How Centre's interlocutor can help India's Kashmir outreach

The idea behind introducing an interlocutor is to elevate the level of engagement and marginalise the naysayers in the Valley.

 |  5-minute read |   27-10-2017
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If there were ever any doubts, and there were many, about whether the government of India (GOI) was going to once again back off from the crackdown against the separatist terror and money laundering networks in Kashmir to give a push to its latest initiative for a dialogue with "all stakeholders" in the troubled state, they were dispelled the very next day when the National Investigation Agency arrested the son of Pakistan-based globally designated terrorist Syed Salahuddin on charges of money laundering.

Outreach

The messaging was clear: the Centre’s interlocutor would engage whoever was interested in a dialogue but there would be no let-up in the efforts of the Indian state to disrupt, degrade and demolish the financial, physical and psychological infrastructure of separatism in Jammu and Kashmir. In other words, the political outreach would move parallelly with the pressure being mounted by law enforcement agencies on the separatists and terrorists.

That is all very well except that the initiative itself — the Centre appointing a former Intelligence Bureau chief as an interlocutor to hold a "sustained dialogue" with "all individuals and groups willing to engage" with him — is something that has been tried many times in the past but had very little to show for their efforts

How is this political initiative going to be any different, or more importantly, how it will end any different from similar efforts earlier, is not quite clear. It is also a little strange that the GOI wants the interlocutor to “engage with all walks of life in J&K and understand their legitimate aspirations”. Something has to be seriously wrong if, despite all these decades, the GOI still needs to get an understanding of the so-called "legitimate aspirations" of the people living in J&K.

This ill-thought-out formulation of "legitimate aspirations" can lead the GOI into a minefield because if these aspirations have to do with "self-determination" (a euphemism for separatism) or even an Islamist system, then the GOI will enter a cul-de-sac.

On the other hand, if these aspirations are the same as that of rest of India – jobs, security, law & order, good governance etc. – then what is it that Delhi can do which it hasn’t done earlier? And does the GOI really need a former Director, IB, to hold extensive talks to figure this out?

If the "aspirations" have to do with political system and structure, including the relationship of the state with the Centre, then is it politically feasible or even desirable? Will it even lead to normalcy in the state by ending terrorism and Pakistan’s proxy war?

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Stability

These were precisely the reasons why the recommendations of previous interlocutors, or even of the various other initiatives never really took off. The current dispensation knows this. And yet if it has taken this initiative, there has to be a method behind the madness.

By all accounts, after strenuous efforts, the security forces have managed to bring a semblance of stability in the situation in the restive Valley. The separatists are under pressure and for the first time the authorities are clamping down on their extremely lucrative politico-financial enterprise.

The lull in the disturbances coupled with the arrival of winter has opened a window of opportunity to initiate a political process. If it takes off and involves people from the entire political spectrum, then there is a likelihood that next spring will be very different from the last two springs. Plus, the political move will help to defuse the ill-informed, prejudiced and unfair criticism that the GOI was only interested in the military option and had no use for the political option.

Violence

In theory, it all sounds very good. But the ground realities will probably run counter to the theory propelling the political initiative. For their part, the separatists aren’t particularly enthused by the Centre’s initiative.

Even if they were, there is the whole issue of whether or not they control the street. Quite aside from the wisdom, or lack of it, of giving importance to the separatists by engaging them instead of marginalising and isolating them, there are good reasons to believe that the terrorism in Kashmir today is quite autonomous of the separatist leadership operating under the umbrella of the Hurriyet Conference.

The Hurriyet today is only a figurehead which parrots what is decided elsewhere. The terrorism in Kashmir has two broad components: one comprises jihadist elements directly controlled and directed by Pakistan, the other comprises elements that despite getting monetary and material support from Pakistan, derive their inspiration and ideas from international jihadist movements.

Although things are relatively quiet right now, there is a good chance that the situation will erupt with even greater violence and virulence next spring. The endeavour of the Centre’s interlocutor is unlikely to prevent that from happening.

Once the separatists and terrorists are removed from the equation, and assuming that the Centre’s interlocutor will not be engaging the "child soldiers" – teens, even pre-teens, prancing about as "commanders" and pelting stones – he will end up dialoguing with individuals and groups who are already engaged at different levels by both the central and state government. Perhaps, the idea is precisely this: elevate the level of this engagement and use it to marginalise the naysayers and disrupters.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Also read: India Today Axis-My India opinion poll: BJP has clear edge in Gujarat, but Congress won't go down easy

Writer

Sushant Sareen Sushant Sareen @sushantsareen

The writer is a strategic affairs analyst and a Pakistan expert

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