Mixed bag of hopes
The onus to take dialogue process forward is on both sides but the Centre needs to show magnanimity and flexibility
Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir has ended up in a mixed bag of hopes and disappointments, unfortunately more the latter. The sole welcome grace is that he maintained the spirit of the ongoing unilateral ceasefire and continued to speak the language of reconciliation as opposed to the animosity that has become the familiar narrative of the BJP-led NDA government with respect to Kashmir. The evident disappointment is that he made no major announcements that could visibly aid the process of carrying the initiative forward through words and assurances that could help inspire confidence among the public in Kashmir and break the narrative of the huge trust deficit. The latter is too small a word for the almost irreparable gulf between New Delhi and Kashmiris perpetuated by a cycle of violence and collective suffering of the people bearing its brunt.
Rajnath Singh made an appeal to the separatists to come forward because Kashmir cannot lose another generation. The latter indeed should come forward and reciprocate more positively but it would be unfair to put the ball entirely in the court of the separatists, who too have shown some progress from their absolute rejection of the talks to seeking clarity on the issue.
The Hurriyat skepticism about talks stems from three factors: inability to unequivocally call Kashmir a dispute, absence of signs of dialogue with Pakistan and lack of clarity in New Delhi with respect to beginning a peace initiative in Kashmir. The first concern can easily be discarded for the fact that the willingness to talk in itself is an admission of the disputed nature of Kashmir issue. Secondly, this need not be a pre-condition for Hurriyat leaders to enter into talks which can first begin at a consultation phase and used for suggesting an initiative with Pakistan and other measures that can help strengthen a dialogue. The third element, however, does put the onus on the Centre and fears of ambiguity and confusing signals cannot simply be allayed with the union home minister averring that only his and the prime minister’s remarks are relevant. As a minister with an important portfolio, he must not only ensure that his government speaks in one voice but also lends greater clarity to the offer of dialogue, from taking the invitation to a more direct level, beyond the words expressed in the media to gradually spelling out the terms of engagement. An open ended dialogue should be fine to begin with but are the probable talks just aimed at sharing and exchange of views? Or, is their readiness and willingness to negotiate as well. Both sides need to be prepared for entering into talks and carrying it forward to the negotiating level for an ultimate resolution of Kashmir.
The road to peace is tough and long because of decades of hardened feelings and a historic sentiment in Kashmir. There is dire need to accelerate the pace because of the fragility of the ceasefire and the feeble peace moves being taken. The need is for dispelling ambiguity in more clear terms, sending direct invitations for talks and generating confidence through slew of measures. The union home ministry talked about the possibility of extending the unilateral suspension of military operations and amnesty for minor boys involved in stone pelting and appealing youth to shun path of destruction and adopt path of development. Such words are merely gestural. The youth fighting the mighty military apparatus of the Indian state in Kashmir are not inspired by the desire of development but political aspirations and continuum of suffering.
The union home minister showed no signs of even acknowledging such facts, much suggest an anti-dote for that. The amnesty for stone pelting minors has already been announced by him some months back but remains to be implemented on the ground. That this should be the prerogative of the state government, which perhaps has been left too powerless to even take decisions on this count, dilutes the significance of such announcements. However, a meaningful amnesty policy that can bring to rest the frighteningly disastrous policy of revolving door arrests and pushing a one-time stone pelter or a minor boy to the road of militancy could indeed be an important confidence building measure and there is need to build up on that. Equally importantly, the ongoing ceasefire needs to be seen as an opportunity to focus on the more imperative measures and its extension cannot be seen as a CBM. Besides, it would be foolish to keep violence levels as a yardstick to take a decision on the extension of ceasefire. Any conflict experience in the world is instructive of the painstaking and consistent efforts of years that have gone into working towards reduction of violence. The ceasefire must not only be extended but there is also need to capitalize on it with a sense of immediacy.
News Updated at : Saturday, June 9, 2018