J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has said that by appointing a representative to hold talks in Kashmir, the central government has finally taken an important step towards reconciliation.
“It is exactly what we always wanted,’’ Mehbooba Mufti told The Indian Express in an exclusive interview, a day after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh named Dineshwar Sharma, former Director of Intelligence Bureau, as its special representative.
“This is the beginning of a political process. The Centre has finally taken a very serious step forward. There has been a lot of discussion within the government about it. There has been lot of preparation. When Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) spoke on Independence Day, the message was clear that he wants reconciliation, a process of rapprochement, to be the mainstay of the government’s Kashmir policy. I knew that they were looking for a credible face since August. The appointment of this interlocutor, a retired officer whom we know very well, is part of that process of reconciliation… it is an important move forward”.
“Unlike most such processes earlier, Government of India has taken ownership of this initiative. Unlike the interlocutors sent here by UPA government, this interlocutor is the official representative of the Government of India. He has been given a Cabinet Secretary rank and, thus, the government is owning it up officially. Unlike the previous interlocutors (during UPA rule), he will speak on behalf of the Government of India and his report will be the government’s own report,’’ she said.
“It is also very important what Home Minister Rajnath Singhji spoke when he made the announcement. He (Singh) said that as the representative of the Government of India, Mr Dineshwar Sharma will have a free hand to decide who all he needs to talk to. He has been given the authority as well as an official rank to work and the central government has also taken ownership of the process officially. I have no doubt that he will speak to all stakeholders and will do everything so that this fresh dialogue process becomes the central theme.”
She said her party, the PDP, has always advocated that “engagement alone will help move forward in Kashmir… it has always been an article of faith for us and our entire politics has been revolving around this theme ever since our (PDP) inception. In fact, this principle is also at the centre of the Agenda of Alliance that brought us together with the BJP to form a coalition government here’’.
“I don’t say or think that every problem that we are facing today (in Kashmir) will go away now. But if our issues are resolved, if we want them to be resolved, then a process like this is the only way. We need to strengthen it… everyone, every stakeholder needs to strengthen it. My government will do everything to facilitate this dialogue process. Whatever requirement will be there, we will fulfil that. It will be our priority,’’ she said.
“This process is what we have been waiting for the last more than two-and-half years now. Everyone who wants to see an end to bloodshed in Kashmir must support this process. It has changed the entire narrative. I am sure that the governments, both at the Centre and in J&K, will have to ensure that this does not fail because a lot, a lot is at stake here,” she said.
According to the Chief Minister, those who question whether this initiative will bring tangible results need to understand that there is no other way. “Every other way… every other thing has been used, tested again and again in Kashmir for the last three decades without any result. Instead, it has complicated things, it has brought more misery and pain and pushed more people away,’’ she said.
“Engagement, even if it is difficult and slow, is the only way. We cannot be in a state of war with our own people… that has never helped resolve anything and that will never help. We have a long experience of that. Killings, arrests, jail has never changed anything on the ground in Kashmir. It hasn’t anywhere,” she said. “What if an initiative of dialogue, talks… a process of reconciliation has failed a dozen times, it was still better than any other option we had. We must keep trying. An effort to talk and resolve a political issue on table is the best option.”
She said that “reconciliation between people of two regions was the sole reason for our party to come together with the BJP and form a coalition”.
“You know how much criticism we had to face for doing this… it was termed a collective political suicide of PDP. But we went ahead with the alliance. We can’t give azadi to people who demand that… we have been very clear and candid about that. We can only work towards a political solution within the confines of the Indian Union… it’s our country and we firmly believe in that. And there isn’t an iota of doubt in my mind that the only way we can find that solution, that political solution will be through reconciliation… through dialogue, through engagement. Killings, arrests, iron fist may momentarily help but that doesn’t resolve issues,” she said.