April 2001 News

Dialogue on Jammu & Kashmir

9 April 2001
The Hindu
K. K. Katyal

Chennai: It is hard not to be repetitive on Jammu and Kashmir. That is because there is no marked advance in the efforts, initiated from time to time, to resolve this issue. There will be no originality, it is confessed, about the comments on the latest plan of the Government "to embark upon political dialogue with all sections of peace-loving people of Jammu and Kashmir". The move comes several weeks after the first announcement of a ceasefire raised hopes of a quick follow- up to consolidate and build upon the peace process, and even then it is inadequate on more than one count. The first reactions are not heartening but could be of use if the deficiencies, pointed out by various sections, are addressed properly. The Government's statement naming the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman, Mr. K.C. Pant, to hold the dialogue on its behalf envisages a process that is far too diffused and does not indicate a concise political plan for his guidance. Perhaps, there is one but has not been made public. Whether the latest move leads to a meaningful advance depends on the man (Mr. Pant) and his mandate. That he is qualified to be entrusted with the crucial mission is accepted but he cannot function in a vacuum. The first reactions could be divided into four categories. One, the comments of the Pakistan Government and the jehadi outfits based in Islamabad, dismissing the official statement, even the ceasefire and the related steps, as gimmicks, as a stunt and questioning New Delhi's sincerity. Two, the views of the Hurriyat leaders who dwell on the importance of a visit by their delegation to Pakistan. Three, the small, moderate sections in Pakistan who do not reject the move outright and, while pointing out its inadequacies, say that "an offer, even though inadequate, is better than no offer and needs to be pursued". Four, the stand taken by a section of political parties and political scientists here who want the new move to be invested with a political content and its ambiguities and inadequacies removed so as to inspire confidence in the State. Mr. Pant would do well to heed the constructive suggestions made by those believing in the negotiation process. Of course, little could be done to satisfy those who continue to rely on the efficacy of the gun. Mr. Pant is shrewd enough to realise that negotiations with the crowd - this is what the various categories of people, intended by the Centre to be involved in the dialogue, amount to - would lead him nowhere. He could treat his talks with these sections as a fact-finding exercise, and if this round leads to crystallisation of his thinking, it would have served a purpose, especially if he, at the subsequent stage, concentrates on fewer interlocutors. There are two broad aspects of the Kashmir problem - one, aspirations and the craving for greater autonomy on the part of those accepting the State's accession; two, the conduct of those who had taken to the path of violence for the "undoing of the wrongs of the past". The two strands may converge at some point later when discussions centre on the framework governing the State's relationship with the Centre, but, to start with, would remain separate. And both would need to be dealt with separately, not in a crowd but with small representative sets of interlocutors. Some question the propriety of involving the State Government - the National Conference and other political parties, which accept the Indian Constitution. As one of the commentators rhetorically asked: "What is the point of talking to the State's Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, when his son is in the Central Cabinet and should be deemed to be a party to the latest official statement?" Citing the Mizoram precedent, they say the Centre talked to the Laldenga party, which did not want to be part of India, and not others with whom there was no such problem. This is necessary on two counts. One, those accepting the Indian Constitution want a new autonomy package and, as such, could not be left out. Two, their capacity to act as spoilers, in the case of progress in the talks with the extremists, is not to be underestimated. What happened when Dr. Abdullah queered the pitch at the time of the discussions, in the wake of the Hizb-initiated ceasefire last year, proves the point. The concerns of the Hurriyat and others of its way of thinking are different and, as such, interaction with them may require greater attention. The controversy over their demand to send a delegation to Pakistan has been unnecessarily allowed to snowball. Had they been allowed to go when the first request came, the issue would not have attracted much notice and the Hurriyat would not have acquired a larger-than-life image which, in turn, would not have created suspicions in New Delhi. On balance, it will be better to let them go than to block their trip, causing a strong sense of grievance and risking their non-participation in the dialogue. It will help the search for the solution at the internal level, strengthening New Delhi's hand in its dealings with Pakistan. Though general and on widely-predicted lines, the Government statement calls for point-by-point examination. It does not recognise the Hurriyat as the sole representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This is an implied "no" to its plea for a visit to Pakistan for contacts with the militant outfits based there. The idea of a tripartite dialogue does not find favour, and the linkage between the resumption of the talks with Pakistan and the insistence on steps by it to curb cross-border terrorism stays. One need not read between the lines to come to these conclusions - which are evident from the plain reading of the statement. It hopes for the participation of "representatives of all walks of life from among the people of Jammu and Kashmir", - the State Government, all political parties, non-government organisations, trade unions, social and religious bodies from all the regions of the State. This clearly amounts to rejection of the Hurriyat's claim to speak exclusively on behalf of the Kashmir people. It wants to send its delegation to Pakistan before deciding on its participation in the talks with the Centre. This is not acceptable to New Delhi as is evident from this formulation - "The Government notes that the APHC has all along taken the position that talks should be unconditional. Now that the Government has agreed to hold talks in the interest of early restoration of peace, it is for the APHC to consider whether it would not be inconsistent for them to set preconditions for the dialogue." As for the "repeated requests from Pakistan" for talks with India, the Government reaffirms its faith in a "bilateral dialogue" and, in support of this line of action, mentions the Shimla Agreement and the spirit of the Lahore Declaration. In the last four months or so, New Delhi indicated its willingness for Kashmir-centric talks. What else, for instance, was the meaning of the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee's musings? Especially this portion - "India is willing and ready to seek a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Towards this end, we are ready to recommence talks with Pakistan at any level, including the highest level" or "In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past. Rather we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture for peace and prosperity for the entire South Asian regions." It is a significant departure even from the approach, envisaged in the Lahore Declaration which spoke of the agreement "to intensify efforts to resolve outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir". In the past, the stress on "bilateral talks" with Pakistan was meant to signify India's opposition to any bid to internationalise the problem or to a third party role, as suggested by Islamabad. Some in the West, too, were sympathetic to this idea but, sensing India's resistance, veered to support for bilateralism. (Even China, "Pakistan's friend for all weathers" shifted from its earlier line, to advocate direct talks). Because of the change in the mood of the world community, Islamabad mooted tripartite talks, involving India, Pakistan and "representatives of the Kashmiri people". New Delhi rejected that idea - and if there was any doubt about its stand, that would have been dispelled now. Having done that, India would do well to give up its hesitations in resuming the bilateral dialogue with Pakistan.


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