Why is Kashmir upset over choice of new interlocutors?
Last week, New Delhi appointed three new mediators to find a solution to the decades-old dispute over Kashmir where popular protests against Indian rule have mounted in recent months.
The appointment of the three-member non-political team of interlocutors – journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and government official M. M. Ansari – is also aimed at defusing simmering anger in the disputed region.
More than 110 people were killed, most of them by police bullets, in months of deadly protests.
But New Delhi’s most important initiative on Kashmir, which India and Pakistan claim in full but rule in parts, has provoked widespread disappointment and dismay.
“…the eight-point plan of action unveiled last month had generated tremendous hope and enthusiasm. And yet the actual announcement of a three-member non-political team has provoked widespread anger and hostility and even invited ridicule,” says Amitabh Mattoo, Professor of International Studies at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a senior separatist leader spearheading the ongoing protest strikes, has described the appointment of interlocutors as a “futile exercise.”
Moderate separatists led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq say an Indian parliamentary panel would have been an appropriate forum to reach out to the strife-weary people.
Geelani has laid down five conditions to start a dialogue with New Delhi or end street protests and strikes — the worst outbreak of anti-government violence since a separatist revolt broke out in 1989.
The conditions include that India must accept Kashmir as an international dispute and revoke all oppressive laws including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives Indian troops powers to shoot, arrest and search while battling the separatist insurgency.
After several failed rounds of peace talks between moderate separatists and New Delhi in the past decade, many locals say India is only buying time and is not serious about resolution of the dispute.
“At least 150 rounds of talks between New Delhi and Kashmir in the past six decades, has changed nothing. They (Indians) have always used dialogue as a tool to corrupt Kashmiri leadership or buy time to continue with its occupation,” Geelani said recently.
Mattoo says the three interlocutors chosen are undoubtedly professionals who have excelled in their respective fields.
But the impression has been created that the panel has been finalised without due diligence or a serious application of mind by those who are quite oblivious to the complexities of the problems in the state and are insensitive to the sentiment of the people living there.
“In Jammu and Kashmir, symbolism is almost as important as substance.”
Chief of Kashmir’s main opposition People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, said nomination of the new Kashmir interlocutors has dampened hope and is more or less a useless exercise.
Why has New Delhi’s most important initiative on Kashmir almost collapsed before it has started?
A four-month-long separatist strike, curfew and security lockdown has kept Muslim-majority Kashmir valley on the boil, shutting down much of the scenic region.
Separatists want Kashmir’s complete freedom from India while New Delhi sees the mountainous region as an integral part of the country.
New Delhi and Kashmir doubt each other’s sincerity and the gulf is widening between their positions with each passing day.
The two sides need more flexibility to start fresh peace talks or much troubles lie ahead for Kashmir, the cause of two wars between India and Pakistan.