Saturday, April 23, 2011

New Delhi’s Kashmir Interlocutors


I have been postponing this column on the Kashmir interlocutors appointed by the Government of India for a long time because I wanted to do it once their report is finalized and made available to the general public (also I did not want my ‘cynicism’ to color anyone’s understanding of the issue or obstruct the interlocutors’ work). However, I am going to write about it now for two important reasons: 1) I am puzzled by the feverish high-pitch marketing campaign and the gate-crashing tactics adopted by the interlocutors in Srinagar, and 2) even if their report contains radical ‘recommendations’ to the government of India to resolve the Kashmir conflict, I am increasingly convinced that it is unlikely to create an impact on the conflict per se.

The selection, appointment, and the functioning of the interlocutors are deeply flawed, and inaction and inertia, in all probability, await the group’s recommendations to the government of India. More so, the fundamental logic underlying the formation of this group seems to be that ‘we need a document to be put together by a group of ‘experts’ which can clearly spell out a political solution for the conflict in Kashmir’. This logic is misplaced because we neither need such a document nor do we need a group of experts to tell us and the government in New Delhi as to what should be the solution to the Kashmir conflict: the fact is that we already know what the solution should be and there are enough documents which have in great detail explained what should be the solution. It is not yet another document that we need to finally resolve the Kashmir conflict, but an honorable political process of reconciliation between Kashmir and New Delhi.

Under the supervision of MoH
The Kashmiri separatists, moderates and hardliners alike, made it clear right from the beginning that they would not talk to a low-profile, low-powered team of ‘academic experts’ (no, I don’t use the word ‘academic’ in a derogatory manner!) who are tasked with (merely) ‘suggesting’ ways to ‘resolve the Kashmir conflict’. Why, the separatists asked, would they want to talk to a group of academics/researchers/journalists who would be submitting a report to the Ministry of Home which many Kashmiris see as part of the problem in the first place? That they did not enjoy any decision-making power and that they could only act as the handmaiden to the MoH became amply clear when the Home Minister publically instructed them not to ‘give ball-to-ball commentary’ on their activities to the media.

Indeed, the appointment of this group of interlocutors is a clever move by the MoH because by setting up this group to be functioning under its guidance, which, under ideal circumstances, should be sitting in judgment of whatever the MoH has done in Kashmir for many years, the MoH has managed to assume a moral high ground. If New Delhi’s security forces and the MoH themselves are in the dock when it comes to the Kashmir problem, how can they sit in judgment of the activities of the group of interlocutors let alone bring about a genuine process of truth-finding and reconciliation? The very fact that the MoH has the power to reprimand the group shows that it controls the group and its activities, it can finally decide what to do with their report and that the group lacks the power to point fingers at its own source of origin.

Feverish marketing campaign
Once in Kashmir, the interlocutors claimed that they will not go after the separatists if the latter did not want to meet them and yet the current spate of feverish marketing campaign and the aggressive pursuit of separatists by the interlocutors are painfully demeaning for the very meaning of peacemaking. The one separatist they managed to poach from the dissident camp, Moulana Abbas Ansari, has been ousted from the Hurriyat and while the separatists publicly denounce the interlocutors, the mainstream parties are willing to say in private conversations that they are talking to the interlocutors only due to the pressure exerted on them by the MoH: this is making a mockery of the concept of peacemaking.

Flawed performance
Apart from conducting occasional visits to the state, holding press-conferences and star-studded seminars, and occasional poaching of minor, disgruntled, elements from the dissident camp, what have the interlocutors done? Forget about their ability to bring about an honorable solution to the Kashmir issue, have they at least been able to create a momentum for peace in Kashmir? Not really. Apart from the chiding they are subjected to by Chidambaram from time to time, the interlocutors have also been complicating the issues in the state with their own utterances. For instance, they have been mixing up political problems and governance issues. The group has been dialoguing with people from all parts of the state including Jammu and has said that its suggestions will also give importance to ‘problems faced by all parts of the state’. But the fact is that the political nature of the problem is limited to the Kashmir valley and expanding this problem to the rest of the state is not the best thing to do. Of course, the other parts of the state have their own problems of infrastructure, governance etc. But that is not the ‘Kashmir problem’ which is clearly political in nature. The interlocutors also said during a recent seminar that the security forces are also among the major stakeholders in the Kashmir conflict. How can the security forces be a major stakeholder in the Kashmir conflict?

Life beyond recommendations
Going by the history of the various New Delhi-Srinagar talks and reports generated by official and non-official groups in the past, including the theme-based working groups set up by the Prime Minister of India and the autonomy proposal of the NC, it is unlikely that New Delhi will take the suggestions of the three-member interlocutors seriously. As I wrote in one of my earlier columns even if one were to argue that the interlocutors would end up giving a good set of recommendations to New Delhi in order to politically address and resolve the Kashmir issue, the trouble is that since the separatists are not part of the process they are unlikely to accept them for fear of being considered irrelevant in the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. How can we expect the separatists to accept the recommendations of a group that was not given their legitimacy and blessings in the first place? That would go on to prove that the separatists are irrelevant and dispensable in Kashmir politics.

More so, with the peace-loving Manmohan singh under heavy opposition fire from multiple corruption charges, the UPA government is more likely to go back to its time-tested political position: political status-quoism. The right-wing BJP, with its new-found advantage over the government, is unlikely to let the government do anything radical on Kashmir.

In my opinion, therefore, this group appointed by New Delhi, whose members are widely recognized as learned people, should not be called interlocutors but members of a ‘Kashmir study group’ (copyright to Farooq Katwari’s KSG) at best.

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