A sudden change of heart of New Delhi to allow former prime minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik to visit Kashmir has come as a surprise to many but at the same time has rekindled a new hope toward bringing peace in the Valley.
On November 23, Bondevik, who was Norway’s Prime Minister until 2005, on his maiden visit to the Valley met Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
The former Norwegian PM, who is also the president of Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, also met business delegation and the High Court Bar Association.
Bondevik’s visit was brokered by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living. A Hindu spiritual guru Ravi Shankar is considered to have a close bond with the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi.
As per media reports, the reason behind Bondevik’s visit was to regain some reputation for India in international community after the UN Human Rights Commission wrote an extremely critical report of the situation in Kashmir in the summer, casting a shadow on India’s democratic credentials.
However, former interlocutor on Kashmir, Prof Radha Kumar said it was too early to draw any conclusion out of Bondevik’s visit to the Valley.
“Bondevik has been interested in Kashmir for many years now. He was already in talks with the leadership in Pakistan administered Kashmir and even visited the place in 2015 and also last year,” Kumar said. “He had many times requested the Art of Living to facilitate his visit to this part of Kashmir.”
On New Delhi’s willingness to allow Bondevik’s Kashmir visit, Kumar said it might be one of the election strategy for the BJP to garner some mileage out of it.
Kumar, who has also written a book on Kashmir, titled ‘Paradise At War’, said despite “whatever intentions” of New Delhi, any initiative on Kashmir should be embraced.
“On certain occasions even in fruitless exercises, something positive comes up which then becomes unavoidable for the government,” she said.
After his Kashmir visit, the former Norwegian Prime Minister also met some top political bigwigs in New Delhi before flying to PaK to meet President Sardar Masood Khan.
National Conference (NC) Vice President and former chief minister Omar Abdullah, pointed fingers at New Delhi to explain the Bondevik’s visit to Srinagar.
“What are the Norwegians up to in Kashmir? Would either (External Affairs Minister) @SushmaSwaraj ji or (National Security Advisor Ajit) Doval ji care to put the visit of the former Norwegian PM to both sides of the divided state in the correct context or do we have to rely on rumours & conjecture?” Abdullah tweeted.
Former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief A S Dulat said irrespective of Delhi’s motive any forward movement on Kashmir was a welcome move.
“I don’t know how former PM of Norway landed in Kashmir. I am still trying to find it out. But I see it as a positive sign as far bringing peace in Kashmir in concerned,” Dulat told Rising Kashmir.
Dulat, the author of two books ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’, and ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace’ said that Norwegians had a rich history of being peace negotiators across the world and it was good to see their involvement in Kashmir peace process.
Over the years, Norway’s engagement in peace and reconciliation processes in some of world’s worst conflicts have turned out to be instrumental in bringing peace in the regions.
In 1992-93, Norway as facilitator for the negotiations between Israel and Palestine led to the Oslo Accords (peace process) between the two states.
Norway also played a leading role in the negotiations between Sudan and south Sudan leading to the peace agreement in 2005.
Norway was also involved in Sri Lanka for years, hoping to broker an end to the conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhala government.
Norway has also provided financial and technical support for peace processes in Aceh, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Syria and Uganda.
In addition, Norway has been engaged in dialogues in several other countries, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Timor-Leste.
Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq termed Norway’s intervention as a positive step toward the resolution of Kashmir issue.
On what prompted New Delhi to give consent for the visit, Mirwaiz said it might be that Government of India is also realising that dialogue was the only solution to resolve Kashmir problem.
“I think after the UN Human Rights Commission report, New Delhi also realised that talks are the only way forward. Norway is known for its peace initiatives,” Mirwaiz said.
President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) Sheikh Ashiq, who also met the former Norwegian Prime Minister termed their meeting “a start toward a right direction”.