J&K: talk, don't stop, until it's solved

The Centre’s initiation of dialogue with Jammu and Kashmir, though long overdue, is a welcome step. Dineshwar Sharma, a former director of the Intelligence Bureau and an old Kashmir hand, has been appointed as the government’s ‘special representative’ for the talks. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the interlocutor has the “freedom to interact with whichever group he thinks fit.” He has implicitly signalled that Sharma is free to reach out to separatists, too. Hopefully, Sharma will do so. It will mean bringing on board the Hurriyat Conference. Although the Hurriyat’s separatist views and proximity to Pakistan are worrying, it represents a section of opinion in Kashmir, whose voices must be heard, too. An inclusive approach is necessary to find a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, and the Centre must do its utmost to make this a broad-based process. It should consult and include opposition parties like the Congress, which have much experience in dealing with the Kashmir issue, as well.

Over the last three years, Delhi’s approach to Kashmir was a muscular one. This has only deepened discontent and anger among the Kashmiris. Many Kashmiris have lost kin in the stone-pelting protests. Several youth have been rendered blind by the security forces’ use of rubber bullets against mobs. Especially since the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, support for militancy has been growing again. Worse, an al-Qaeda affiliated terror outfit called the Ansar Ghawzat-ul-Hind has become active in the Valley recently. Clearly, the Narendra Modi government’s military approach did not work. Is the dialogue initiative the outcome of a rethink and a course correction? Has the government realised at long last that the Kashmir problem is a political one that needs a political solution? Or is this a tactical step to avoid American pressure on India to negotiate with Pakistan?

The Modi government is placed well to settle the Kashmir conflict. It has a strong majority in parliament and is a coalition partner in the Jammu and Kashmir government. It would be a pity if the Modi government fritters away this opportunity. Undoubtedly, it is stepping into a very messy situation, made worse by its own blunders. Getting the Kashmiris to take the government’s initiative seriously will be difficult. Spoilers can be expected to derail the process. Militant groups and others who benefit from violence and the breakdown of law and order could carry out attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere. The government must not allow such provocations to halt, or even pause, the process. Importantly, the Modi government must ensure that elements within the Sangh Parivar that are opposed to talks or concessions do not set the agenda.

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