The Indian government has appointed three interlocutors — Dileep Padgaonkar, a former newspaper editor, Prof. Radha Kumar, a social scientist and Prof. S.S. Rizvi an economist — as interlocutors for talking to political leaders and different groups of people of Jammu and Kashmir. Their appointments have been made in the wake of second phase of "intifada" in support of the demand for right to self-determination that started on June 11, and continues to this day. And during the past five months 110 students and youth have been killed by Indian troops and the state police and hundreds others have been inflicted with bullet wounds. There are as many as 16 resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council pledging the right to the people of the state to determine their future. The group of three interlocutors, for the role assigned to them, I prefer to call a study group, is fully supported by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who on record has stated that they have the freedom of meeting any person and making any comment. Ostensibly, the group has the full mandate of Indian government to suggest a viable resolution of the vexed problem. Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram has said that there was no red line for the group and it was free to talk to all and sundry in the state including militant leaders.
New Delhi since 1990 has been appointing interlocutors and study groups comprising journalists, academicians, economists and human rights activists for suggesting to Indian government ways and means of "tackling" or "managing" the "Jammu and Kashmir crisis". Some of the groups are officially recognized, some deputed as independent nongovernmental organizations, but fully supported by the government. It has always needed a "boiling situation" in the state for appointment of such study groups or committees. But during past 20 years hardly a committee or group has been constituted for negotiating resolution of the 63-year-old dispute that has caused three wars between India and Pakistan. The NDA government led by Hindu chauvinist party BJP during its tenure in office had in the year 2000 appointed a Kashmir Committee under one of its leaders and top lawyer Ram Jethmalani. The committee, apparently an independent initiative, if Jethmalani’s interview carried in Times of India on Sunday is to be believed, had a mandate to negotiate a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaz Muhammad Umar Farooq. This initiative failed only after a few rounds of talks because New Delhi dragged its feet. Jethmalani in his interview has blamed octogenarian Kashmir leader and the government in Delhi for defeating the resolution of the dispute.
Looking at the role played by various study groups or teams deputed by New Delhi to the state in right historical perspective it is clear that the aim was not to end the political uncertainty in the state or find a lasting solution to the problem. During the past 20 years more than 1,000 people have lost their lives and thousands of others have been incapacitated for the rest of their lives in Kashmir. Instead of finding an amicable solution to a dispute that continues to be a nuclear flashpoint between India and Pakistan these groups were trying to change the political narrative of Kashmir or create alternative discourses thus adding to the confusion. Some of the study groups by calling the Islamic tradition of religious tolerance that Kashmir have had distinction for seven hundred years as a syncretism of various faiths tried to color the major political narrative of the state in a different shade. Some groups making cultural and ethnic diversity the fort of their studies strived hard to give ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional bias to the political struggle of the people of Kashmir. It will be too early to say what findings and recommendations the new team headed by Dileep Padgaonkar submits to the government in Delhi. But so far the team seems to be guided by the common New Delhi discourse: "That the support base for the demand for right to self-determination is confined to overwhelmingly Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley. The political aspirations of the people of the state lack unanimity. There is a disagreement between people of different religious and ethnic groups in the state."
These conjured discourses are being used to silence the international voices asking for a resolution of the dispute. New Delhi has succeeded in marketing this discourse and it has also found takers at the international level. Some important American experts on conflict resolution like Rodney Jones and Howard Schaffer having bought these discourses have been talking about the impracticability of implementing a 60-year-old UN resolution. They suggest some autonomy to Kashmir Valley and porous borders across the LOC as the only solution to the dispute.
Most of the think tanks and interlocutors from New Delhi have been glossing the hard demographic statistic and ignoring the history of the state. These teams have been projecting Ladakh region of the state as a land of Buddhism and Jammu province as that of Hindu faith. These factually incorrect demographic complexions are being used to prejudice resolution of the problem. And while talking about regional political aspirations of the people, the religious divide is used to change the main Kashmir narrative. No study worth reckoning by "interlocutors" and study groups have mentioned the state of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood on Aug. 14, 1947, when India and Pakistan were born as reference points for the resolution of the problem. The facts are that Ladakh region that comprises Leh and Kargil districts is not completely Buddhist. Buddhists form 45 percent of the population with Muslims accounting for 55 percent. In Jammu province only two and half districts are Hindu- dominated and all other hilly districts of the region that include Doda, Bhaderwah, Kishtiwar, Poonch and Rajouri are predominantly Muslim. The two and half districts of Jammu, Kathu and Udhampur suffered a demographic change during the communal disturbance of 1947 in the Jammu region. More than two hundred thousand Muslims were killed and more than five hundred thousands were coerced by the forces of the last feudal ruler to migrate into Pakistan where they continue to live as refugees and their property is recognized as evacuee property under the custody of the government. The truth is that the political aspirations of the majority of people in these hilly areas of Jammu and Kargil are in sync with the aspirations of the majority voice in the Kashmir Valley. But these voices have got drowned in the cacophony of the religious-divide discourse invented by some individuals and NGOs. The new team of interlocutors should not strive to prejudice the major political narrative of the state. If it formulates its recommendations on the basis of historic realities, demographic hard facts, justice and fair play, it will be a step in the right direction that could help the resolution of the Kashmir problem.
— Zahid G Muhammad is editor, Peace Watch,