Why Interlocutors Leave Valley Cold16 November 2010
The Indian Express
Srinagar: The team of interlocutors appointed by the Centre for Kashmir has gone back after a second trip to the state, without making much of a breakthrough so far. While Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M M Ansari may be among the most vocal to have taken on the mantle, they are not the first ones to have tried their hands at resolving the Kashmir dispute. The state has seen a succession of interlocutors over the past two decades, right from the goodwill visit of a Rajiv Gandhi-led all-party delegation in March 1990, when the Valley was swept up in its first popular tumult, to be soon followed by a virulent militancy. But all of them, without exception, have left behind little in terms of a roadmap or progress on a Kashmir solution. All interlocutors have followed a predictable trajectory before suddenly doing the vanishing act. Their mission usually starts with a hunt to find partners for dialogue - with separatists invariably staying away, feeling they deserve more than dealing with New Delhi’s low-profile emissaries - and ends with events overtaking them and rendering them irrelevant to the evolving situation. In case of those sent in with an informal mandate as well as those coming with a government stamp, the script has hardly differed. Of the informal initiatives, the most prominent was the Kashmir Committee led by reputed lawyer and BJP leader Ram Jethmalani. Incidentally, Padgaonkar was a member of the committee. Other members included former law minister Shanti Bhushan, Supreme Court advocate Ashok Bhan, freelance journalist Jawid Laiq, retired Indian Foreign Service officer V K Grover, eminent lawyer Fali Nariman and the then Asian Age editor M J Akbar. Unlike the interlocutors appointed by the Centre, the committee was able to engage the separatists. However, nothing came of the engagement. Even though Jethlamalani claims that the committee had achieved a five-point agreement with the moderate separatists which the Centre refused to back, Mirwaiz says nothing of the sort happened. “We discussed the implementation of Musharraf’s four-point proposals with the Kashmir Committee. And nothing else,” says Mirwaiz. The proposals unveiled by the former Pakistan president in 2006 involved an incremental process: identification of regions in Kashmir for a solution; demilitarisation; self-governance; and a joint management or consultative mechanism between India and Pakistan on the state. There were other efforts, by the likes of R K Mishra and Wajahat Habibullah. Their labours were more in the nature of knowing the mind of separatists and establishing contact between the former and the Centre. For its part, the Centre has formally initiated three exercises over the past decade, where the people were charged with holding a dialogue with various shades of opinion in the state and setting in process a motion towards some kind of a settlement. The first initiative was led by K C Pant in 2001. The then undivided Hurriyat Conference refused to meet him. Pant’s biggest success was a meeting with moderate separatist Shabir Shah, who then operated outside the Hurriyat fold. Pant was followed by the present J&K Governor N N Vohra. He was appointed in 2003. The Hurriyat Conference refused to meet him, insisting they would not talk to any functionary from New Delhi less than the Prime Minister. He met social organisations, ethnic groups and NGOs. Vohra’s initiative was soon rendered irrelevant by the prevailing situation in Kashmir. The militant violence declined precipitously, which created a space for mainstream politics and pushed the Hurriyat to the margins. The UPA government, which took over in 2004, jettisoned the institution of interlocutors, preferring first to deal directly with separatists and then ignoring them altogether. However, the outbreak of massive protests and the stone-throwing over the past three years have changed the situation. Separatism has reclaimed its lost ground and wields tremendous control on the street. It is this that has forced the Centre to take a recourse to the instrumentality of interlocutors. So far, the only thing that separates them from previous visits is the noise they have created. Mirwaiz says interlocutors are not the answers to their demands. “We want dialogue at the political level, not at academic or economic level,” he told The Indian Express, adding that rather than confronting issues, interlocutors only helped divert the same. “This has been the main reason for our decision not to meet them”.