In what can be construed as a major development in the path to resolving the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, Governor Satya Pal Malik on Saturday said the situation in the Valley had vastly improved over the past year, and now, the Hurriyat Conference was willing to hold a dialogue with the Government of India.
"(LJP leader) Ram Vilas Paswan was standing at their door in 2016, but they were not ready to talk then," Malik said at a function in Srinagar. "Today, they are ready for talks and want to hold dialogue. There is a change in everyone."
The Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley has been at the heart of dispute between India and Pakistan for more than seven decades, with both sides claiming the region in full. Separatists in Kashmir have mostly been "pro-azadi" with a leaning towards Pakistan's occupancy of the region over India. So much so that the National Investigation Agency has gathered evidence to prove that Pakistan-based agents route funds to separatists leaders through hawala channels to fuel unrest in Kashmir, including to Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Soon after the governor spoke of the softening stance of separatist leaders in Kashmir, Hurriyat Conference chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he would welcome talks. Speaking to Reuters, he said: "The Hurriyat Conference has always been in favour of talks as the means of resolution, Kashmiris, being the most affected party for the past 72 years, naturally want its resolution."
In an interview last week, Mirwaiz had said that with the "massive mandate" it received in the Lok Sabha elections, it was the Central government's responsibility to now "take forward the political process in the state and initiate all possible measures to put an end to the cycle of violence" in Jammu and Kashmir. He had made it clear that the conflict in Kashmir cannot be resolved through militarily means or confrontation "but by dialogue and deliberations".
What puts a question mark on these talks between Kashmiri separatists and the Centre is their earlier insistence to involve Pakistan in the dialogue. Even in his interview last week, Mirwaiz reiterated, "Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan's oft-repeated offer of dialogue on all issues between India and Pakistan, including on the Kashmir issue, should be seriously considered by the new dispensation in New Delhi as the way forward."
There is also the question of the crackdown the government launched on separatists and militants operating in the region since the attack on a CRPF convoy on 14 February left 40 personnel dead. The government has stepped up security in the state, ensuring that separatist leaders are kept away from high-profile events in Kashmir. For instance, Mirwaiz and Geelani were both placed under house arrest and prevented from attending a book fair at Kashmir University on Saturday.
The Centre also withdrew the security cover of several separatist leaders, including Mirwaiz and Geelani and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yaseen Malik. Extending an olive branch, be it by the governor or straight from New Delhi, in such a scenario may just be burnt altogether.
Moreover, to the fury of many Kashmiris, the BJP-led government at the Centre also wants to abolish the special privileges that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys under the Constitution, adding another fact to the list of hurdles between the government, separatists and their meeting room.
Add to this the question of whether their puppeteers in Pakistan will allow a dialogue with the Indian government without the involvement of Islamabad, as well as the conditions set by the BJP's Jammu and Kashmir unit for talks, any dialogue seems unlikely in the near future at least.
"The Joint Resistance Leadership (a conglomerate of separatists groups) should publicly acknowledge the indisputable status of Jammu and Kashmir and it being an integral part of India. They should also commit their loyalty to the Constitution of India and seek talks only under its ambit," state BJP spokesperson Anil Gupta said in a statement on Monday, adding that any talks without this public acknowledgement would be "counter-productive and a retrograde step".
Gupta also claimed that the Hurriyat was not open to talks as "the inflow of hawala money was controlled, they are now strapped of cash". "The Hurriyat is the perpetrator of most of the problems in Kashmir... The present offer of talks is a mere ruse and time-gaining exercise to regroup and reorganise," the BJP leader alleged, adding that Hurriyat leaders continue to promote separatist sentiments among the people of Kashmir.
Despite what the governor said about the vast improvement in the situation in the Valley, these hordes of reasons do not present a positive picture of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and surely don't make it a conducive atmosphere for talks.
India has made it amply clear on multiple occasions that terror and talks can't go together and there will be no dialogue with Pakistan unless the country clamps down on the terrorism that operates from its soil. The Pakistani connection to separatists in Jammu and Kashmir rules out the possibility of a dialogue with the Hurriyat or any other group of separatist leaders in the state in the near future and also raises the question of whether the olive branch is a ploy or a mark of serious intent to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
Updated Date: Jun 25, 2019 15:29:55 IST