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Mainstream, VOL LV No 46 New Delhi November 4, 2017

Can Interlocutor Help Solve Kashmir?

Monday 6 November 2017, by Kuldip Nayar

The Government of India has appointed Dineshwar Sharma, the former Intelligence Bureau chief, as an interlocutor to find a solution to Kashmir’s problems. This is not the first time that such an exercise is being conducted. New Delhi has had interlocutors in the past. Then instead of officials, Ministers were appointed so that the issue could get urgency as well as immediate attention. But nothing came out of these exercises.

The Kashmiri leaders wanted more than what New Delhi would offer. There was no meeting point. Talks covered the gamut of problems. But the two sides were so distant from each other that the dialogue would not go very far. The Kashmiris want the Valley to be converted into a sovereign Islamic republic. This is something which India cannot give because it does not think that Kashmir is a disputed territory. It is considered a part of the Indian Union. I have visited Srinagar as an interlocutor many a time but I could not offer anything close to what they wanted.

What has disappointed me is the disappearance of the grey area which was visible till a couple of years ago. The stances have hardened so much so that even social contacts between Muslims and Hindus have got snapped. I am sorry to bring in a personal example. In the past, Yasin Malik would invite me to his house for dinner and conduct me to his house through a labyrinth of lanes.

True, he has turned into what is called a ‘separatist’. But I vainly waited for a word from him. I do not believe that he did not know about my presence in Srinagar. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front he heads posts his men at the airport to know who comes to the Valley from India and elsewhere. Yasin Malik gets the “separatists” feedback.

I had Yasin’s fast unto death broken on the condition that I would personally conduct a probe into human rights violations by the Indian security forces. He agreed to my supervision instead of the Amnesty International probe and broke the fast. We produced a report and found Yasin’s allegations mostly correct. The report was quoted widely by Pakistan to the embarrassment of the Indian Government. But this only made the situation more difficult and complex.

True, Yasin says that he is not an Indian. But our relationship was not on the basis of nationality. Can bitterness snap even personal bonds? Should I presume that I wrongly assumed certain things and that personal relations have no meaning in the face of political exigencies leaving Kashmir behind us?

To cite another example of how personal relationships are pushed into the background for political purposes. Another Kashmiri leader, Shabbir Shah, is a changed person today. He was like my chela (disciple). He was then pro-India. He has changed into a staunch opponent. Yet, I do not know why personal relations should die. Is it the price that I have to pay for a change in Shabbir’s ideas?

Kashmir, no doubt, requires attention, especially for those who believe in a secular and democratic India. No amount of opposition should swerve them from their commitment. If they change, it means that their earlier stance was only a façade.

This holds good for entire India. We are in the midst of challenges to the very idea, propounded by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who won us freedom. It pains me to see that some voices have begun to appreciate the ideas of Nathuram Godse, who killed the Mahatma. Were India to question its ethos, Muslim-dominated Kashmir would feel insecure. A Kashmiri Muslim engineer, who dropped me at the airport, told me how he was suspect even at a liberal place like Bangalore and harassed by the police.

Parties have reduced politics to the identifi-cation on the basis of caste and religion. People should assert themselves through liberal organisations or leaders and ensure that the poison of religion and caste does not spread. If the nation fails, Kashmir and many other parts of India may flounder in the muddy waters of religion.

It is in the interest of Kashmiris not to disturb the status quo until they can have something better. This is possible if the three parties, India, Pakistan and the people in Kashmir, come together for a dialogue. New Delhi is not prepared for that because Islamabad has gone back on its promise not to allow its territory to be used by terrorists.

This was also agreed upon when Pakistan was under General Musharraf’s rule. He went to Agra and almost signed an agreement with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, until the news had leaked, that India’s then Information Minister Sushma Swaraj changed the draft agreement omitting Kashmir from the text. Since then the two countries have stayed distant. Musharraff’s misadventure at Kargil aggravated the matter further.

It must be said to the credit of Atal Behari Vajpayee that he took a bus to Lahore. I was sitting behind him when he showed me New Delhi’s telegram which said that several Hindus had been killed near Jammu. He said he did not know how the country would react about his trip to Lahore but he was determined to pick up the thread with Nawaz Sharif. The rest is history.

The Indus Water Treaty can be replaced with another treaty but the consent of Pakistan is necessary. When it has not been willing to allow getting electricity from the run of the river, it is difficult to imagine that it would agree to the use of rivers in the Indus system even though water from them is pouring into the Arabian Sea without being used for either irrigation or hydroelectric projects.

There is a tendency in Pakistan to link everything with Kashmir, which is a complicated problem and it would take many years to solve. The revision of the Indus Water Treaty, which can satisfy both the countries, would add to the peace prospects. Let the treaty be discussed separately. The rest can follow. The only point to be taken into account is how the two countries can span the distance between them.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62