Kashmir and Interlocutors – The bond unbreakable
‘Kashmir is on edge’- this phrase for its frequent use during past three months has become a political jargon and a journalistic cliché. But, behind this cliché there are scores of stories of agony and pain of sobbing mothers, wailing fathers who have lost their dear ones during past hundred and six days. There are horrendous tales of caged and ‘curfewed’ life of sick and ailing and newborn babies and expecting mother, famished children and semi-starving families that will never be reported nor recorded in history.
The year 2010, with deaths of three innocents in January had a gory start but since June 11, that saw the skull of a teenager Tufail Matoo, smashed with tear gas canister the dance of death in this ‘Paradise on earth’ is going on unabated. Since that fateful day so far 107 schools going children and teenagers have been killed in police firings and hundreds others have been wounded with bullets, pellets and in baton charges. Thousands of people all over Kashmir valley and in hilly areas of Jammu province have defied restrictions and converged on the roads and raised slogans in support of “Azadi” and against killings and atrocities by men in uniform. True, most prominent newspapers in the world published front page stories and most important television channels in New Delhi and other parts of the world covered Kashmir situation at prime times but it took more than three months to this human tragedy to unfold before the power centers in New Delhi. And in an effort to defuse deadly unrest in the State on last Monday the biggest ever contingent of the parliamentarians from New descended on the the ‘ghost city’ to know people’s opinion and gather people’s perception in a ‘no-newspaper’ city.
It needed no annotations and explanation. The deathly silence that prevailed on the deserted streets from the Srinagar International Airport to the International Convention Complex- the venue where the team was expected to get braced and updated about the situation in the state told its own story. It spoke volumes about the disconnect between the power centers in the people. The city wrapped in razor and barbed wires- the fearsome silence in posh colonies needed no interpreter to tell the team that silence had been coerced.
It was only the members of the ruling alliance that could make it to the venue of meeting without difficulty and because of the strict curfew it had been made almost impossible for community groups and civil society to make it to the venue of the meeting. Notwithstanding hurdles created by the government some members of the civil society made it to the venue of the meeting.
Notwithstanding with Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik denying to meet the delegation the visit started at a skeptical note yet it was important in as much as enabling 36 members of Indian Parliament representing every shade of opinion to have feel of the situation. True the government in office endeavored hard to see its point of view prevailing upon the delegation yet there was a group from Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies an independent think tank that articulated people’s urges and aspiration before the team and called upon the resolution of the dispute.
I am not here to debate the presentations made by the political parties believing in finality of accession of the state with Indian union and confronting each other over polemics of relations with New Delhi for politics but would like to analysis the result of this high profile visit. It is true that the difference in the approach of the parliamentarian group in dealing or addressing the Kashmir problem became more than obvious before the team boarded the plane for New Delhi. Many parliamentarians by meeting the Hurriyat Conference and JKLF leaders not once but twice during their two visit to Srinagar made it amply clear that there was a consensus in parliamentarians to open a dialogue with these leaders but BJP by distancing itself from other parties on this count sufficiently suggested that it would not be easy for New Delhi to agree the conditions laid down by Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for talks with Kashmir leadership—and in all likelihood New Delhi will not venture into a direct dialogue with these leaders but will try to repeat old methodology of sending official and unofficial interlocutors to them for helping in restoration of peace in the state before the scheduled visit of US President to New Delhi.
The visit also exposed deep fissures within parties believing in accession of the state with Indian Union. It is not only the National Conference and PDP that are drifting in different direction but even the ruling alliance is not in unison on the demand of autonomy that provides edifice to the politics of the National Conference. The National Conference after its meeting with the delegation sounded triumphant on two counts, one, that New Delhi was not going to disturb Omar Abdullah and second it was favorably disposed off towards its restoration of autonomy to the state as enshrined in the ‘Instrument of accession”. The joy proved short lived. The Pradesh Congress pricked the inflated balloon of the National Conference by opposing autonomy. The stand taken by the Congress leadership on restoration of autonomy to the state could not have been without a shove from the central leadership.
Looking at the visit of the parliamentarian delegation in perspective of these dissenting notes both at national and state level the visit could not be counted of much consequences. This was evident in the new initiative or the package announced by GOI on Friday:
*Interlocutors to begin dialogue with political parties, groups, students, civil society
* Students detained for stone pelting to be released, charges to be withdrawn
* Ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for family of those killed since June 11
* Unified Command to review deployment of security forces, especially in Srinagar
* PSA cases to be reviewed
* Educational institutions to be reopened immediately
* Rs 100 cr additional assistance for JK
* Two Special Task Forces to examine developmental needs of Jammu/Ladakh
In this eight point package announced by New Delhi what is new that could be seen of some political consequences and that could be counted as a move forward. Before dwelling a bit in detail on the first point all other eight points fall within the prerogative of the state and by and large are routine administrative matters. Law and order is a state subject for all states even those that are not governed by article 370. It is the state that has to decide release of detunes or arrested people and centre has no role in it. The revision of Public Safety Cases by the review committee is routine matter with the State Home Department.
Examining redeployment of troops by the Unified Command is also a routine matter and centre government has no role in it. The command for past twenty has taken hundreds of decision with regard to withdrawal of army or even paramilitary troops. Providing of relief to victims of police firing is also a routine administrative matter to be dealt by the state social welfare department. What made the Central government to include these measures that are called CBM in its package was perhaps to remind the state the powers vested it.
But what sounds political in this otherwise administrative package is the announcement of the interlocutors. Seen in right historical perspective since 1991, the Central government might have appointed more than a dozen interlocutors to hold talks with the Hurriyat Conference leaders. Most of the talks were held behind the scene and very few under the gaze of media. It will not possible to recount the names of all the interlocutors appointed by New Delhi from time to time. In 1992, none less than a prominent economists and former Vice Chancellor A.M. Khusroo along with a team of five other top most intellectuals and economists was appointed as an interlocutor. The Hurriyat Conference with Syed Ali Geelani as Chairman held marathon talks with New Delhi interlocutors. In 2000 K.C. Pant was appointed as interlocutor- he could establish rapport only with Shabir Ahmed Shah, then Kashmir Committee with Ram Jathmalani and so on and so forth but all these interlocutors failed as there were no clear cut terms of reference. All these teams were asked to explore the possibilities of breaking the ground and nothing beyond.
The role of all the interlocutors appointed during past twenty two years in itself has shown that without terms of reference for the dialogue the new team of interlocutors will prove nothing but an exercise in evasion.
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