An exercise in futility

The entire purpose of APD stands defeated because of inability to precede it with steps for reaching out to Kashmiris The strong contrast between the escalation of violence in the Valley, with agitating youth going on a rampage at few places and the security forces spraying a liberal dose of pellets and bullets, injuring 200 people including two photo-journalists, and the beginning of the two day visit of the All Party Delegation led by union home minister Rajnath Singh to Kashmir on Sunday highlights the mocking irony of the peace mission that is supplemented with the barrel of the gun. Therein lies the major flaw in the exercise, making this ‘goodwill gesture’ a futile effort. On expected lines, many groups and individuals of consequence boycotted the delegation.

The parliamentarians who tried to reach out to the Hurriyat leaders in their individual capacities were spurned down by the latter on grounds that such teams lack credibility in view of the past experiences and also because it was led by union home minister who had already limited the scope of talks by invoking the phrase ‘within the constitution of India’ and had not shied away from hawkish rhetoric in the last two months. With such statements, the general impression in Kashmir was that the stand of New Delhi was pre-determined even before people of Kashmir could be heard out. Even the main opposition party in the state, National Conference, spoke about the futility of such efforts. Former chief minister and leader of the party, Omar Abdullah reminded of a similar effort in 2010 and complained about the lack of seriousness in the much needed follow-up. Visiting member of the delegation Sitaram Yechuri also expressed concern over the fact that the Centre, in the past, has not even bothered to seriously consider reports of the working groups and the interlocutor’s report.

It doesn’t take rocket science to understand why there wasn’t a warm response to the visiting delegation in the Valley. The all party delegation lacks credibility in Kashmir in view of the past experiences. A process of engagement with leaders representing Kashmiri aspirations opposed to Indian rule has been initiated several times but never followed-up seriously, adding to the growing disillusionment of the masses and their skepticism with respect to such processes. The common refrain in Kashmir is that such efforts are futile, meaningless and absolute eyewash, intending to buy time and bring down level of violence and not aimed at resolving Kashmir.

Given this severe break down of trust between Kashmir and New Delhi, some ground work was required to transform the All Party Delegation visit from a sham to something more meaningful. There could be no bigger irony than to engage with persons who have been jailed and as a first, the government should have released Hurriyat leaders.

Secondly, basic minimal steps needed to be taken to address the huge human rights issue. This could have come in the shape of announcement to completely end pellet guns, an unambiguous assurances that peaceful rallies and assemblies will be allowed, announcement of probe in cases of 72 killings and severe injuries and promise of at least reducing the military presence, if not de-militarisation, in the Valley in a phased manner beginning with some token announcements of sending security forces back to the barracks.

Thirdly, an acknowledgement of Kashmir being a political dispute that needs resolution and some expression of regret over the excessive brutalities in the last two months was another do-able step which could have been helpful. These are some of the imperative steps that the government must still take without losing time and then follow it up with efforts to initiate a process of formal dialogue. The visiting delegation had no mandate to discuss resolution of Kashmir and its purpose at best would have been to break the ice and calm down tempers. That did not happen because no steps were taken to make the purpose credible enough in the eyes of the common masses of Kashmir. There are no substitutes to dialogue and for that to happen, the government must take up the responsibility of doing away with the huge trust deficit.