Understanding the Discredited Institution of Dialogue in Kashmir

“Nothing concrete will happen until or unless India talks to Pakistan on Kashmir. We will not be able to arrive at any solution if India only talks to Kashmiris or Pakistan talks to Kashmiris”
Understanding the Discredited Institution of Dialogue in Kashmir
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Sixty-four days of shutdown, curfew and blockade; 78 killings; more than 10,000 injured; around 250 blinded and counting. Amongst the unprecedented resilience of people and the oppressive state response, there is big question mark on the institution of dialogue and Indian government's seriousness about a genuine dialogue process. This question has again come up in the wake of recent visit of the All Party Delegation (APD).

While this visit has been interpreted differently by different shades of opinion, however, by and large there is consensus on the fact that desired results could not be achieved. While for the visiting delegation and the ruling PDP-BJP alliance, it was a useful endeavor appreciated by the people, for others, like the mainstream parties in opposition in the state, Hurriyat Conference and people of Kashmir at large, it was simply eyewash. The former CM Omar Abdullah went public to cast aspersions on the visit by APD while G.A. Mir of Congress said that the delegation has nothing substantial to offer. Even some of the members of the delegation openly showed their dissatisfaction.

While the Indian government did not invite Hurriyat for talks, Mehbooba Mufti as Chief of PDP sent out a last minute invite to the incarcerated Hurriyat leadership. Hurriyat, on its part, refused to meet the delegation because of no formal invitation, no groundwork being done and more importantly bitter experience of such delegations in the past. Therefore, essential question remains: has the institution of dialogue failed in Kashmir? Where are we heading now?

The Kashmir dialogue has both internal and external dimensions. The internal dialogue involves actors from New Delhi and Srinagar while the external dialogue happens at the Indo-Pak level. A successful internal dialogue process is a 'means' to the external dialogue which may assure an 'end' to this protracted conflict in South Asia. And the answer to the question that whether the institution of dialogue has lost credibility is a resounding 'yes'.

It was the Vajpayee led NDA government at the centre which tried to incentivize the internal dialogue process. Discussions were held with Hurriyat leaders and the then deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani himself held parleys with the members of Hizbul Mujahideen. These discussions were coincided with a unilateral ceasefire announced by the centre. But a statesman of Vajpayee's genre realized that all such attempts were inadequate unless a parallel channel with Pakistan is not activated. Therefore, it was from a public rally in Srinagar that he announced the declaration of engagement with Pakistan. A ceasefire was also put in place along the LoC and international border in November 2003.Vajpayee went to Pakistan in January 2004 to attend the 12thSAARC summit where announcement was made for the revival of Composite Dialogue process. In the same year, the NDA lost power to the UPA-I at the centre.

The UPA-I government has put in place few important cross LoC Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) like the opening up of bus services between Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Pooch-Rawalakot in 2005 and 2006 respectively. In 2006 Round Table Conferences (RTC's) were convened, resulting in the formation of five working groups. Hurriyat Conference, however, declined to participate in the RTC's. The working groups were mandated to suggest measures on how to address the internal dynamics of Kashmir. These five working groups were on: Strengthening relations across the Line of Control (LOC); Center-State Relations; Good Governance; Infrastructure and Economic Development; and CBMs within Jammu and Kashmir, including for widows and orphans of violence, return of displaced persons, and return of people who crossed over during the insurgency.

Working Group on Confidence Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir headed by Mohammad Hamid Ansari in its report called for the review and repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)and Disturbed Areas Act (DAA), which curtail the extent of individual freedom and civil liberties and impinge upon the fundamental rights of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The working group on strengthening cross-LoC relationships, headed by M.K. Rasgotra, recommended for "a joint consultative group or committee of 10 members each of the legislatures of both sides may be constituted to exchange views periodically on social, economic, cultural and trade-related matters of mutual interests". 

N. C. Saxena's working group on good governance noted that the State Human Rights Commission requires strengthening, and also called for the creation of a high-powered committee, including political representatives and civil society members, for enforcing human rights. While C. Rangarajan's working group, on economic issues focused on the reconstruction of the existing infrastructure, and offered pragmatic suggestions for a bottom-up revival of the State's economy. The important working group on 'Centre-State Relations' headed by Justice Saghir Ahmed recommended the restoration of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. On Article 370, the report said that the people of the state shall decide when to terminate or make it a permanent feature. These reports are gathering dust in some government shelves.  

After the 2010 uprising in Kashmir, an APD was sent to Kashmir to douse the flames. Members of the delegation met the Hurriyat leaders and promised to sincerely address the Kashmir problem. The interlocutors were appointed to search for possible solutions to address the rising tide of Kashmiri nationalism. But the Hurriyat leaders were largely dissatisfied with the mandate of interlocutors. In our own estimation, the recommendations put forth by interlocutors were comparatively less convincing then the ones recommended by the five working groups earlier. Even these recommendations were consigned to dustbin once normalcy returned to Kashmir.

The present uprising has its roots deep in the betrayals of the past. The controversial hanging of Afzal Guru; the growing assertion of Hindutva politic; beef ban and lynching of Akhlaq in UP; burning of Zahid at Udhampur; demands for abrogation of article 370; attacks on Kashmiri students in other parts of India; jingoistic news hours, and the PDP and BJP alliance of extremes – all were contributing factors in the process. The APD that visited Kashmir on 4th September was unable to break the deadlock. The CPI (M) General Secretary, SitaramYechury was candid enough to confess: "It was a very disturbing experience to be there in this time in Srinagar. It is disturbing in the sense that I have not seen the degree of alienation so deep any time before".

The whole process is complicated by the internal contradictions among the ruling coalition partners. While the agenda of alliance talks about dialogue with Hurriyat as well as Pakistan, however, the BJP has taken a very hard stand viz a viz Hurriyat as a stakeholder right from beginning. While on the one hand people in government (especially PDP) and some commentators are trying to argue that by refusing to talk to some members of APD, Hurriyat has missed a 'big opportunity' to solve the Kashmir issue through dialogue. On the other, BJP spokespersons in every discussion castigated the opposition members for knocking at the doors of separatists. BJP never owned their visit and in fact argued that they went to have a cup of tea that was denied to them and were snubbed. Secondly, they have always categorically stated that they will only talk to people who 'believe in the constitution of India' and talks can be held only 'within the framework of Indian constitution'.  It was this realization of the futility of dialogue that led all the leaders, even moderates, to unanimously decide to stay away unless it is a meaningful dialogue. Even hard line Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani stated that they neither were nor will be against dialogue, but they are against meaningless exercise. No meaningful dialogue is possible with pre-conditions.

The happenings in Kashmir have direct bearing on the India-Pakistan relations. From 2004 to 2008 both countries held four rounds of Composite Dialogue Process. A number of CBMs were put in place across the LoC and International Border. Bus and train services were resumed between the two countries. India-Pakistan trade increasing by significant numbers and LoC trade was started in 2008. Back channel negotiations were also underway between the trusted emissaries of PM Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf. All this goodwill turned into bitter hostility due to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The dialogue process was suspended unilaterally by India under tremendous public pressure. The UPA-II government under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh did try to resume the process by 2011 onwards but to no avail.

Modi started his tenure on a positive note by inviting leaders of SAARC countries at his swearing-in ceremony. The engagement with Pakistan was on the agenda of Modi's 'neighborhood first' policy. However, on Kashmir issue BJP has always taken a stand that the only issue between India and Pakistan in the Pakistan side of Kashmir and the whole issue of Kashmir is a bilateral issue where Hurriyat has no locus standi. But Pakistan's stated position insists that the people of Kashmir are a party to the dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad. Pakistan has been regularly holding talks with the Hurriyat leaders prior to the formal negotiations with India. It was unacceptable to the NDA government and thus the source of the breakdown of any peace initiatives. A parallel engagement on both tracks, New Delhi-Srinagar and New Delhi-Islamabad, is a need of the hour. 

Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, a senior Hurriyat leader is right in saying that: "Nothing concrete will happen until or unless India talks to Pakistan on Kashmir. We will not be able to arrive at any solution if India only talks to Kashmiris or Pakistan talks to Kashmiris". Experience shows us that whenever India-Pakistan relations improved, peace prevailed in Kashmir. It is very important for India to recognize Pakistan and Hurriyat as key stakeholders and start a meaningful and unconditional dialogue if they want a peaceful resolution of this issue. What we have seen from last two months is a clear indication that Military suppression is not going to break the resolve of people.

(The authors are teaching at the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar) 

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