Kashmir’s Interlocutors Are Going To End Up With Zilch11 November 2010
New Delhi: Great storms are currently raging in the teacup of the government’s ‘strategy’ to resolve the troubles in Kashmir. Stung by the persistence of street violence for the past over four months (since June 11, according to the official calculus; the reality is, this represents the date of escalation of street mobilisation that has been ongoing for over four years now), the Centre has conjured up a group of interlocutors, whose greatest strengths appear to be their ‘open minds’, uncluttered by any familiarity with ground realities, and their relentless loquacity. These are not necessarily the best assets to carry into any ‘peace process’, and barely a week into their enterprise, the interlocutors had already attracted a great deal of criticism and entirely deserved embarrassment. As with every initiative backed by the powers-that-be, the appointment of the interlocutors had met with initial appreciation from sections of the media and some political constituencies, though the reception in the Valley - the target of this gambit - was anything but enthusiastic. The latter is unsurprising. Nothing in the backgrounds of this particular set suggests they had the understanding or the political credentials to engage with the leadership in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), particularly with separatists who have been spoiled by direct contacts with the highest in the land, and who preen themselves as the ‘sole representatives’ of the people of Kashmir. Indeed, given their profiles, it is impossible to escape the odour of cronyism in the selection of the interlocutors, and no reason whatsoever to expect them to be taken seriously. It is unsurprising that the separatists, as a block, have refused to meet with them (with the exception of incarcerated terrorists who will have been marched in by the authorities). None of this has, in any measure, undermined the interlocutors’ sense of standing at the very centre of history, and it is clear that they are deeply conscious of the historical burden of their undertaking. ‘New lines’ and ‘new channels’ are being opened, we must believe, ‘new opportunities’ are being created. The unfortunate reality, however, is that all we have had so far is a new tamasha in town. There is an incredible presumption; the idea that the interlocutors are ‘reaching out’ into an isolated Valley that has been divested of external contact in the past (despite the proforma exchanges with leaders from other regions, it is the Valley and, specifically, the separatist leadership that is the target of the present stratagem). This is unmitigated nonsense. There has been a relentless succession of ‘contacts’ with ‘every section of opinion’ in J&K - far beyond the usual suspects who are presently being paraded by state agencies for interaction with the interlocutors. There has been a series of ‘round table conferences’ chaired by prime minister Manmohan Singh himself, though the radical separatist leadership chose to stay away from these. Former R&AW chief AS Dulat has been the Centre’s pointman in J&K under three governments, and there is not a political player in the state whose ‘aspirations’ he is not familiar with, and these ‘aspirations’ have been communicated in detail to Raisina Hill. There are several others who work more invisibly, but who are in continuous contact with the most radical elements in the state, and beyond the territories under Indian control. The complex aspirations of the ‘people’ and their variegated interpretations of ‘azadi’ are not the great mysteries the interlocutors appear to believe them to be. It is, consequently, unclear how three, no doubt wise, persons from ‘civil society’ will discover ‘truths’ that have eluded representatives of ‘uncivil society’ (the government) for decades. Meanwhile, mischief from across the border, in the shape of continuing infiltration and an escalating cycle of cross-border firing, continues. Within such a context, it is not clear what a ‘dialogue’ with extremists - in Kashmir or in the Pakistani state apparatus - can be expected to achieve. It is clear that various patterns of violence - including terrorism and stone pelting - remain integral instrumentalities of the Pakistani and separatist constituencies, and these, precisely, are the source of their ‘special status’ within any ‘peace process’. Why, then, would they abandon, or even dilute, these for the uncertain blandishments of Delhi’s interlocutors? For its part, Raisina Hill now appears to be dominated by inept illusionists who possess the capacity only to deceive themselves, and their amateur conjuring is contemptuously rejected even by the constitutional political constituencies in J&K as “a useless exercise”. The interlocutors have repeatedly emphasised that they have no specific mandate in J&K; that they are there, principally, to ‘listen’. If even a sliver of hope is to be recovered from this ill-conceived initiative, or, at least, further damage is to be averted, they would best do just that: shut up, and listen.