Kashmir and the mechanics, timing and value of talks: Who holds the keys to this jail?

I'm a bit foxed. I had the impression that various Hurriyat 'leaders' were in jail, even if it was called house arrest or royal cottage arrest or fancy guest house arrest. Now, howsoever, fancy a jail might be, one had the impression that it is operated by jailers, not by inmates — and we were clearly told on Sunday that those inmates did not open their jail doors for our honourable Parliamentarians.

Something seems slightly amiss about that, but let that go. Let us presume, that in a place where very little is at it seems, 'leaders' don't need to be released before other 'leaders' negotiate with them — as, say, Nelson Mandela from Robben Island, or the leaders of the Indian National Congress in 1945. Even if we accept that, there are still questions to be asked, and questions at various levels.

Why and how

Let us say straight off that the honourable members of Parliament who returned stony-faced from Srinagar on Monday deserve lauding for making that effort. Now, nobody can say they didn't try.

However, they might do well to ask themselves whether the best time to try and engage with Kashmiri separatist leaders is when a fire is raging on the streets. Conversely, should they have engaged, or urged those accountable to them to engage, during those balmy days when figures about unprecedented numbers of tourists, of yatris, of voters, of milling crowds of Kashmiris turning up for recruitment, etc. were being touted?

If they got the impression that those figures represented all there was to see and know about Kashmir, should they perhaps ask questions now about what is afoot with those on whom they depend for information and insights - the media, intelligence agencies, security wonks, academia, et al?

Perhaps they might also introspect just a little about what happened with all the other initiatives, committees, commissions, inquiries, etc. - the Gajendragadkar report, the Sikri report, the Riaz Punjabi report, the Balraj Puri report, the Rangarajan committee report, the `interlocutors’ report,’ etc., etc. In that context, they might introspect about reasons for the widespread cynicism in Kashmir about this freshest initiative.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh returning from 7 RCR, after meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Tuesday. PTI

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh returning from 7 RCR, after meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Tuesday. PTI

Autonomy delusions

While they are about it, honourable Parliamentarians would do well to ask another set of questions. For instance, what did they hope to achieve by talking to leaders of the Hurriyat Conference and other secessionists? Do we not know what they want - or rather, say they want? Do our honourable `leaders’ actually think that the `secessionists’ could settle for maximum autonomy?

More to the point, do we actually think that those who have enjoyed life as figureheads of a movement for secession in which several tens of thousands have been tortured, maimed and killed can possibly settle for the maximum autonomy which `mainstream’ politicians have already promised the people of Kashmir for so many decades?

That is what the state assembly had sought through a resolution seventeen years ago - a resolution that was rejected out of hand by the Union cabinet without so much as the courtesy of a Parliamentary discussion. Do we really think the secessionist `leaders’ would hope that their homes would not be burnt, they and their families beaten with shoes, stoned, and perhaps killed?

In fact, questions need to be asked at a deeper level, for the above questions presume that the Hurriyat and other secessionist leaders are in charge, can negotiate, and make decisions. The unrest (if one were to call it only that) on the ground is by teenagers and boys in their pre-teens. Whether the Hurriyat or other organizational leaders have any influence on these boys is a moot question. Those 'leaders' themselves are sure they do not. The teenagers have no regard for them.


Now, that they have bravely knocked at those leaders' doors and turned back, our Parliamentarians might try and ask questions that go still deeper. Quite apart from whether they can influence these boys, it is worth asking whether the secessionist 'leaders' can even decide who to meet, or what to say?

It is all very well to announce aggressively on television 'debates' that Pakistan has organised the unrest. But shouldn’t that remind us to ask whether, and to what extent, those secessionist 'leaders' and others get instructions from abroad?

That sort of introspection would bring our honourable 'leaders' back to the issue of realpolitik with which I began: How is it that those who are meant to be in jail refuse to open their jail doors? Does the entire gamut of political, bureaucratic and intelligence outfits that purport to run the state actually have less controlling or coercive influence than a 'foreign hand?'

It is well known in Kashmir that the intelligence agencies have kept many 'secessionist leaders' well catered for. Houses, hotels, resort and other properties, hospital and air travel bills, and monies in other forms, are said to have been provided. One is even told that the son of a top militant was among those who the army safely extracted from the Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Srinagar during a militant encounter some months ago. Yet, the forces and agencies cannot influence those well-catered-for figures to even unbolt their doors?

While they are about it, our Parliamentarians might do well to ask what the effect of the army’s Operation Sadbhavana has been if there is so little goodwill on the ground? How much money has been spent, how much mis-spent, and how much wasted? After all, to hold the reins of accountability, has been the first task of Parliament since the Magna Carta.

If only our honourable representatives had ensured accountability in times past, the macabre ghosts of time present would not be staring so balefully at us and our future. If only.

Updated Date: Sep 06, 2016 15:52 PM

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