An offer to talk
Hurriyat leaders must reciprocate to unconditional dialogue proposition, Centre must create enabling atmosphere by freeing them
Union minister Rajnath Singh’s offer to hold dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders if the separatists come forward for talks has not gone down too well with the latter who have rejected the invitation setting two pre-conditions of talking to Pakistan and accepting Kashmir as a dispute. That is a pity. This is the first time that New Delhi under the present BJP dispensation has made a direct offer to the separatist leaders, which it has otherwise shied away from. It has also come without the pre-conditionality of talking with the framework of the Indian constitution. The departure from the previous rigid posturing must be recognised. The offer has come during an ongoing ceasefire, whose dividends are yet to be fully realized. Such gestures do not contribute to easing the suffocating atmosphere of Kashmir nor help in breaking the stalemate but they do signify a small degree of meltdown and thus open a very tiny window of opportunity which must be availed of by adopting flexibility. There is need for both sides to make shun rigid posturing.
The biggest irony of the softening of rhetoric from the union home minister on the offer of dialogue is that those he hopes to shake hands with continue to be jailed or put under house arrest. To add a certain degree of respectability to the offer he is making, he should be coupling his words with the action of allowing the Hurriyat leaders to move freely and interact with their respective constituencies if they are expected to reciprocate positively to a process of dialogue. That should be the basic minimum pre-requisite to enable the separatist leaders to take one step forward. The Hurriyat also need to reciprocate with a fair degree of scaling down their animosity to an offer of talks. If no pre-conditions are being set by the Centre, they too may need to move forward without the appendages of a demand for recognition of Kashmir dispute. Absence of pre-conditions on either side in no way means that either of the sides are giving up their claims but it only reveals the readiness to talk with an open mind. The fact that the government shows an openness to talk and need for engaging separatist leadership is itself an admission of the political dispute and also a recognition of the legitimacy of Hurriyat leadership. The first step towards building a dialogue space must now be taken and the foundations of a structured dialogue built without these pre-conditions and extreme positioning, which would eventually figure on the dialogue table. If both sides can show some minimal generosity, it can do a great deal to minimize the vitiating air and aide the journey towards a long winding road to peace.
Another extreme posturing that comes in the way is with respect to dialogue with Pakistan. While the separatists want this to be yet another pre-condition, the Centre is indecisive about engaging with Pakistan and outrightly rejects the idea of taking on the issue of Kashmir. Close on the heels of Rajnath’s offer of talks with separatists, union minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj shot down any talks with Pakistan, saying that ‘talks and terrorism’ cannot go together. This rigid posturing does not serve any purpose but only ends up dampening the hopes that have begun to revive with some diplomatic efforts being made by both sides to renew the dialogue channels at some level. Initiating talks with Pakistan to sort out several bilateral issues is important for both the countries as well as for providing stability to a process of engagement in Kashmir. Talks at both levels need to be opened up simultaneously for their own strength and vitality. If New Delhi has reservations, the talks with Pakistan may not necessarily need to begin on Kashmir but Kashmir will ultimately have to be put on the agenda. For sustainability of the peace, neither side can shun this imperative. New Delhi’s recent gestures are a welcome departure. But efforts need to now come from all sides to carry this forward towards a more meaningful and sustained process.
News Updated at : Wednesday, May 30, 2018