After 12 visits to the state and 700 meetings, the final report of the three interlocutors will be politically correct, predicts Riyaz Wani
APPOINTED WITH the grand mandate of finding a political settlement for Kashmir, the Centre’s interlocutors — Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari — are set to present their final report to the government. Starting work during last year’s pro-azadi protests, the panel began with some deliberate shockers, terming Kashmir ‘disputed’ rather than an ‘issue’ and outlining a role for Pakistan in the solution, even indicating it would recommend amendment in the Indian Constitution if warranted. This made the Sangh Parivar see red but imparted to the mission a sense of possibility.
But at the end of its 12th — and last — visit to the state, the three-member panel read out what sounded like the clichéd official line. “Our recommendations for solution to political issues of the state will be within the framework of the Indian Constitution,” Dileep Padgaonkar, head of the three-member panel, said at a press conference in Srinagar. “With the political aspirations come social, cultural and economic aspirations as well, which need to be addressed. However, addressing these aspirations cannot be a substitute for addressing the political aspirations.”
From the separatist viewpoint, this is a dubious attempt to dilute the historical parameters of the problem involving India, Pakistan and the people of the state. “It is like reducing the problem to a set of regular local grievances,” says separatist leader Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, otherwise a vocal proponent of dialogue with the Centre.
For some time, there was hope in the air that the interlocutors would talk of more substantive autonomy — even its extreme variant, a return to pre-1953 status when New Delhi’s say in Kashmir was strictly limited to defence, foreign relations and communications. But even if it is recommended, expectedly more in terms of phraseology than in any substantive and structural way, autonomy is unlikely to change the dominant drift of the discourse in the state. That is, beyond giving the ruling National Conference an opportunity to term it a political victory in a general sort of way, such a formulation in all likelihood will even put off PDP, the party that champions self-rule.
“We don’t think some change of phraseology around autonomy would resolve the problem. We want unification of Kashmir through a joint cross-Line of Control (LoC) council and opening of the trade routes in a post-settlement political dispensation. And this demands that Pakistan should be in the loop,” says chief PDP spokesman Naeem Akhter. “But the interlocutors in their pursuit of the solution have ventured into the domain of the state government. It is the local government that can best deal with the regional, intra-regional and sub-regional aspirations. Who gave Ladakh and Kargil hills development? It was the state government.”
Restoration of autonomy would leave out the separatist camp, dubbed ‘off-stream’
Therefore, Akhter wants the interlocutors to set a more fundamental process into motion, to recommend a broader political framework for a larger settlement. He says India and Pakistan have already agreed in principle to the basis for an acceptable solution. “The two countries have thrown open cross-LOC routes for trade and movement of people. No visa, no passport is required nor are import duties and customs paid on the goods traded. This shows that a process already on needs to be built upon, not reversed,” he says.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has, however, praised the panel’s initiative and dropped broad hints that the recommendations being made by them will be “favourable”. His party’s representative in Parliament, Mehboob Beg, too exudes confidence that the interlocutors will make a case for the restoration of autonomy to the state. “Autonomy will be best for us. NC believes it is the only solution for the state,” Beg told TEHELKA.
THIS LEAVES out what Padgaonkar termed Kashmir’s political ‘off-stream’ operating far outside the Valley’s raucous electoral arena but driving primarily the Valley’s political discourse: its faction-ridden, splintered separatist camp. The two Hurriyat alliances, together with the major separatists outside the Hurriyat fold, have antiseptically shunned the three-member panel. Only exception to the rule was the late Jamiat Ahle Hadith chief Maulana Showkat Shah and the moderate Hurriyat’s Molvi Abbas Ansari who met the interlocutors on the sly. While Shah was subsequently killed — meeting with the panel was a definite factor in his elimination — Ansari suffered temporary expulsion from the Hurriyat.
Now at the end of its term, the panel has given the separatist agenda space in its recommendations. “It would make no big difference to the final report since we have elaborated on the five points made by (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani and Mirwaiz (Umar Farooq) and others,” Padgaonkar has been saying on trips to the state.
The Hurriyat says that the Kashmir problem has been reduced to denial of development
But with the interlocutors bringing vigorously into play the diverse political narratives in Jammu and Ladakh and subregions of the state and squaring it up against the azadi discourse in the Valley, the nature of its intervention has changed.
Many in the Valley feel there is now little scope for an overarching framework of settlement that in turn could subsume redressal of regional grievances. “Competitive regional victimhood is also a problem in the state but this is not what underpins the 64-year-conflict called Kashmir,” says Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi in his column in a local English daily.
On the other hand, the steep climbdown of the interlocutors from their earlier pretensions to a Kashmir solution has persuaded separatists to withdraw further into their shell. They not only snort at the idea of engaging the panel but also refuse to look forward to the recommendations. “The report is immaterial for us. We never felt it was a sincere effort designed to address Kashmir,” says Ayaz Akber, the spokesman for Hurriyat’s hardline faction. “We believe it is a dubious initiative to create a false sense of engagement with the people of the state. That purpose served, the effort is being wound up now.”
The Centre has sent interlocutors to J&K in the past, but none made much headway
1990 Rajiv Gandhi, while in the Opposition, headed an all-party team to the state. In their hotel rooms, they had to listen to azadi slogans from the shikaras.1990 Rajiv Gandhi, while in the Opposition, headed an all-party team to the state. In their hotel rooms, they had to listen to azadi slogans from the shikaras.
1993-95 As minister for internal security, Rajesh Pilot visited the state several times to explore options for dialogue. He called for the redress of public grievances.
1996 As Union home minister, SB Chavan met a forum floated by four former militant commanders. However, the initiative lacked credibility.
2001 As the Centre’s first official interlocutor, KC Pant met separatist leader Shabbir Shah — then outside the Hurriyat — and former chief minister Mir Qasim.
2003 NN Vohra replaced Pant as the new pointsman. He also struggled to make contact with Hurriyat leaders.
2006 Three conferences were held in New Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu. Five working groups were formed to deal with effective devolution of power, improving ties across the LoC and helping those hit by militancy.
2010 A group headed by former Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmad recommended autonomy for Kashmir.
2010 An unofficial committee representing non-NDA, non-UPA parliamentarians and civil society members was formed.
2011 BJP MPs Ravi Shankar Prasad, Shahnawaz Hussain and Maya Singh formed a group to interact with Kashmiri leaders.
Moderate Hurriyat similarly thinks that the initiative was too small with regard to the egregiousness of the problem at hand. Its chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq wants a sustained engagement led by a high-profile politician with sufficient clout to push through an agreed solution in New Delhi. Last year, both Mirwaiz and JKLF supremo Yasin Malik had demanded the constitution of high-profile parliamentary comcommittees by India and Pakistan that will engage each other and the representative from Kashmir to thrash out an acceptable political settlement. “This could be an ideal arrangement if the objective is to sort out Kashmir,” says Mirwaiz. “In this way, we can hope to build a wider and deeper consensus for a durable political solution.”
At the other extreme of this spectrum of solutions is Geelani’s absolute demand for separation from the country. The hawk says New Delhi’s recognition of Kashmir as a disputed territory could serve as a jumping off point for initiating talks for a political solution.
But such a dialogue, he adds, should have UN resolutions on the state as the sole basis for the settlement.
Do hawks have any hope from the current initiative? “Absolutely not. Interlocutors were sent to dilute the problem rather than address it,” says Ayaz Akber. “They have worked to the given script.
They now want us to believe that the Kashmir problem is nothing but the denial of development opportunities to regions and sub-regions of the state.”
On their part, however, the interlocutors are satisfied with their year-long work. They have visited all the 22 districts of the state and met over 700 delegations. Unlike the Centre’s pointsmen in the past, they stayed the course and put in a lot of effort to generate an air of seriousness about their work. They attempted a fresh look at Kashmir to find out how the conflict operates at the ground level and across its regional and political diversity.
But if the final report does not confront the problem in Kashmir as it is historically understood by the people of the state and by the country and world at large, then it can only be said that they came, they saw, and then they disappointed.
Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.