Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s call for dialogue is an olive branch that the Centre should accept. This is not the first time that Farooq has pointed to a path forward in Kashmir. Indeed, the Hurriyat leader has only reiterated what he said immediately after the BJP won a thumping victory in the general election — that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should use the massive mandate that voters have given to him to open a dialogue and restore peace in Kashmir. Farooq’s has been the moderate voice among Kashmir’s separatists. He was in talks with the Centre during UPA 1, though that engagement went nowhere. He has since joined hands with the hardline factions of the Hurriyat, but has continued to send out appeals for engagement. These were largely ignored by the Modi government in its first term even as violence raged in the Valley. At the time, the Centre seemed determined to pursue a policy of using force to quell both militants and protests, but it has become clear that this did not help to solve the problem. If anything, it only contributed to increasing the alienation in the Valley, which in turn, drove an increasing number of young people to militancy. The killings of four militants linked to the Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind by security forces in an encounter, and the killing earlier of a militant linked to ISIS, shows that global terrorist organisations are trying to get into the door in Kashmir.
The political vacuum that exists in the Valley can only help such dark forces. This vacuum is not just the lack of an elected state government, which is bad in itself, but also the long absence of engagement with the Kashmiri political class, which includes the separatists. Indeed, the Centre was standoffish even with the last state government, even though the ruling coalition had the BJP in alliance with the PDP, one of the two main regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is significant that Governor Satya Pal Malik — the chief executive at the moment as the state is under President’s Rule — has also publicly flagged Mirwaiz Farooq’s readiness for talks. Speaking in the presence of Union minister Prakash Javadekar, and minister of state Jitender Singh, who is from the state, Malik, a nominee of the BJP government, too seemed to be appealing to the Centre to grab the opportunity for a dialogue. There could be no better time. Pakistan is economically and politically weak, and under international pressure to stop its patronage of terrorists. And as the Mirwaiz has pointed out, Prime Minister Modi has won a massive mandate. The mandate is, among other things, for him to end the turmoil in the Valley, not prolong it. That demands that he works towards a constructive engagement with and in Kashmir.