From July 31 to August 2, former top ranking military officials from India and Pakistan as well as politicians, journalists and civil society activists from both sides of the Line of Control met in Dubai. During the meeting, they called for the resumption of dialogue between the two neighbours, “cessation of hostilities”, and implementation of a 2003 ceasefire agreement that is now badly frayed. The discussions took place after a turbulent year in the Kashmir Valley, which saw civilian protests, a rise in militancy, and regular ceasefire violations at the Line of Control.
The meeting was organised by the United Kingdom-based non-governmental organisation Conciliation Resources, in association with the Kashmir Initiative Group, a community of civil society members from both countries. Conciliation was tight-lipped on the proceedings at the meeting. When contacted by Scroll.in, it replied:
“The dialogue meetings are an opportunity for participants to voice their thoughts and recommendations but they are not a decision making platform and do not have a partisan agenda. Conciliation Resources works towards inclusive processes and understands that it takes time in order to achieve this.
“Since they were held under Chatham House rule to allow a free and candid conversation among the participants, however, this also restricts the dissemination of information to the media.”
Voices in the Valley as well as the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen criticised the meeting as motivated and aimed at undermining the Kashmiri separatist movement.
Pakistani newspapers described the meeting, brought about through non-governmental channels, as part of the “moribund Track II diplomacy process”. Track II diplomacy, or talks that happen outside the ambit of the official dialogue between two governments, has long been a fixture in the landscape of India-Pakistan relations.
A person privy to the deliberations in Dubai, who did not wish to be identified, said the meeting was being touted as a “rare high-level political meeting” since talks were disrupted after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, in which 10 gunmen of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba had conducted coordinated shootings and bombings across the city over four days in November, killing more than 160 people.
Since mass protests broke out in Kashmir last year after the death of militant leader Burhan Wani, an unofficial team led by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yashwant Sinha made several visits to Srinagar to meet separatist Hurriyat leaders and start “Track II diplomacy”. Another meeting was held this April, also in Dubai, with representatives from both sides of the Line of Control.
At the meeting in August, the Indian delegation included former air vice marshal of the Indian Air Force, Kapil Kak, who was also part of the team Sinha led to the Valley last year. Kak said the “Sulah [peace] dialogue” was not the first. “We have been doing this for quite some years now, at various locations in India, Pakistan, across the Line of Control,” he said. “A dialogue aimed at just two things: peace, and peace.”
Among the politicians from Jammu and Kashmir who attended the meeting were the BJP’s Vikram Randhawa, Nasir Aslam Wani of the National Conference, Ghulam Nabi Monga and Asgar Ali Karbalai of the Congress, and Balwant Singh Mankotia, president of the Panther’s Party. The participating journalists included Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Rising Kashmir, Zahir ud Din of Greater Kashmir, Iftikhar Gilani, strategic affairs editor at DNA, and Zafar Chaudhary, a Jammu-based journalist and author. Civil society activist Khurram Parvez was also a participant.
From the Pakistani side, the meeting was attended, among others, by Lieutenant General (retired) Asad Durrani, who formerly headed the Inter-Services Intelligence, and General (retired) Ehsan-ul Haq, former chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. From the political establishment were members of the “Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly”, including its speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir. Abdul Rashid Turabi, a legislator and head of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s regional chapter across the Line of Control till July, attended. So did Faiz Ahmed Naqshbandi, convenor of the Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat across the Line of Control. Ershad Mahmud, convenor of the Kashmir Initiative Group, was also present.
No joint media declaration was issued, but there were consensus points on security, keeping the peace and interregional integration.
According to persons with knowledge of what transpired at the meeting, delegates called for “strong measures” to deal with extremism and the impact of violence on the civilian population. It was argued that while a resolution for Kashmir is discussed, “interim relief” should be provided to the people of the state by “reviving and strengthening” existing confidence-building measures (which include people-to-people contact measures such as cross-border trade and travel, among others).
Speakers raised the point of a “limited role” for external powers, particularly the United States and China, in resolving the row. Participants argued for the need for discussion and negotiation on the legal and constitutional frameworks for resolution. They also said the applicability of international laws, including resolutions of the United Nations, needs to be considered.
Furthermore, there was a discussion on whether the scope of resolution was in “territorial or non-territorial frameworks” – that is, whether the matter was to be dealt with in terms of “a territory-centric or people-centric solution”.
However, the dialogue has come to be viewed with suspicion and as futile in the Kashmir Valley. It also drew flak from militant quarters who were not represented in the meeting.
Mohammad Yusuf Shah, better known as Syed Salahuddin, heads the United Jihad Council, an amalgam of separatist and militant groups fighting in the Kashmir region. He is also chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen. In an interview to the Pakistani Urdu daily State Views, Salahuddin berated the participants for being on the “payrolls” (of an unspecified institution) and for backstabbing and conspiring against the separatist movement in the Valley:
“Kashmiris did not give sacrifices for the trade of potatoes and onions or for division [taqsim] of Kashmir. The people who attended the Dubai Conference are those who work on the payroll... and such conferences are nothing but futile exercise and a source of minting money.
“I feel extremely sorry for those people who have been in the ranks of separatists but could not say two words of protest in the gathering. We are neither short sighted nor do we harbour a desire for the gun but we can to the any extent for Kashmir’s freedom...
“We are neither against dialogue nor think of pawning off the movement but when our young generation is being butchered, how can we stay quiet. My heart is sad. It is extremely regretful that someone had sealed the lips of the people who participated in the conference held in Dubai. I want to ask them that who gave them the right to pass resolutions or statements of policy against the movement.
“On one hand the Indian government is on the verge of eliminating the Kashmiri leadership. [Separatist leader] Syed Ali Geelani is [under] house arrest since a while, Masarat Alam is imprisoned, Asiya Andrabi is a jailed even though she is an asthma patient, Shabir Shah is imprisoned in a jail on the banks of a dirty sewer, this situation is worrying. On the other hand such conferences are conspiring against the movement.”
The Lashkar-e-Taiba, too, endorsed Salahuddin’s take on the Dubai conference. “The consensus of Syed Salahuddin represents the sentiments of whole Kashmiri nation,” a statement issued on Monday quoted Lashkar chief Mahmoud Shah as saying. “We would like to request the pro-freedom participants to at least remember those who put forth their sacrifices in the freedom movement. Lastly, we would like to warn humanitarian-mission workers to not get themselves played in the hands of perpetrators, but to the righteous cause.”
The deliberations also received little coverage in the Valley’s press. The few publications that did cover the event were critical of it and seemed to suggest a National Investigation Agency crackdown on separatist leaders of the Hurriyat might have forced their participation. An August 23 report in the Kashmir Reader quoted a Hurriyat Conference leader who alleged that the rival Mirwaiz faction was facing criticism from within, and that its representative had attended the conference under pressure of the crackdown by the central agency.
The Mirwaiz faction, however, responded by terming the report mischievous and motivated. A statement by the faction, quoted by the same daily, said: “Such ‘presumptions’ are promoted by agencies who are always on a look-out to create wedge among the leadership and confusion among people.”
The meeting was also criticised in a column in the Urdu weekly Ummat. The column featured on its cover with the headline “Trade of hot flowing blood in air conditioned hotels”.
Former air vice marshal Kapil Kak, who was a participant in the meeting, said, “If people don’t want peace that is up to them.” He added, “It is not a deferment of the political resolution at the altar of contemporary stability no matter how false it appears on the surface. I want to know who can question it.”
Vikram Randhawa, a BJP member of the Legislative Council from Jammu, said the Jammu and Kashmir-based political parties had “produced ourselves as Indians, keeping political mandates behind” and that the agenda was “clear cut”.
The Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Monga said participants had only one agenda – to resolve the Kashmir row through talks. He added that Salahuddin’s statement did not matter. “We have to keep our own point of view,” the Congress leader said. “There were top ranking people from Pakistan as well. They also agreed to talks.”
Also referring to the Hizbul Mujahideen chief’s statement, journalist Iftikhar Gilani said: “Salahuddin has been misguided. Whatever he has said was not talked about there.”
Other participants claimed that hostilities by India were discussed more than the militancy. According to a Valley-based participant, these hostilities included raids by the National Investigation Agency on separatists, counter-insurgency operations, and civilian casualties inflicted by security forces.
After Salahuddin’s statement, Abdul Rashid Turabi attempted to clear the air in an interview uploaded on YouTube. In it, he said there were two options for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute – militarily or peacefully. The Pakistani side was ready for both, he added. But towards the end of the interview, he called for a peaceful resolution.
Turabi also said the Pakistani delegation’s arguments had forced the Indian side to agree that the matter of Kashmir was a dispute. “I consider it a great achievement that those who say ‘integral part’ were forced to accept this reality,” he added.
A participant who did not wish to be identified said representatives of political parties had sought time to brief their leaderships in New Delhi and Islamabad, and that this was the reason for the absence of a joint declaration. “Track II is a process and not an event to give liver to media across to sabotage before anything fructifies,” he added.