While India and Pakistan "composite dialogue" has lost momentum, Delhi-Srinagar peace process has suddenly gained currency. Signals emanating from Srinagar and New Delhi indicate that another round of talks might be round the corner. What has changed since August 15, when Prime Minister had claimed from the ramparts of Red Fort "recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir had demonstrated that separatist ideology has no place in the State", to the day when once again New Delhi is inclined for talks. Many theories are being propounded. Analysts in habit of 'reading too much of too little' thus drawing 'hasty conclusions' attribute it to the growing international pressure. Qadafi speech in UN General Assembly and China Visa controversy, are cited as few examples of growing international pressure on India. Some even stretch their imagination as far as, Syed Ali Geelani's 'rise and dominance' in Hurriyat circles; enough to send shivers down the spine of the rulers in Delhi! Then there are usual optimists, who believe that the proposed dialogue between Srinagar and Delhi is part of larger Indo-Pak peace process promoted by Washington. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right; every body is entitled to hold his/her opinion.
However facts may point out to a different direction. Whenever relationship between India and Pakistan gets strained, New Delhi opens a channel of communication with Srinagar. Either to impress world opinion that it is still engaged in a peace process or to send a message across the border– despite Pakistan's disapproval, it has the capacity to engage with APHC. India has always exploited dialogue as a tool to extend its strategic interests. From 2000 onwards New Delhi on several occasions has opened channels with the freedom camp in Kashmir. The beginning was made with March 2000 Majeed Dar talks followed by Ramzan cease-fire in Nov, which was extended up to May 2001. On May 23, 2001, Delhi dumped the so called peace process with Srinagar and invited 'the architect of Kargil war', General Musharraf for talks at Agra. After the failed summit of Agra attack on parliament in December 2001 almost triggered an Indo Pak war. In 2003, away from the public glare, Delhi was able to rope in APHC leaders, though the dialogue was publicly held only in January 2004 after Vajpayee had retuned from Islamabad. Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan on the occasion of SAARC summit again kick-started the compsite dialogue between India and Pakistan. Thereafter, involving Kashmiri leaders in the name of talks, many more photo opportunities were created. Actually India's main focus remained on Indo-PaK dialogue. Now when again India and Pakistan talks are caught in a rough weather; Delhi is keen to build bridges with Kashmir. Contrary to expectations in Kashmir that Srinagar Delhi dialogue is part of larger peace process; India has always conducted peace process with Islamabad and Srinagar separately as per its own priorities and convenience.
Now, the crunch question, according to the grapevine, New Delhi may soon invite pro freedom leaders for talks. In view of the past experience, majority of the opinion within the pro-freedom camp does not favor a bilateral dialogue. If left entirely to them they will like to reject the offer of talks. Is this attitude based on prudence or it is an emotional knee-jerk reaction? Obviously, bilateral talk with New Delhi is a sensitive issue; not an easy decision for the leadership to take. In such a volatile conditions, what should leadership do? Be captive to the street sentiment or lead from the front. A dicey situation, when public sentiment is supposedly against the talks, even a serious and sincere effort in the end may prove to be non-starter. Irrespective of what pro-talks leaders do ultimately, it might be worthwhile to understand the argument in favor and against of the bilateral talks with New Delhi.
Better begin with the argument of anti-talk camp: Kashmir is a UN recognized international issue; it is not a bilateral problem, Pakistan is party to the dispute; history is against bilateral talks, numerous efforts made so far by Srinagar and Dehli have failed to resolve the conflict; Indian leadership is insincere, not ready to concede an inch on Kashmir, it uses talks as propaganda materiel to hoodwink the world opinion; by initiating talks Delhi has always been successful to subvert the freedom movement in Kashmir. To sum-up, it might be worthwhile to quote Syed Ali Geelani, who else can highlight anti-talks sentiment in a forceful manner– "involve all the three parties- India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir and the aim should be to settle the Kashmir issue in the light of the UN resolutions, everything else is useless as it has been proved by the 120 rounds of Delhi-Islamabad and Delhi-Srinagar dialogue since 1952."
If invited, it will not be the first time when a faction of Hurriyat leaders would be meeting Indian leadership. Since 2004 they have openly held four rounds of talks, secret engagements at various levels, (with little interruptions now and then) is almost a routine affair. Therefore on many occasions the pro-talks leaders have put forward their case in a bid to gain goodwill of the people: Kashmir is not an international dispute anymore, UN General Assembly or Security Council has not discussed Kashmir issue for more than fifty years now; Pakistan is party to dispute but presently badly caught up in its internal strife, not able to effectively support Kashmir's cause; India is a rising power that helps it to withstand international pressure, if any; in present geo-political atmosphere particularly after 9/11, it is not possible to achieve goal of independence in one go, only a incremental and calibrated approach will prove to be of any help.
When Sajjad Lone was active in pro-freedom camp, he ardently used to defend the talks: "if dialogue yielded nothing, what have we achieved through gun? Dialogue at least does not create an army of orphans and destitute. Dialogue has the power of exposing real intentions of Indian state before international community. Moreover can we shy away from dialogue in a peaceful struggle?"
Casting aspersions is never healthy, rather counterproductive. Apparently both pro and anti-talk camps have some valid reasons to make. However, whence Kashmiri nation is passing through a critical juncture of its history, whether to have dialogue or not seems to be an irrelevant debate. Conversely, collective endeavor of the leadership ought to make talks meaningful; both the camps need to close their ranks. Learning from the past experiences photo opportunities only serves the interests of individuals. This time around stakes are very high; people cannot be fooled again and again. Leaders will have to perform or perish.
Can Kashmir leadership rise above the situation and make talks structured, hence fruitful? For this to happen, India will have to shun its colonial mindset, without accepting genuine Kashmiri demands, sustainable peace is not possible in Kashmir. Sending forces back to barracks, repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the release of prisoners will help build a good atmosphere for peaceful negotiations. These are not end in itself. Dialogue has to move beyond Confidence Building Measures to real political issues. Cynicism is widespread in Kashmir. For a successful culmination of talks leadership should be able to carry the conviction as well as Kashmiri sentiment at the dialogue table.
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