New Delhi has appointed yet another interlocutor on Kashmir. And he is now supposed to re-run the gamut traversed by a long list of his predecessors to invariably zero outcome. The appointment came significantly on the eve of the US Secretary of State Rex Tellerson’s maiden visit to South Asia during which he is expected to discuss a regional approach to the peace and stability in Afghanistan with India and Pakistan. So many in the region would trace the move down to the US pressure. In Valley, however, the initiative has taken people by surprise. Over the past three years, centre has persisted with a hardline security-centric approach towards the state. So fewer people expected the Centre to initiate the dialogue.
However, there is little that is pleasant about this surprise. The initiative has largely been met by a cynical response. It fits into an exasperatedly tried and failed pattern of the past outreaches to the state. Apparently, there is nothing in it that makes it an improvement over the past initiatives. Only difference, albeit by no means redeeming, is the appointment of a former top intelligence official to the job. Besides, there is so much that is unclear about his mandate. And there are also questions that need answer. Will Dineshwar Sharma deal with the fundamental questions about the turmoil in the state? Will he engage with the separatist thought? As of now there are no answers to such questions. True, he is going to hold consultations with diverse political, social and cultural organisations identified as the stakeholders. This is already creating a sense of deja vu in Kashmir: Yet another interlocutor going through his predictable motions, preparing a much-hyped report which nobody will implement.
On the face of it, the exercise looks so unnecessary. For there is nothing about Kashmir that Centre doesn’t know. There are reams of reports on Kashmir situation prepared by accomplished people who have also recommended measures to address the situation. Some of these reports have been prepared over the past decade, so one can hardly call them dated. What about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s five Working Group reports? What about report prepared by the three interlocutors comprising the late Dileep Padganokar, Dr Radha Kumar and MM Ansari? The questions like these acquire a new resonance as the Centre’s new pointsperson prepares to land in Kashmir for retracing the beaten track.
It is thus important that the Centre takes a fresh look at the instrumentality of interlocutors and acknowledges the urgent need to start a dialogue geared to address the basic issues underpinning the troubled situation in the state. It would be better if the new interlocutor is vested with some political mandate rather than reduced to running pointless errands for New Delhi. It would also be beneficial if his engagement in Kashmir primarily involves separatists rather than a host of NGOs and one man groups and parties in the name of holding dialogue with the diverse shades of opinion in the state. The National Democratic Alliance government needs to take recourse to the policy of its illustrious predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had successfully set up an exclusive formal dialogue with the separatists, which was abandoned by the United Progressive Alliance government to dangerous consequences.
This article first appeared on the Kashmir Observer.