Twenty seven days before the Centre announced the appointment of an interlocutor to initiate dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir, a United States diplomat visited Srinagar and met three state ministers and civil society activists. Sources said the diplomat wanted “to know the ground situation and understand the feasibility of a dialogue”.
On September 27, Joshua Goldberg, political unit chief at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in Washington DC, visited Srinagar along with David Arulanantham, an official from the US Embassy in New Delhi.
Sources said Goldberg and David stayed for a night and met three ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti government, human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz, Khurram Parvez of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and two journalists.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis had arrived in India a day earlier — the first cabinet-level visit to India under the Trump administration.
Days before Centre’s move, US diplomat visited Srinagar to check on talks feasibility haven’t been meeting separatists during their Kashmir visits ever since the previous UPA government questioned the practice. Sources said Goldberg was interested to “know the ground situation and viability of a reachout from Delhi, a dialogue process”.
“He was, in diplomatic style, enquiring about the scope for dialogue and whether Kashmiris would welcome dialogue,’’ one among those who met Goldberg told The Indian Express. “He also wanted to know the ground situation, especially after last year’s agitation and spurt in militant recruitment.”
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the US Embassy said: “Officers from the US Embassy in New Delhi routinely travel throughout the country to learn about conditions in different states and meet with members of the government and civil society. As a matter of policy, we do not discuss specifics of our meetings.”
On October 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent Diwali with soldiers in the Gurez sector along the Line of Control.
On October 23, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh called a press conference in New Delhi to announce the Centre’s decision to appoint an interlocutor — the government’s first major policy shift on Kashmir.
Singh named former Intelligence Bureau director Dineshwar Sharma as the Centre’s representative who would “initiate and carry forward a dialogue with the elected representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in the State of Jammu and Kashmir”.
This announcement was made on the eve of the visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to India who visited New Delhi on October 24.
Sources said Goldberg met Social Welfare Minister Sajjad Lone at his official residence. A former separatist who contested elections and won from Handwara assembly constituency, Lone is aligned with the BJP. Ahead of the assembly elections in 2014, Lone met Prime Minister Modi and said “we talked like two brothers”. He was inducted into the PDP-BJP coalition government in the BJP’s quota of ministers.
Reached for comment, Lone said he does not remember the meeting with Goldberg. “I do meet visiting diplomats. I don’t remember this particular meeting,’’ he said.
Goldberg also met Molvi Imran Raza Ansari, senior PDP leader and Minister for Information Technology, Technical Education and Youth Services & Sports, at his Rainawari residence.
Considered close to New Delhi, Ansari is a well known Shia leader of Kashmir with considerable political clout in the community. He has close links with the clergy and governments in Iran, Iraq and Syria. Sources said he “has been helping New Delhi in the Middle East”.
Ansari recently helped bring Grand Mufti Dr Ahmad Bader Eddin Mohammad Adib Hassoun to Kashmir, a visit that was coordinated by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, New Delhi.
Away in London for an inter-faith conference, Ansari wasn’t available for comment.
The third minister Goldberg met was Chering Dorjay, BJP leader from Leh and Minister of Cooperatives and Ladakh Affairs. “It was a courtesy call. I knew the previous ambassador. There was nothing serious,’’ Dorjay said.
(With Shubhajit Roy)