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New Delhi must engage simultaneously with Srinagar and Islamabad

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A security personnel performing vigil in Kashmir valley. (AP Photo)

The visit by the All Party Delegation (APD) to Jammu and Kashmir on September 4 has been interpreted differently by different people. The visiting delegation and the ruling PDP-BJP alliance have termed it a success while the opposition parties in the state, Hurriyat Conference, and the people of Kashmir called it an eyewash. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah went public to cast aspersions on the APD while G.A. Mir of the Congress said the delegation had nothing substantial to offer. The pro-freedom leadership refused to talk with its members. Clearly, the institution of dialogue is failing in Kashmir.

The Kashmir dialogue process has to run on two parallel tracks. The internal dialogue between New Delhi and Srinagar must be substantiated by the external dialogue at the Indo-Pak level. It was the Vajpayee-led NDA government at the Centre, which initiated 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 the Hizbul Mujahideen. These discussions coincided with a unilateral ceasefire announced by the Centre. But Vajpayee realised that all such attempts were inadequate unless a parallel channel with Pakistan was activated. At a public rally in Srinagar, 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 attended the SAARC summit in Pakistan in January 2004, where the revival of the composite dialogue process was announced.

The UPA-I government started bus services between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and Pooch and Rawalakot in 2005 and 2006 respectively. In 2006, Round Table Conferences (RTCs) were convened in Srinagar, resulting in the formation of five working groups. The Hurriyat Conference, however, declined to participate in the RTCs. The working groups were mandated to suggest measures on how to build peace in the state. The working group on CBMs in J&K headed by Mohammad Hamid Ansari called for the review and repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act. Another working group on Centre-state relations headed by Justice Saghir Ahmed recommended the restoration of autonomy to the state.

After the 2010 uprising, an APD was sent to Kashmir. It met the Hurriyat leadership. Then interlocutors were appointed to find possible solutions to address the growing alienation amongst the Kashmiri youth. But the Hurriyat was dissatisfied with the mandate of interlocutors. The recommendations put forth by the interlocutors were less convincing than those recommended by the working groups earlier. These were ignored once normalcy returned to Kashmir.

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The present uprising has its roots in the betrayals of the past. The hanging of Afzal Guru, the growing majoritarianism and rowdy chauvinism in India, beef ban and related incidents of lynching and killings, demands for abrogation of Article 370, attacks on Kashmiri students in different parts of India, jingoistic news hours, and the incompatibility of the PDP-BJP alliance have also contributed to the present crisis.

The happenings in Kashmir have a direct bearing on India-Pakistan relations. From 2004 to 2008 both countries held four rounds of the composite dialogue process. A number of significant CBMs were put in place across the LoC and International Border. Bus and train services were resumed between the two countries. India-Pakistan trade increased significantly. All this goodwill dissipated following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The dialogue process was suspended unilaterally by India under tremendous public pressure.

Modi started his tenure on a positive note by inviting leaders of SAARC countries to his swearing-in ceremony. Engagement with Pakistan was on the agenda of Modi’s “neighbourhood first” policy. But Pakistan’s stated position is the people of Kashmir are a party to the dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad. Previously, Pakistan has been holding talks with Hurriyat leaders prior to formal negotiations with India. That is unacceptable to the NDA government. A parallel engagement on both tracks, New Delhi-Srinagar and New Delhi-Islamabad, is the need of the hour. Experience shows us that whenever India-Pakistan relations improved, peace prevailed in Kashmir.