Confusion reigns over Kashmir committee
13 September 2005
New Delhi: Contrary to media reports that a five-member committee has been set up to negotiate with the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, New Delhi remains unable to agree on the structure of a dialogue with the secessionist coalition. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the Srinagar cleric who chairs the APHC, is scheduled to lead a delegation to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a second round of talks in the coming weeks. Four of the five individuals reported to have been appointed to the committee — the National Security Adviser, M.K. Narayanan, the official interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir, N.N. Vohra, bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, and the Congress politician and former Research and Analysis Wing chief, A.S. Dulat — told The Hindu that they had not been contacted by the Government. Two of them also said they were unlikely to participate in the committee even if contacted, citing personal commitments and doubts over the wisdom of creating such a body. The disputation within the Union Government on the mechanics of the dialogue reflects larger divisions within the policy establishment on the ongoing talks with the APHC. Bid to broaden dialogue Shortly after the United Progressive Alliance took over power in New Delhi last year, officials persuaded the new Government on the need to broaden the dialogue by engaging political actors other than the APHC. However, efforts earlier this year to bring anti- talks rejectionist figures on board, notably Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, did not yield results. Although the failure of these efforts placed pressure on New Delhi to meet with the APHC, the Union Government seemed disinclined to do so even late this summer. At a meeting chaired by Mr. Narayanan in early July, most officials present expressed concern that the dialogue would give the APHC the de facto status of being the spokesman for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and thus marginalise the elected representatives. Interestingly, sources said that neither Mr. Narayanan nor Mr. Vohra was involved in the subsequent decision to meet with the APHC. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said nothing on the subject, but his actions make clear his Government's unhappiness with its exclusion from the dialogue process. A day after the September 5 meeting between Dr. Singh and the APHC, where the detention of prisoners under the Public Safety Act was discussed, the Jammu and Kashmir Government detained Islamist activist Asiya Andrabi for two years. Since Mr. Sayeed's Government has been reluctant to invoke the Act even against terrorism suspects, Ms. Andrabi's arrest made clear its intention to resist decisions to which it was not party.