A new beginning

Union home minister P Chidambaram’s offer of talks with all sections of people in Jammu and Kashmir is a step forward in addressing the grievances in the state and the political problem that undeniably exists there. Chidambaram’s statement recognises this because he has said that the contours of a political solution will emerge only after consultations with all shades of opinion. The government is for ‘quiet dialogue and diplomacy’ to find such a solution. The moderate section of the separatist Hurriyat Conference has welcomed the offer and has promised that it will take any talks with the government seriously. The hard line faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has expectedly rejected the initiative as ‘nothing new’ and would accept the offer only if the talks are tripartite involving Pakistan too. But the support for the faction is exaggerated and it will find itself isolated. The very fact that its call for boycott of the state’s assembly elections was completely rejected by the people is proof of that.

The initiative, which is planned four years after such talks were last held, is timely as violence has come down in the state and is at the lowest level in about a decade. Though there is infiltration of militants from across the border, the numbers have fallen because of the stepped up security and the unsettled situation in Pakistan. The disenchantment with Pakistan is growing because of the troubles in that country. The fact that the government is serious about the initiative is seen by the establishment of back channel contacts. But it should be equally serious about the substance of the talks. The differences of views, expressed in public by chief minister Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq Abdullah on this are a sign of confusion. This will not help the government.

Apart from issues like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, on which the government has made a beginning with the promise of an amendment, the talks will have to focus on the limits of autonomy that can be given to the state within the framework of the Indian constitution. The government is already committed to this and Chidambaram has given some broad hints by saying that the solution will have to be specific to the history and geography of the state. Once there is an internal consensus it will be easier to deal with the Pakistan factor.

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