Time For Interlocutors To Pack Up From J&K?7 August 2011
Times of India
Srinagar: They were supposed to prepare a roadmap for settling the Kashmir issue. But today, with open disagreements among them, the three Central interlocutors are apprehensive of visiting the state and facing local media questions. Because one of the panelists, M M Ansari, refuses to withdraw his remark against his colleague, Dileep Padgaonkar, criticising him for attending conferences organised by Kashmiri American Council. KAC's executive director Ghulam Nab Fai was arrested by FBI last month for alleged financial links to Pakistan's ISI. 'The revelation that Mr Padgaonkar attended an ISI-backed conference and Radha Kumar went for a similar one in Brussels damaged our credibility. In their place, I would've quit,' Ansari said recently. In response, Padgaonkar said, 'When I was the editor of The Times of India, my sub-editors represented a spectrum of political views, from extreme Left to Right. But once the editor decided, it was the party line. We are on track and shall submit our report to the government.' The interlocutors have cancelled at least two visits to the Valley since the Fai controversy broke out. The question being raised here is whether, owing to their differences and the failure to meet their objectives, the team has outlived its utility. In fact, even Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's interventions have failed to solve down their problems. Be it the timing of their visits or the places they went to, their political stances or even the amount of airtime hogged by each interlocutor, little they have said or done inspires people's confidence any more. For most people in Kashmir, the Central team is now largely irrelevant. This includes both mainstream and separatist camps. On their last visit here, the three weren't even able to meet Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Problem is in absence of a political mandate, nobody in Srinagar or Delhi believes that they matter; a belief sources say the interlocutors share. 'They are just waiting for the formalities to get over, just churn out some document and get it over with,' said a government source. The Congress has distanced itself from the panel, careful that the Fai-ISI link doesn't taint it. 'They were appointed by the Home Minister. They advise him. If this can improve things, I'll be happy,' said J&K Congress chief Saifuddin Soz. From being appointees of the Union government mandated with providing a roadmap for Kashmir, to advisers to the Home Minister, seems a quick demotion. Radha Kumar said all is well. 'Conflict resolution isn't easy. The road is long and hard and as we have seen sometimes nasty. We are still working together despite the differences and shall complete our task,' she said. That 'task' is beset with problems. A source said the team's general formula seems to be bending towards increased autonomy for the state as a whole to placate the separatists. This would make parties like the BJP unhappy. 'If a political settlement includes genuine devolution of powers to the regions, the demand for abrogation of Article 370 will lose its sting,' says the interim document submitted by the panel to Chidambaram. The separatists say it's a backdoor attempt to divide the state and will be resisted. But for all this the three will have to visit Srinagar.