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Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor in Kashmir is Modi's boldest political move, will sideline separatists

Two days after the first ever rally of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha in Srinagar, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government has announced appointment of Dineshwar Sharma, former Director of Intelligence Bureau (IB), as interlocutor for Kashmir. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while making the announcement on 23 October, stated that Sharma will initiate a sustained interaction and dialogue to understand legitimate aspirations of people in Jammu and Kashmir.

This is the boldest political initiative on Kashmir by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after prolonged anti-India protests in the Valley and particularly intense counter-insurgency operations, which has put Pakistan-backed militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad and homegrown militants of Hizbul Mujahideen on the run. So far, this year more than 160 militants have been killed, which is a significant number if one looks at the total terrorist strength in the Kashmir Valley which is approximately 250-300.

Despite such a high kill ratio, it became clear to the mandarins in New Delhi that for every one terrorist killed, there were 4-5 local youth who were joining the militant ranks.

Weakening this trend was critical, lest the counter-insurgency operations became an unrelenting pursuit of 'catch and kill'. That is where the demand for the political outreach emerged. It is pertinent to note that Sharma's appointment was preceded by a frank admission from the state's police chief, SP Vaid that despite killing so many militants, Kashmir needs a "political initiative" and the central government should take steps to prevent "jobless" youth from being "influenced by a lot of unwanted and dangerous stuff".

As expected the appointment of an interlocutor has raised heckles in some quarters of the ruling establishment, since some of them preferred to look at Kashmir merely as a security problem, rather than a political conundrum.

 Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor in Kashmir is Modis boldest political move, will sideline separatists

A file photo of former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma with Union minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

The most relevant question at this time continues to be "Dialogue with whom?"

Sharma's appointment comes at a time when the All Party Hurriyat Conference led by SAS Geelani and the rest of the ilk of the separatist leadership are trying to maintain their relevance in Kashmir. One of its top leaders, Shabir Shah along with a few key middle level separatist leaders are in the soup due to the sustained investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged links to militancy and terrorist financing.

Geelani himself has become too old to infuse a new lease of life in the 'azaadi' movement, while the other Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's influence is restricted to downtown areas of Srinagar. Meanwhile, the other top leader, Masrat Alam Bhat continues to be behind the bars.

The NIA investigations have only opened a can of worms for the separatists, with the perception being generated among the common Kashmiris that the separatist leaders only used the money for their own personal benefits, without doing anything substantial for the 'azaadi movement,' except the frequent shutdown calls. Such has been the crisis of credibility for the separatist leadership that they have found it difficult to mobilise support for their anti-NIA protests with even towns like Sopore (Geelani's birthplace) and some parts of Anantnag (hub of last year's anti-India protests) paying no heed to the Hurriyat's shutdown calls.

In these circumstances, Dineshwar has his task cut out. While every effort will now be made by the Hurriyat to engage with the government to maintain its relevance, Sharma can safely put them on the periphery, while engaging with three sets of loosely defined segments.

The first among these are the mainstream local political workers of the PDP, National Conference and Congress, who have faced the wrath of people for their pro-India politics. Engaging with them will give the central government enough knowledge of how things are panning out on the ground for and against India.

The second is the heads of various religious seminaries in the Valley. If radicalisation of local youth is the topmost concern for the Indian security establishment, then it makes sense to lend an ear to these maulanas and maulvis who are often the disseminators of these radical ideas.

And the third segment to engage is the youth, through local student unions. Too often in the jostling for space and preference for age and seniority, the youth's voice gets lost. But Mr. Sharma will do well to open a direct line of communication with the students of the Valley, who just months ago were on the streets protesting against the highhandedness of the Indian security forces and the state government.

Engaging with these segments is not easy; neither this job is typical of the Intelligence Bureau style of working, which prefers cultivating contacts and sources.

A perception has entrenched in the Kashmir Valley, that whenever the central government appoints such interlocutors, they prefer to engage from their cosy locations in Srinagar, with a fixed set of individuals - rather smooth operators, who portray a stereotypical image of Kashmir. This has brought skepticism in the Valley with regard to any political initiative.

Hopefully, Sharma is aware of the intricacies and is ready to hear out the most extreme of the anti-India voices ruling the streets of Kashmir today.

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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2017 11:19:17 IST