No blaming, just dialogue Trust deficit biggest hurdle in initiating talks on Kashmir

Former RAW chief A.S Dulat and Kashmir interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar may have to do much more introspection into the factors responsible for the hesitation of separatists in talking to New Delhi than the simple lament that the latter have not been coming forward to do so. It takes two to clap and no service would be done to the issue by viewing it from one side of the prism. The basic important element of a dialogue process is some level of mutual trust built on the edifice of conducive atmosphere and confidence building. This is severely impaired in the case of Jammu and Kashmir and the onus of that lies more on the government which could neither cash in on the period of comparative calm in the Valley about half a decade ago, nor build up a sustained dialogue process after a series of meetings separately with select separatist leaders at the prime ministerial level. 

It is important to understand and analyse the failure of translating the gestural effort of holding some meetings to a proper mechanism of dialogue process. Instead of turning the period of calm and respite to one of conducive atmosphere for initiating a sustainable dialogue process, the government policy engendered the dangerous course of provoking outrage and adding to existing trust deficit. In many ways, 2008 Amarnath land row, 2009 Bomai killings and Shopian rapes and murders, 2010 killings and 2013 Afzal Guru hanging, which are crucial landmark events in Kashmir’s history detailing the disenchantment of people with New Delhi and their increasing anger against it, all stem from the blunders made by the state and the central governments through their security agencies. 

It is not difficult to decipher why those who swear in the name of ‘azadi’ did not wish to have anything to do with New Delhi appointed group of three interlocutors soon after the 2010 unrest and killings. First the killings had generated enough fresh animosity and secondly, and more basically, the waning trust in New Delhi after the failure of first experience of half hearted engagement, left no scope of any such motivation. Additionally, the interlocutors may also have to look inwards to grapple with the bitter reality of their handicap of having no mandate to make any kind of a bargain with the separatists. If the exercise of interlocution was aimed only at ascertaining and knowing the views of the separatists, it was no hidden secret for much of it has been available through various sources of media for years. 

However, it would be difficult at the same time to let the separatists off the hook for all their shortcoming including their divisive politics. If excessive central interference and play of agencies has been a major cause of weakening of the separatist leadership and engineering divisions, it is equally true that a lack of vision within this leadership exacerbated this process of weakening and decline. While it shouldn’t be considered a problem if separatists get invited to Pakistan High Commission and if they accept these invitations, it should also not be treated like a mandatory duty to attend these official functions. It is just a non issue and both the criticism and the bid by Kashmiri separatists to gain some legitimacy from these visits to Pakistan High Commission are unwanted and need to be dispensed with.

Padgaonkar may not have been very off the mark in questioning the meaning of the slogan of ‘azadi’, even though some intellectuals have briefly spelled out its broad parameters. True, for most people in Kashmir including Kashmiri separatist leaders, a query about ‘azadi’ would simply evoke an answer like ‘resolution of Kashmir process’ or ‘complete withdrawal of security forces from Kashmir’. It would indeed require a far more visionary leadership to build a holistic idea of that ‘azadi’ and resolution. But even as that remains lacking, there is no reason for the government at the top level to not enter into an unconditional dialogue. A dialogue process cannot be held hostage to the inability of the leadership in spelling out what their notion of azadi means, even before it has started. An earnest effort for this has to come from the government to begin a process of dialogue that can start with separatists but gradually become more and more inclusive taking in all shades of opinions, regions and communities.