Kashmir talks: Dineshwar Sharma’s appointment may take some pressure off CM Mehbooba Mufti, open up political space

The announcement was welcomed by Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Twitter as a “positive step”, as well as by former chief minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, who said it was “a defeat of those who could only see use of force as a solution”.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Chandigarh | Updated: October 24, 2017 11:11 am
Jammu and Kashmir, kashmir, mehbooba Mufti, Dineshwar sharma, narendra Modi, j-K dialogue, J&K interlocutor, Rajnath Singh, J&K talks, Kashmir, Narendra Modi, I&B chief, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. (AP Photo/File)

The appointment of former IB director Dineshwar Sharma to initiate “sustained interaction and dialogue” in Jammu & Kashmir is being seen as an acknowledgement by the Centre that a political initiative is required in the state. This is the first move by the Narendra Modi government to initiate dialogue in Kashmir and comes more than two months after his Independence Day speech in which he said that a resolution in Kashmir would come not from “goli aur gaali” (bullets and invective) but “galey milney sey” (only with an embrace).

The announcement was welcomed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Twitter as a “positive step”, as well as by former chief minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, who said it was “a defeat of those who could only see use of force as a solution”.

Governor N N Vohra, who was himself appointed an interlocutor for J&K by the Vajpayee government in 2003, told The Indian Express: “It’s a step in the right direction, and I am hopeful that it will bear fruit”. Immediately, the announcement is likely to take some political pressure off the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and could lend more credibility to the PDP-BJP government in the State than it has had so far.

One of the promises in the Agenda for Alliance between the two parties was that the coalition government “will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders”. It is no secret that the absence of a political initiative over the last three years had weakened Mufti among her own constituencies. Monday’s announcement may give her more political breathing space.

READ | After hardtalk, Centre offers J&K dialogue; appoints ex-IB director as interlocutor

The immediate question after Sharma’s appointment was if he would indeed reach out to “all internal stakeholders” — Kashmir-speak for the Hurriyat — and, if so, how this would gel with the NIA investigations against several members of the separatist organization. The specific terms of the mandate that Sharma, a 1979-batch IPS officer, has been given, are not fully clear.

The term “all internal stakeholders” was missing from Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s carefully constructed tweet that “Dineshwar Sharma will initiate dialogue with elected representatives of J&K, political parties, different organisations and people”. But there are no two views that for Sharma to be seen as credible in the Valley, he has to reach out to the Hurriyat. A top functionary in the state said: “Cases have been filed before and they have been withdrawn before. The NIA investigations are not an insurmountable obstacle. Both can even go on side by side, it has happened earlier”.

If Sharma does initiate talks with the Hurriyat it would be a big shift in the Centre’s own position that it will not speak to “proxies” of Pakistan. National Security Adviser Ajith Doval has said many times that he would rather engage directly with Pakistan than speak to the Hurriyat.

The next big question is what Sharma will talk about. If Rajnath’s tweets are anything to by, it will be about “legitimate aspirations”. On social media, many, including Omar Abdullah, asked who gets to decide what is “legitimate”. But a seasoned Kashmir hand at the Centre said: “Some things about the process will become clear only when it starts”.

READ | Sharma appointment an eyewash, says former interlocutor

The timing is also signficant. It is more than a year after the Valley was convulsed in protests over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant leader Burhan Wani, and the Centre used force to regain control. There was pressure on the government to begin talks then but there was no sign that it would do that. At this juncture, there was no such pressure to make a conciliatory move.

Kashmir itself had settled into a routine of killings of militants and of security forces personnel. J&K and the nation had more or less concluded that the Centre would use only a big stick in Kashmir, and no carrots would be handed out.

The first sign of a rethink came with Modi’s August 15 speech. Rajnath Singh’s conciliatory visit to Kashmir in September also lent credence to the view that the wheels were moving. The Army and police, who have been at the frontlines of encounters with militants — in recent months, many Lashkar and Jaish commanders and footsoldiers have been killed in encounters — have also been sending out the message that aside from the body count, there needs to be a political initiative. Still, no one expected the BJP to make such a move ahead of important Assembly elections in Gujarat. The election process is already underway in Himachal.

The Yashwant Sinha-led Group of Concerned Citizens had last month recommended that the government initiate dialogue but the Centre gave no outward sign that it had heard this. Sinha included Kashmir as one of the big failures of the Modi government in his article in The Indian Express tearing into the government’s handling of the ecoonomy.

READ | CM, Jammu & Kashmir parties hail talks offer, separatists mum

Cynicism aside, there are also questions about the logic of appointing a former intelligence head as the interlocutor for a political initiative instead of a high-profile politician. Some believe this robs the initiative of both legitimacy and gravitas. But in the words of one Kashmiri observer, “it amplifies the traditional role that the IB has always had in Kashmir, of reaching out to various actors; and the working relationship, and the comfort level with the IB that many leaders and others in Kashmir have grown accustomed to”.

In many ways, Sharma’s appointment mirrors the several intelligence-led processes in the Northeast, including the ongoing Naga peace process.

Sharma is the fourth interlocutor appointed by the Centre since 2002. Former Union minister K C Pant was the first. He was succeeded by present J&K governor Vohra. Both appointments were made by the Vajpayee government. The UPA government initiated wide-ranging “round table conferences” in Kashmir. Three such conferences were held from 2006 to 2007. In 2010, UPA II appointed a three-member interlocutors’ panel of academic Radha Kumar, the late journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, and former bureaucrat M M Ansari.

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  1. M
    maverick
    Oct 27, 2017 at 10:07 am
    As if the current dispensation of J K is suffering from impaired communication skills. How hard it can be to send across the aspirations of J K populace to the centre or larger part of the country. In a way J K chief minister and it's ministers has been humiliated and declared insufficient and ineligible to do this important job. The idea of Interlocutors is obsolete in modern world. Such phenomenon was applicable during the old times when people used to be separated by time and distance............ No wonder world calls us a third world country.......
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    1. M
      Michelle:Vedic:human
      Oct 24, 2017 at 10:15 am
      History of KASMIRI MUZZIES: Omar ABDULLAH son of Farouk ABDULLAH,-----Farouk ABDULLAH son of sheik ABDULLAH,-----sheik ABDULLAH son of ibrahim ABDULLAH,----ibrahim ABDULLAH son of KASHTRIYA Hindu Kashmiri pundit,-----RAGHAV RAM KAUL,----Omar ABDULLAH wife is a Hindu PAYAL NATH and Omar ABDULLAH sister ZARA ABDULLAH husband is a Hindu SACHIN PILOT son of RAJESH PILOT,---these abdulah's ancestroul root is a Hindu,---these abdulah's are traitors who became DESH DROHIS,---Jai hind.
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      1. M
        Michelle:Vedic:human
        Oct 24, 2017 at 10:14 am
        The filthy illiterate Mohammed Jinnah,----a convert MUZZIE,--son of kashtrya Gujarati Hindu parents,---JINNABHAI POONJA and METHIBEN POONJA,----PORKIS should not forget that HINDU GENES still runs in their blood and that the man who created PORKISTAN,----his biological BAAP was a HINDU,---so PORKIS should note that we HINDUS RISHTEY MEIN TUMARE BAAP LAGTEY HEIN,---Jai Hnd.
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        1. M
          Michelle:Vedic:human
          Oct 24, 2017 at 10:12 am
          Bhuttos originally migrated to Sindh in the early 18th century from the neighboring region of RAJ- -NA now RAJA-STHAN in India). Bhutto's paternal ancestors were Hindu Rajputs, who converted to Islam in the late 17th century. Sheto was the first member of the Bhutto family, who converted to Islam, to reap tax exemptions for Muslims, during Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's reign. Following the conversion he took the le of Khan, becoming Sheto Khan.[3] In Sindh, Bhuttos under Sheto first settled at Ratodero, a few miles north of Larkana.---Jai hind.
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          1. A
            Ashraf Aziz
            Oct 24, 2017 at 10:03 am
            Our Struggle is only to evacuate 700,000 thousand indian army who has terrorised,killed ,raped women of kashmirs since 70 years with the help of politicians sitting in Delhi. But our struggle is truth in nature and we will not rest till the logical end is achieved. India is just wasting time and resources by spending millions on army who always terrorising kashmiris. Unfortunately india did not sense the writings on the walls of kashmir "Go India Go Back"
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            1. I
              Intolerant Indian
              Oct 24, 2017 at 10:50 am
              Islamic brainwashed dog like you , your job is barking that's why you are barking since 1947 and will bark till your death.
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                Ashraf Aziz
                Oct 24, 2017 at 11:30 am
                i know most of Indians wont digest the common aspiration of kashmiris , and by saying truth ,some of you start barking like you did in your comment. Unfortunate indian media and polricians will never let you know the other side of kashmir for the reasons to keep the pot boiling for their reasons to be in power and make fool of you indians
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              2. I
                Intolerant Indian
                Oct 24, 2017 at 11:45 am
                We are Indian, we know what is freedom struggle and what is Islamic struggle.Dog like you never understand this.You brainwashed ing Islamic ashole always taking about Kashmiri , do you have any word any inocent Kashmiri Pandit those are brutally killed by brainwashed Islamic ing like you
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