The government in New Delhi has appointed former Intelligence Bureau chief, Dineshwar Sharma, as points-person for Jammu & Kashmir. This comes after persistent demands from various quarters for a sustained dialogue with all stakeholders to find a political resolution of the Kashmir problem.
The current initiative is seen as the Indian government’s intent to resolve the long-standing Kashmir issue in a democratic manner by taking into account the views of all stakeholders and shades of opinion.
The current initiative is an opportunity for all stakeholders in Kashmir to engage with the points-person or interlocutor and seek resolution of their grievances.
The appointment of a interlocutor follows the Prime Minister’s 2017 Independence Day speech where he stressed that the Kashmir issue could neither be resolved through bullets or through abuse - “Na goli se na gali se, baat banegi Kashmiriyon ko gale lagane se”.
The Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh too has been trying to break the ice in the Kashmir Valley by visiting several times to reach out to civil society and hear their grievances. He has consistently maintained that the Central Government is pained to see the sufferings caused by the mindless violence unleashed upon the common people of the state by instigators funded and guided from across the border.
Continuous terrorist activities are aimed at ensuring the continuance of security forces presence in every part of the Valley. The persons controlling the terrorists believe that if terrorist action stops and Indian security forces are withdrawn from civilian areas, popular unrest would wane and their objective of indefinitely prolonging the crisis in the Valley would fail. The aim of the Pakistan establishment is to keep the Vale burning forever so as to keep the Indian government on the backfoot and prone to diplomatic and terrorist assault from across the border.
Not surprisingly, the Pakistan government’s reaction to the resumption of dialogue has not been entirely positive. Pakistan has termed the move as an “insincere and unrealistic” measure as any meaningful dialogue must include three parties to the Kashmir conflict i.e. Kashmiris, India and Pakistan.
With the appointment of an interlocutor for Kashmir, New Delhi hopes that Islamabad will now abandon its negative Kashmir policy that simply perpetuates violence and misery. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Critics of the Indian government would do well to note that the decision to appoint an interlocutor who is free to operate without pre-conditions is a bold step and ought to be welcomed by all well-meaning stakeholders as it offers a promise for a meaningful resolution of the Kashmir issue.
The new interlocutor has been given free rein by New Delhi and is empowered to talk to all including separatist leaders.
It should be mentioned here that many opponents and critics of the Indian government in Kashmir have been demanding talks without pre-conditions for a long time now. This then is their opportunity to engage in dialogue. There have been too many failed attempts at dialogue and history might not be kind to those who seek to destroy the green shoots of peace and normalcy.
Several initiatives have been undertaken in the past to promote a political dialogue in Kashmir. Unfortunately, most were de-railed for one reason or the other.
2001 - The then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced on 5 April 2001 that a political dialogue with all stakeholders within J&K as well as those outside would be initiated. A commission headed by KC Pant (the then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission) was formed to initiate political dialogue. Its agenda was “Peace and how it may be attained in Troubled State”.
2003 - NN Vohra (the present J&K governor) was appointed interlocutor on 19 February 2003. It was declared that he would be initiating dialogue with all parties in J&K.
2004 - After some success in Indo-Pakistan talks, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq along with leaders of his Hurriyat faction held two rounds of talks with New Delhi on 22 January and 27 March 2004.
2005 - After the formation of the UPS government in New Delhi in 2004, feelers were sent out and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq along with Prof AG Butt, Maulana Abbas Aansari, Bilal Lone and Fazlul Haq Qureshi met the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on 5 September 2005.
2006 - JKLF chairman Yasin Malik along with Ghulam Rasool Dar met Dr Manmohan Singh on 17 February 2006.
2006 - Mirwaiz Umar Farooq once again led a delegation to hold another round of talks with the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on 3 May 2006.
Reactions to Indian Government’s Decision to appoint Dineshwar Sharma as Kashmir Interlocutor
It is learnt that Dineshwar Sharma is an IPS officer of the 1979 batch of the Kerala cadre who later moved into the Intelligence Bureau where he served in many sensitive posts, including in the Kashmir Valley at the time of peak militancy in 1990s. Even after his stint in the Valley, Sharma held several key posts involving J&K affairs and is considered knowledgeable in Kashmiri politics. He held the position of IB Director in 2015-16. In a recent interview Sharma stated that Kashmir is the most difficult job in the country today.
Dineshwar Sharma, Kashmir Interlocutor
“Kashmir problem is the most difficult job for the country, most difficult problem for the country…The immediate challenge is to restore peace in Kashmir and bring back the youth who are moving away and getting disillusioned. For youth, are the future of Kashmir and also of the nation.”
“The youth of Kashmir like Zakir Musa (Kashmir Al Qaeda chief) and Burhan Wani (slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander) get hype when they talk about (establishing Islamic) Caliphate…I am worried about the people of Kashmir. If all this picked up, the situation will be like Yemen, Syria and Libya. People will start fighting in so many groups. So, it is very important that everybody, all of us, contribute so that suffering of Kashmiris end.”
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti
“This is the beginning of a political process. The Centre has finally taken a very serious step forward. There has been a lot of discussion within the government about it. There has been lot of preparation. When Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) spoke on Independence Day, the message was clear that he wants reconciliation, a process of rapprochement, to be the mainstay of the government’s Kashmir policy. I knew that they were looking for a credible face since August. The appointment of this interlocutor, a retired officer whom we know very well, is part of that process of reconciliation… it is an important move forward…Unlike most such processes earlier, Government of India has taken ownership of this initiative. Unlike the interlocutors sent here by UPA government, this interlocutor is the official representative of the Government of India. He has been given a Cabinet Secretary rank and, thus, the government is owning it up officially. Unlike the previous interlocutors (during UPA rule), he will speak on behalf of the Government of India and his report will be the government’s own report.”
Congress leader Saifuddin Soz [Indian Express, 27 October 2017]
“I welcome the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma, former director of the Intelligence Bureau, as an emissary of the Government of India to initiate a dialogue in Kashmir. But I won’t hesitate to say there is widespread cynicism in Kashmir on the outcome of a dialogue the government has set at a non-political level…This time, I have a feeling that Rajnath Singh has the full backing of PM Modi. Moreover, he seems to be clear that the dialogue “will be sustained and aimed at understanding the aspirations of the people”. It may, therefore, proceed on expected lines…There is another reason that makes me feel that this dialogue will be more productive compared to the earlier ones. The Opposition led by the Congress seems to be becoming a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. Such an atmosphere didn’t prevail when the UPA had to encounter constant opposition from the BJP…There is yet another favourable factor for the dialogue process. A host of serving military leaders and retired officers with considerable experience have been suggesting, for quite some time, that a political dispute can ultimately be resolved through political means only. Such thoughts have also been expressed by the leadership of the paramilitary forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The atmosphere, therefore, seems conducive for the dialogue process.”
Syed Salahuddin, chief of United Jehad Council (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir)
“We are not against the dialogue but the dialogue bugle announced by India is a big joke. Kashmir is neither a territorial dispute between two countries nor an internal issue of any country. The fate of over one crore forty lakh souls is attached to it.”
27 October 2017