall be restored.
Appointed in 2010, they had sought the need for sustained dialogue on Kashmir in the report which was submitted in 2011 to the then home minister, P Chidambaram. It is after a gap of seven years that the Centre has recognised the need for holding dialogue with all stakeholders, including Hurriyat.
However, even before Sharma starts the talks, the road ahead is looking bumpy for him. While Congress leadership has hit out at the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for finally giving up on his hard-line stance, former chief minister and NC president Farooq Abdullah has said that the dialogue process is futile as the reports of previous interlocutors have not been implemented. The leaders in the state unit of BJP have also insisted that the dialogue should be held within the ambit of the Indian Constitution.
The previous dialogue on Kashmir by the interlocutors has only helped create a conducive atmosphere for opening up the apex level talks between New Delhi and the Hurriyat leadership. Former interlocutor and incumbent governor of Jammu and Kashmir, NN Vohra, had helped create a feasible atmosphere, which finally led to the talks between former prime minister AB Vajpayee and the Hurriyat in 2004.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh followed up on the work done during Vajpayee's tenure and restarted talks with the Hurriyat leadership in 2005, a move that was welcomed by Pakistan. Sources said that during the talks, it was agreed that the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved. It was during the tenure of Manmohan that confidence-building measures, including the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route for bus and trade, were started.
After the meeting with separatists in September 2005, Manmohan had welcomed the resumption of dialogue between the Government of India and the Hurriyat. "I reaffirmed faith in a peaceful resolution of all issues pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir... violence has no role in a democracy. I reiterate commitment to ensuring a life of peace, self-respect and dignity for the people of Kashmir." Singh had said, adding that the central government will review "all cases of those held in detention and ensure that violations of human dignity would not be tolerated and the government would take all necessary measures to safeguard against human rights violations."
However, now when Rajnath has announced a dialogue on Kashmir, most of the second rung Hurriyat leaders are in prison for facing cases of "financing the unrest in Kashmir", which the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is probing against them.
Hurriyat's top leadership has previously, however, shied away from talking to interlocutors. Former Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said, "... we have not met the interlocutors previously. We have held talks directly with prime ministers." It was only the second rung leadership of the separatists which had met the team of interlocutors appointed in 2010.
However, after the report was submitted by 2010 interlocutors, the Centre didn't follow up the dialogue with the separatists. Former Kashmir interlocutor MM Ansari said, "we had recommended sustained and uninterruptible dialogue on Kashmir". He said that a dialogue could not take place as both the UPA-II and Modi-led governments were not serious on the Kashmir issue.
Between 2011 to 2016, the situation remained largely peaceful. It was only after the series of protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Muzafar Wani in July 2016, that Rajnath visited Kashmir and talked to business and civil society groups.
However, New Delhi’s fluctuating approach on Kashmir is also reflected in the shying away from implementing the 2010 interlocutors report. In the report, it was sought that the need for revoking of armed forces special powers act (AFSPA) and the public safety act (PSA) should be looked into.
However, after the 2016 agitation, many a youth were booked under PSA, while central government forces have taken recourse to AFSPA to oppose any civil trial of the force personnel involved in human rights violations. Ansari said that the PDP-BJP government has failed in Kashmir.
"The PDP-BJP government has realised that the use of brute force has not worked in Kashmir. Not only have attacks on PDP MLAs taken place, but surgical strikes have also not been able to restore peace along the borders,"’ said the former interlocutor.
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