Half-hearted initiatives

Constructive dialogue with separatists would substantially complement India’s engagement with Pakistan

Ideally, each and every initiative taken towards peaceful settlement of the festering dispute over the ‘future’ of Jammu and Kashmir deserves to be welcomed. But in the recent past this route has been too congested to sustain any hope of a productive outcome. The latest instance being the meeting of legislators and MPs organised in New Delhi by one of the three interlocutors, Radha Kumar. The uninspiring end product of the exercise reads like a concoction of what all has been said so many times by so many other people. The most glaring failure of the meeting, like other such gatherings held from time to time, is that no new ideas have emerged, much less a road map being attempted.

Somehow these gatherings, sponsored by various non-governmental groups, seem to be orchestrating a beaten common tune that neither inspires nor enthuses. Ordinary people in J&K, especially in the Kashmir Valley, have developed sort of a cynicism about such conferences. Main reason being that the goodly vague resolutions adopted at the end continue to be too vague and evasive.

Emphasis on confidence building measures (CBMs) runs like a common thread. In the latest case, it would have been really useful if the host, Radha Kumar, had cleared the mist about the eventual outcome of the mission undertaken by the central government-appointed interlocutors. In the absence of any reliable information about what the interlocutors had recommended all sorts of speculative projections are being placed upon their ‘secret’ report gathering dust in the North Block at Raisina Hill along with several other similar reports submitted to the union government over the past six decades or so. Natural inference is that there is either nothing concrete or workable in the interlocutors’ final recommendations or that the central government has lost interest in the venture after it had served its purpose as a diversionary tactic to avoid serious dialogue among genuine stakeholders.

It need hardly be emphasised that the only acceptable course to take is to waste no more time and initiate serious dialogue with the leaders of the alienated population. Dragging the issue is eroding the credibility of the dialogue process itself, notwithstanding what the so-called Track-2 channels are seeking to arrive at. There is nothing that is not known about the position of other (mainstream) actors, like legislators and MPs, who are sought to be ‘engaged’ by the competing non-governmental hosts. The feelings rooted in the unresolved issue continue to be alive. However, the form of manifestation might vary from time to time. But the reality is ever present in one form or other whenever any untoward incident occurs.

The reason for reiterating the need for a constructive initiative towards conflict resolution is that, after a long gap, atmospherics between India and Pakistan are showing durable signs of improvement. Trade and diplomatic engagement between the two countries have become more frequent and friendlier. Some of its dividends are even beginning to take shape in the form of visa-regime relaxation and trade expansion. The two-levels of engagement are intrinsically linked.

The so-called internal dimension of the problem can be fruitfully addressed only—and only—when the overall atmosphere is conducive like it appears to be now. Conversely, Indo-Pak normalisation is always sensitive to the ground situation in Kashmir. An added factor is the ‘health’ of the regime in place in New Delhi. It is indeed an encouraging sign (looking from here) that despite its existential problems, the UPA2 under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not deviated from the course to engage with Pakistan. Starting a dialogue with separatist leaders in Kashmir would substantially reinforce Dr Singh’s initiative.