By not taking any action on interlocutors’ report, government betrays its insincerity
In the summer of 2010, Kashmir was writhing in protests, arson, shutdown and killings. It started with the killing of three villagers by the army, which had labelled them terrorists, in the Machil sector in North Kashmir. Once it became clear that the three men were innocent villagers, looking for work, protests broke out all across the Valley. State police and CRPF’s action led to more killing of protesters, who resorted to stone pelting. Gradually, stone-pelting peaked, curfews were defied and violence ruled the streets. Some called it Kashmir’s Intifada.
Smelling an opportunity, the Separatists started putting out a protest calendar and people began to observe it. They were giving vent to the so called ‘anger and dissent’ on the streets. The summer unrest of 2010, as it was popularly known, led to killings of more than 100 youth, many in their teens, and hundreds of security forces personnel were critically injured. According to the army and the Indian intelligence agencies, protests and demonstrations were sponsored and funded by Pakistani agencies. To defuse this crisis, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called an all-party meeting in September 2010 to discuss the issue and work out a strategy.
When the all-party delegation led by Union home minister P. Chidambaram visited Kashmir in September 2010, the home minister had said, “We are here to listen to your views, we will give you a patient hearing, what you think we need to do, in order to bring to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the hope and the belief that their honour and dignity and their future are secure as part of India…”
Led by Chidambaram, the all-party delegation wanted to find ways to resume the dialogue process with different sections of people in Jammu and Kashmir, and specifically in the Kashmir Valley. The delegation comprised senior political leaders like Bharatiya Janata Party’s Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, Samajwadi Party’s chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Communist Party of India Marxist’s Basudeb Acharia, Communist Party of India’s Gurudas Dasgupta and Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav. The feedback from the delegation was expected to form an important input for the Centre to evolve its response to various issues relating to the state.
Though no consensus emerged on key issues in the all-party meet called by the Prime Minister that formed the agenda of the over five-hour-long marathon meeting, political leaders expressed satisfaction with the deliberations. The central government issued an official statement that acknowledged a ‘governance-deficit’ in Jammu and Kashmir. The death toll from the violence in the Kashmir Valley had crossed the 100 mark in the three months preceding the visit of the delegation. Hence, the main concern of the delegation appeared to be restoration of peace.
Though the all-party delegation led to a lot of expectations that a senior political leader would be appointed as an interlocutor to engage with various groups of people in the state, including the Separatists, when the announcement was finally made, the three interlocutors were senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, conflict resolution specialist and academician Radha Kumar and former information commissioner M.M. Ansari. There was a lot of disappointment in political and other circles. The chief allegation was that the government of India was not sincere or serious when it came to handling the Kashmir issue.
In the course of about a year, in over a dozen visits, the interlocutors covered all the regions and the 22 districts of the state, and met over 700 delegations covering a wide cross section of people, from members of political parties to civil society groups and others. The Separatists however, consistently refused to meet them. During the one year term, the interlocutors met with Governor N.N. Vohra, chief minister Omar Abdullah, Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti and other politicians, social organisations, journalists and students. The interlocutors held three roundtable conferences with activists and scholars. They also held several meetings with almost all the stake-holders in the state to listen to their problems. People apprised them of their social and political issues. One of the interlocutors, Radha Kumar, also had a chance to meet the former Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir Barrister Sultan Mahmood when the latter visited Srinagar to attend a social function. However, the pro-resistance camp refused to the meet them.
The interlocutors had their share of controversies too. Sometime in the middle of last year, Ghulam Nabi Fai, an American of Kashmiri origin, was arrested in the United States by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for being funded by the ISI to run his activities which were to promote the Pakistani position on Kashmir in the United States. The Kashmir American Council, headed by Dr Fai, used to conduct annual conferences on Kashmir in the United States, and invite a select list of people. It is now known that the ISI used to prepare the agenda for the conference. It also came to be known that Padgaonkar was one of the Indians who had enjoyed the hospitality of Dr Fai and by extension, the ISI. Ansari, one of the interlocutors, said that had he been in Padgaonkar’s place, he would have quit the job.
The interlocutors, in the meanwhile, were talking freely to the press, and airing their views on various aspects of the Kashmir problem. In June 2011, in an interview to Business Standard, Ansari said, “An interim draft report on political contours has already been submitted to the government about a month ago. In this report, we have recommended strengthening the system of self-governance at regional and sub-regional levels, promoting free movement of men and materials across the Line of Control, ensuring de-militarisation of the state, release of political prisoners against whom there are no serious criminal charges, withdrawal of draconian laws such as Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA), redressal of grievances of migrants, displaced persons and other victims of militancy, removal of alienation among youth, improving governance and delivery of basic services and ensuring justice to the victims of human rights violations.”
Most of these recommendations would echo the sentiments and demands of the Separatists. This was an indication that the interlocutors had charted their own path, and had not been restricted by the central government, either in their movements in Jammu and Kashmir, or in making their recommendations in line with Centre’s thinking. However, on being questioned whether their recommendations would be acceptable to the central government, Ansari said the Kashmir issue was very complex and was further compounded by many pulls and pressures of different political parties at the Centre as well as in the state. According to Ansari, unless all the major parties agreed to a negotiated settlement and evolved a consensus in the interest of securing peace in the region, it would be difficult to achieve the goal of resolving the issue.
Prophets of doom had predicted a violent summer in 2011, but it turned out to be a wrong prediction. No doubt, the central and state officers and political leaders handling the issue were tense and worried throughout the summer, when tourists in tens of thousands flocked to the comforts of the Valley’s salubrious climate.
Keeping their word, the interlocutors, who had been given a year to submit their findings, gave their report to the Union home minister on 12 October 2011. This evoked a lot of interest among political parties and even the Separatists, though the latter had failed to respond to the invitations of the interlocutors to meet them. Many even among the Separatists felt that they had lost an opportunity to project their case. But Padgaonkar said that though the Separatists failed to respond to their invitations, they have taken on board the stated positions of the Separatists. When the report was submitted to Chidambaram, the home minister told the interlocutors that he would carry forward the process on the basis of their recommendations. However, since then, during the last over five months, there has been a total silence on the action being taken by the government on the report of the interlocutors appointed by them, leading to a lot of speculation on the nature of the recommendations.
There were reports that the home minister had given a brief summary to the Cabinet Committee on Security on the interlocutors report, but that the Committee insisted that they would like to have the whole report before giving it views. There were inputs that the report would be placed before the all-party meeting and that the interlocutors have expressed willingness to appear before the all-party meeting to brief its members. But time has gone by, and no action has been taken yet.
How would we face the Kashmiris, if there was another situation, like the one in 2010, and propose to send interlocutors to meet all of them, yet again? Militancy is at an all-time low. According to the state police, there are hardly 200 militants active in the state. The government of India has to act and act fast, so that the initiative that is now with the government is not lost. Kashmir is a political and not just an economic issue. No doubt it is important to build a political consensus before taking any concrete action based on the recommendations of the interlocutors.
(The writer retired as the first chief of NIA. Earlier he was the additional director general of police, Jammu and Kashmir. He was also Vigilance Commissioner in Jammu & Kashmir)