Srinagar: New Delhi finally seems to have realised that the solution to the seething anger on the streets of Kashmir has to be political, rather than military. The decision to appoint the former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma as interlocutor may have political ramifications for the right-wing party in the hinterland but, if followed through, the dialogue will produce a huge political capital for the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In a move that was urgently required to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre appointed Sharma as its special representative for holding "sustained dialogue" process with all stakeholders in the Valley. The announcement was made by Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who hinted on Tuesday that the interlocutor may also hold talks with the Hurriyat.
But in the Valley, where the situation remains tense and the Centre's announcement should have come as a reprieve, it has instead been met with a cold response with the former spy chief's appointment seen as another attempt to douse the flames on the streets, temporarily, instead of resolving the lingering political crises.
Although the announcement has not come with pre-conditions, it remains to be seen if the new interlocutor manages to hold talks with the Hurriyat.
On the streets of Kashmir, people are pinning little hope on the fresh initiative bringing an immediate end to the festering crisis. Muzaffar Ahmad, a private school teacher in Srinagar, said on Tuesday that because of the bitter experiences of the past and the fate met by the reports of previous interlocutors on Kashmir, there is little hope that the new initiative will bring any change on the ground.
"The main problem is that New Delhi has never respected the genuine aspiration of people. Last time they appointed interlocutors, they didn't even acknowledge their report. The home ministry used that report on the website and said these are views of interlocutors not that of the Government of India," Ahmad told Firstpost near Lal Chowk, the city centre of Srinagar.
Karan Singh, a contractor, however, said that there is hope and talking to the real stakeholders (read Hurriyat) is the only way out for New Delhi, instead of dealing with the population using military force.
"There is an urgent need to bring peace, and this can't come until and unless people, who have divergent views, are not taken on board. They need to talk to Hurriyat leadership and young boys, not the government," Singh, 56, a resident of Srinagar, said.
New Delhi’s history of betrayals in the Valley, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru's broken promise of holding a plebiscite and the looming clouds of suspicion due to the crackdown on separatists and militants alike, are overshadowing the sunshine of hope. The Hurriyat Conference is today a united house with the leading players, including Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Syed Ali Geelani and Yasin Malik clamouring for talks over the last two months.
Mirwaiz, the chairman of the moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference, said the Hurriyat leadership is still deliberating over the new announcement and it will come with a proper response once all the leaders are allowed to meet. "We don't want to rush. Once we (Hurriyat leaders) meet, we will formulate a proper response," Mirwaiz said on phone.
New Delhi's decision to appoint Sharma, who also initiated peace talks in June with Assamese insurgent groups, comes 41 months after it came to power. The Centre has a history of appointing interlocutors when the Valley is reeling under crises over the last seventeen years.
The first one was appointed on 5 April, 2001, and continued till 2002. It was led by KC Pant, the then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. The fate of his recommendations is known to everyone. It was followed by the appointment of the present Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra on 19 February, 2003. He continued till 2008. When the unrest erupted in the Valley in 2010, three interlocutors namely Dilip Padgaonkar, Dr MM Ansari and Radha Kumar were appointed to talk to the stakeholders.
The interlocutor trio submitted their report which was thrown into the dustbin by the home ministry as it failed to even acknowledge the recommendations made by them, describing them as "personal views" of the representatives.
The only institution which acted on the few recommendations was the Press Council of India, which said the allegations made by the report on the separatists funding of the local newspaper in Kashmir were unsubstantiated.
Chief of Al-Umar militant outfit Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar said that talks with India can "never resolve the Kashmir issue and it will bear no fruit."
"Talks have fetched nothing. Anyone who thinks dialogue will resolve issues is making a mistake," Zargar said in a statement. "We will continue our struggle in Kashmir until the last Indian soldier remains here."
Residents in south Kashmir's Anantnag district said they want the new interlocutor to hold a dialogue with the militants to bring them home and end the violence, which has continued unabated since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani last year.
"If he is able to talk to the boys who are in jungles, then it would serve some purpose. That should change something. It will only happen if a strong political initiative is taken by New Delhi, instead of wasting time," said Abdul Samad, member of Beoper Mandal of Anantnag.
Tariq Ahmad Chalkoo, a resident of Baramulla town, said he expects a change on the ground in coming days and the violence that has been going on since last year will stop.
"It (appointment of Sharma) has to be taken positively, instead of looking at it through the prism of what has happened in the past. But that optimism is certainly missing," he said.
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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2017 19:11:01 IST