The Jammu and Kashmir situation - A primer for the interlocutors

New Delhi, Oct. 5 (ANI): The Government of India's decision to appoint interlocutors to seek out various shades of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir in a bid to break the deadlock in the state could not have come a moment too soon. The separatists call the shots and dictate the daily schedule of the people and the government. The mainstream political parties have been marginalised. There is no meeting ground between what the separatists want and what the government is willing to concede. Normalcy is measured on day to day, if not on an hourly basis.

Where the separatists score points is by their argument that Kashmir is a political problem and not about economic packages or jobs; that Delhi is not serious about the resolution of the problem; that Delhi makes a pretence of talking only when faced with an adverse ground situation; and that once the situation improves, even the pretence is dropped; that's why India has to be blackmailed though violence to address the issue and, the violence has to be sustained, to ensure that Delhi remains interested and engaged.

Delhi's position that it can talk only when the ground situation becomes normal, though logical, has very few takers simply because of Delhi's past track record of not doing anything once the situation improves. With Vajpayee's "within the ambit of humanity", Narasimha Rao's " Sky is the limit" rhetoric coming to naught, it is hardly surprising that Manmohan Singh's "Anything within the parameters of the Indian Constitution" does not strike a chord.

Measures merely to restore normalcy, announcing economic and employment packages, important as they are, have not lead to sustainable normalcy for decades. For that, the basic issue of the sentiment of azadi, of the alienation, of the perceived reneging on promises of plebiscite would have to be addressed. In a word, the separatists continue to flourish precisely because Delhi continues to shy away from addressing the political aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

This time, however, the position could be different because of the multi-track approach that Delhi has adopted. A positive beginning has been made by the visit of the All Party Delegation (APD) and followed up by the announcement of an eight-point package. These, if implemented, would restore a semblance of normality while the proposed appointment of interlocutors has the potential to address the political problem.

The interlocutors who are to be appointed must be men/women of stature, integrity and credibility and seen to represent the country as a whole. Only then, would they be able to genuinely engage the various shades of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir. The worst thing the government can do is to appoint interlocutors on the basis of party politics or with an eye on electoral politics in India.

The interlocutors would have their job cut out for them. They could do well to focus on two broad areas --. One-finding ways and means to address the political problem of Kashmir; and the second, to undercut the separatist strength.

The starting point for addressing the political issue is to recognise that there is a problem. By merely calling Kashmir 'atoot ang' hasn't made it an 'ang' let alone an 'atoot ang'.

India can no longer adopt an ostrich-like attitude and pretend that a problem doesn't exist or that it will go away on its own. It won't. 63 years should have been a long enough time to convince anyone that without addressing the issue head on, it will continue to fester.

As the Babri Masjid verdict has shown, India has come a long way. Just as the people of India want the Mandir-Masjid issue put behind them, so too, Kashmir must be put behind us if we are to prosper. There is enough maturity in India today to allow the Kashmir issue and calls for azadi to be addressed head on. The continued side-stepping the issue does not do India proud anymore. And, neither does the continued use of the gun. This has only further alienated the people and totally dimmed any positive idea of India from their imagination.

The next step is to evolve a consensus, cutting across party lines, on what the problem is and its diverse strands - Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism, UN resolutions, continuing lack of emotional attachment to India, persistent azadi sentiments, lack of governance, Article 370, dilution of autonomy, portions of the state being under Pakistan's illegal occupation, Kashmiriyat being replaced by increasing Islamic overtones and so on.

Once there is a broad national consensus on the contours of the problem, discussions can be held on how to address each of these issues. There is enough political acumen and wisdom in India to do so.

The interlocutors must determine why is the sentiment of azadi so persistent and what does it actually mean and to whom. My two part article titled The Jammu and Kashmir Situation - the Azadi Debate has some pointers.

The second area for the interlocutors to look at is how to narrow the space for the separatists so that the ordinary people of the Valley are able to live their lives peacefully and in a sustainable manner.

How? The very fact of addressing the political issue openly, not shying away from uncomfortable questions and issues, would take the wind out of the sails of the separatists. Not addressing such issues in the past has conveyed the impression that perhaps the state's accession was dubious. It is time to put at rest any such residual doubts that are being kept alive by Pakistan and the separatists.

The one danger is of the interlocutors playing off the azadi sentiments in a section of the Valley Muslims against the 'atoot ang' sentiment of the Jammu population, Hindus and Muslims alike. On the contrary, what needs to be done is to unify the Jammu sentiment of being with India with those in the Valley who neither want a merger with Pakistan nor want an azadi whose colour is green. It is this sentiment that is at present underground, scared of articulating its point of view that has to be identified, nurtured and emboldened. The interlocutors must be aware of this essential constituency, actively seek it out and give it a voice.

The interlocutors must also factor in that a conducive atmosphere sought to be created by the package has been opposed and dismissed out of hand by the separatists precisely because they cannot thrive in an atmosphere of normalcy. While the people want a return to normalcy to pursue their lives, the separatists will not let them. The interlocutors must, therefore, reach out to the people and motivate them to oppose the continuing calendar of protests. The people have to be convinced and assured that it is only by marginalising the separatists, that they would be able to access the benefits of secularism, democracy, equal opportunity and economic growth that India has to offer.

The interlocutors have a tough task ahead of them. The sooner they begin, the better it would be all around.

The time has come for a mature India to address the Kashmir issue squarely, resolve it and put it behind us. It is only then that we could justifiably say with pride that Kashmir is our 'atoot ang' and the people of the Valley accept that they are indeed so. By Salim Haq (ANI)

Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The above article has been authored by Mr. Salim Haq. The comments expressed in it are his.

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