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I welcome the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma, former director of the Intelligence Bureau, as an emissary of the Government of India to initiate a dialogue in Kashmir. But I won’t hesitate to say there is widespread cynicism in Kashmir on the outcome of a dialogue the government has set at a non-political level. Even then, many leaders in mainstream Kashmir have seen reason to welcome the initiation of the dialogue process as there is a feeling that something is better than nothing.
I had taken Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion from the Red Fort on August 15 — “Kashmir can’t be resolved through force but by embracing Kashmiris” — seriously. I had imagined that the PM had come a full circle on the necessity of treating Kashmir as a political dispute to be resolved through a political dialogue. My understanding had been buttressed by the narrative of Home Minister Rajnath Singh whose statements, in recent times, I had rated as conducive to the settlement of the long-pending Kashmir dispute. Today, however, after an emissary has been appointed by the Centre, I am not so sure that it is enough to enthuse Kashmiris, especially the Hurriyat Conference.
While I don’t entirely support the cynicism in Kashmir, the widespread feeling of despair in the state is not totally misplaced. Rajnath Singh must have had a decisive discussion with PM Modi to feel sure that the Union government will “catch the bull by its horns” in Kashmir. Kashmiris are rightly asking why the Centre, that appointed working groups on Kashmir after 2006 — apparently in earnest — didn’t take any action on their recommendations. Such actions were quite feasible. It was tragic that the working groups, including the one under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Saghir Ahmad, that aimed at straightening the constitutional relationship between the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir didn’t find favour with the Union government. Another working group under the then Vice President Hamid Ansari had given workable suggestions on confidence building measures, but no action was taken on them. Then came the group of interlocutors appointed by the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram on October 13, 2010. Among other things, this group suggested, “The political settlement we propose takes into full account the deep sense of victimhood prevalent in the Kashmir valley. It surely deserves to be addressed with great sensitivity.”
Chidambaram had felt lonely as the system was not prepared to work with him. But the then PM Manmohan Singh was on his side because he had vigorously contributed to the optimism of the dialogue process between India and Pakistan that was gradually built after the Lahore Declaration on February 21, 1999 and in the aftermath of the Kargil War. This optimism prevailed till Pakistan’s internal security weakened due to the growth of terrorism after the Lal Masjid incident in 2007. The then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s running feud with the judiciary also did not allow the dialogue process to proceed. So, in spite of Manmohan Singh’s and Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s support to Chidambaram’s initiative, it couldn’t succeed.
This time, I have a feeling that Rajnath Singh has the full backing of PM Modi. Moreover, he seems to be clear that the dialogue “will be sustained and aimed at understanding the aspirations of the people”. It may, therefore, proceed on expected lines.
There is another reason that makes me feel that this dialogue will be more productive compared to the earlier ones. The Opposition led by the Congress seems to be becoming a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. Such an atmosphere didn’t prevail when the UPA had to encounter constant opposition from the BJP.
There is yet another favourable factor for the dialogue process. A host of serving military leaders and retired officers with considerable experience have been suggesting, for quite some time, that a political dispute can ultimately be resolved through political means only. Such thoughts have also been expressed by the leadership of the paramilitary forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The atmosphere, therefore, seems conducive for the dialogue process.
A word about the group that has been consistently described as separatists, but is widely accepted as the Hurriyat Conference. Some people have asked me why I bring in the Hurriyat when I stand for initiating a dialogue process between the Union and the Jammu and Kashmir state. My unambiguous answer is that in public perception in recent times, this group represents the anger of Kashmiris. So it has to be a necessary part of the dialogue process. My knowledge of dispute resolution leads me to believe that disputing parties need to come to an acceptable mean — that is, they have to be reasonable and pragmatic rather than stick to “extreme” positions.
Dineshwar Sharma may, therefore, succeed in initiating the dialogue process to an extent. But the process must transform into a meaningful political dialogue, sooner than later. I also wish that the Union takes a bold initiative and initiates a dialogue with Pakistan. It should take a cue from Jawaharlal Nehru, who in the concluding years of his stewardship of the nation, felt convinced that the neighbourhood remained a reality which couldn’t be altered.
There is another reason for bringing Pakistan into the picture. I am convinced that India and Pakistan can’t live in perpetual animosity. Therefore, they must find the way for an “abiding friendship” that leads to peace and development in the region.