New Kashmir interlocutor is a positive move by Modi government

Centre has displayed enough farsightedness by appointing former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma.

 |  6-minute read |   26-10-2017
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The recent appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as Centre's interlocutor for Kashmir at a time when there is a lull in an otherwise trouble-torn state, is a welcome sign as the government now appears to be sincere to address the long-drawn Kashmir problem.

All possible efforts to usher in peace in Kashmir have been made for the past several years but nothing seemed to have worked. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had released a grant of Rs 80,000 crore for the development of the state that didn't yield any tangible results. Handsome packages were doled out earlier during the UPA rule too. As part of the plan to bring in peace, a team led by senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha visited Kashmir and talked to multiple leaders, but it drew a blank.

Earlier, the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in July 2016 led to a spate of violence and triggered actions of monstrous proportions. This saw an extremely unpleasant development when the Kashmiri youths resorted to pelting of stones targeting security forces. At that point in time, it seemed as though the problem would never come to an end despite all attempts by the government and the security forces to contain the situation.

The act of an Army major who tied a shawl-maker to the bonnet of his jeep and paraded him as human shield to deter further stone-pelting by misguided youths generated a much-heated debate in the Valley and even beyond. The government measures to fire-fight every challenge that surfaced was tough, yet issues that cropped up each time were effectively countered, or at least genuinely attempted at.

As is common knowledge, all forms of violence fomented and abetted in Kashmir, has been and are being planned and executed by Pakistan and the ISI. Be it after Burhan Wani's killing, or otherwise. Our security forces have been on their toes battling it out but possibly due to certain unavoidable factors, Pakistani interference continues and much is required to rein in the youth integrating them into the mainstream those who have gone astray.

dineshwar-body_102617015757.jpgUnion home minister Rajnath Singh with former Intelligence Bureau director Dineshwar Sharma.

There had been a number of interlocutors or negotiators in the past engaging Kashmiris for threadbare talks. The list of names includes prominent persons like KC Pant, NN Vora, Dr MM Ansari, prof Radha Kumar, Yashwant Sinha, Sharad Yadav and Seetaram Yechury. They were even ready to talk to the separatist faction (s) and the Hurriyat in addition to negotiating with all stakeholders.

Now a former director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Dineshwar Sharma, is the new face who will engage all the stakeholders. At present, only a minuscule number of people who do not favour peace in Kashmir seem slightly agitated with the new appointee, possibly because of his police background. However, there is absolutely no reason to suspect his or the government's intentions to usher in peace in the turbulent state. The government looks determined to make Kashmir peaceful.

It is pertinent to point out that the new incumbent had served as an officer on the field in Kashmir and in the most troubled times in the early 1990s. He, therefore, carries with him on ground first-hand experience and exposure to meet his mandate fulfilling our country's expectations on Kashmir. Also, while posted in Delhi, he oversaw Kashmir-related operations in different capacities.

Most significantly, he never ran into any controversy and remained completely apolitical. Who could be a better choice than him? Also, he was the DIB for two years and while being at the helm of such a significant posting, he had a holistic view of the entire country with special focus on Kashmir. We should always remember that another IB official (later chief of R&AW) who was an expert on Kashmir affairs is AS Dulat, who handled Kashmir during NDA regime with high degree of professionalism and finesse. His book on Kashmir says it all.

An inherent advantage for Sharma is his low-key, non-controversial approach. With such an image, it is expected that stakeholders will hold him in high-esteem and repose trust and confidence which would mean an effective collaboration yielding tangible results.

On the government's part, it must be said that enough farsightedness has been displayed as was evident from the Union home minister's statement that the new interlocutor will have a free hand to choose the stakeholders whom he wishes to talk to and proceed accordingly. Copious degree of independence and leeway will add to the discretionary decisions where red tape or bureaucratic hurdles will be absent.

Having said that, the new interlocutor must exercise adequate caution, especially in dealing with the Hurriyat or other factions (if at all he opts to talk to them) receiving direct moral and material support from Pakistan (ISI). This seems imperative as Pakistan is presently under terrible pressure from the US to contain terror, shut down terror camps and facilities amid stepped up diplomatic pressure mounted by India. Frustrated by extraneous pressure and in the absence of any visible moral support from its "ally" China , any attempt of misadventure trying to hurt Kashmir remains a strong possibility as it is pushed against the wall.

The new interlocutor has to give a fresh look at the situation also keeping in mind the body language of the separatist leaders, who are already under the NIA lens that has led to some arrests by investigating agencies focusing on terror financing and exposing the recipients of funds from extraneous and nefarious quarters.

All in all, it requires tightrope walking, balancing all the facets. The choice of the new interlocutor appears fairly accurate and he is likely to win the confidence of all stakeholders and deliver.

And we must remember that it is yet not too late. In the foregoing, it may also be added that the new choice is expected to take all the sister agencies on board to ensure that all concerned are on the same page for a focussed and "no-nonsense" approach. Such agencies include the IB, R&AW, state intelligence, military intelligence and above all the PDP government in J&K. Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has already welcomed the appointment. So his sailing is expected to be not so rough as some detractors of the peace process are trying to allude.

This government initiative of designating a professional interlocutor is a golden opportunity for the Kashmiris to grab. If it is missed, dark cloud will gather again in the Kashmir skies defeating all efforts to usher in peace that the Kashmiris so desperately deserve.

Also read: Kashmir interlocutor: Why Modi government is shooting in the dark


Shantanu Mukharji Shantanu Mukharji @shantanu2818

The author is a retired IPS officer who has held key positions in the Government of India handling sensitive security issues within and outside India.

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