Dineshwar Sharma, interlocutor for J&K, will find it tough to make headway given local and international factors at play

Now that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has visited New Delhi right after the Centre announced talks with all stakeholders in Kashmir, another parallel with the 2003 situation, when then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered talks, has fallen into place.

However, prospects seem much more bleak for the new "representative" Dineshwar Sharma, a former director of the Intelligence Bureau. To see why, let's compare the current circumstances with those from February 2003, when NN Vohra — currently the state's governor — was appointed as the government interlocutor.

Dineshwar Sharma, interlocutor for J&K, will find it tough to make headway given local and international factors at play

Dineshwar Sharma with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

The main difference is that Geelani and Yasin Malik had split from the Hurriyat Conference the previous year, while most of the remaining Hurriyat leaders were eager for dialogue and peace. But in the present situation, the threat of militants is so great that they are unlikely to do the same.

The second big difference is similar: Mobilisation of troops on the border from December 2001 till the end of 2002 had forced Pakistan to drastically reduce the training and ingress of fresh militants. And emerging technology had made it much easier to track existing militants.

The third difference then was that Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had taken charge as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2002 with a sincere "healing touch" policy. The forces were reined in, and common people were responsive to a peaceful resolution.

The fourth difference was that Prime Minister Vajpayee had already won the hearts of most Kashmiris with moves such as a unilateral ceasefire during Ramzan in November 2000, and a peace mission to Lahore in February 1999.

A fifth key difference is that Vajpayee was preparing to re-engage with Pakistan when Vohra was appointed. He went to Srinagar two months after that appointment and publicly invited Pakistan to engage in an earnest dialogue to resolve the issue. Confidence-building measures, such as opening of roads across the Line of Control, followed. The atmosphere was very positive, and by the beginning of 2004, Pakistan had warmly responded to Vajpayee's talks offer. The so-called "four-point formula" or the "Musharraf plan" emerged over the next couple of years.

A few days after Vajpayee made his dramatic announcement in Srinagar, fiesty US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage was expected in New Delhi — just like current US secretary of state Rex Tillerson is in 2017. On both occasions, the US was expected to press India to resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations.

In 2003, the US, which had just invaded Iraq the previous month, was eager to ensure that the situation in Afghanistan remained in control. The post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan had made Washington dependent on Pakistani routes, logistical support and intelligence inputs. And Pakistan was pressing the US on Kashmir.

Today, the US is again trying hard again to balance its relationships with India and Pakistan. It sees India as the lynchpin of efforts to check China's rise, but also cannot do without Pakistan for access to Afghanistan.

Nor is the US new to getting involved with "the Kashmir problem". As early as 1949, the United Nations had tried to appoint US Admiral Nimitz to arbitrate between India and Pakistan. But then prime minister Nehru had put his foot down, refusing firmly.

It was Nehru who first appointed a committee, headed by his education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, to negotiate Kashmir's relationship with India — with a Kashmiri team, led by Sheikh Abdullah.

As militancy emerged in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi appointed a ministerial committee, which included the then minister of state P Chidambaram, to figure out what to do in Kashmir.

VP Singh appointed his railway minister, George Fernandes — at Rajiv Gandhi's suggestion, immediately after an all-party delegation had visited Kashmir.

Negotiators, representatives and interlocutors since then have included KC Pant, Arun Jaitley, a couple of home secretaries of the day, and a three-member committee in 2010. Apart from Vohra, who got the majority Hurriyat on board, the Indo-Pak
dialogue process — and to meet the prime minister and home minister in New Delhi — none of them got very far.

But let us wish Dineshwar Sharma the best.

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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2017 16:13:23 IST

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