With two visits to Jammu and Kashmir and scores of discussions involving a cross-section of people in the State over the past month, the three government-appointed interlocutors are treading cautiously on their path of putting in place a framework that will lead to the political settlement of the Kashmir problem.
“Our aim is to work out a dialogue structure — through the widest possible consultations with all shades of political opinion — which will be uninterrupted and uninterruptible no matter who tries to break it,” said Radha Kumar, Delhi Policy Group trustee and one of the interlocutors.
The other two interlocutors are senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar and Information Commissioner M. M. Ansari.
The interlocutors are planning their third visit to the State in December third week. They had submitted reports and recommendations of their earlier visits to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, which have remained out of the public domain.
With the Central government giving the interlocutors the mandate to chart out a course towards finding a “political solution,” the group is eliciting views of main political parties and holding discussions with community leaders, youth, media, women, teachers, lawyers, businessmen and social activists.
Acknowledging that the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference, led by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and moderate Mirwaiz Omar Farooq are the key stakeholders, the interlocutors hope to meet them in the coming months. “We plan to work out the framework on which the government and the stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir can rely upon and which would ultimately lead to a political solution to the problem,” Professor Kumar told The Hindu.
Mr. Chidambaram stressed recently that the aim was to find a “political solution to a political problem” and pointed out that there were no “red lines” for the interlocutors. Their appointment came after the Kashmir Valley witnessed incidents of stone-pelting, strikes, police firing during June-August.
About 110 people, mostly youth, lost their lives as the police and security forces tried to break the vicious cycle of violence by firing at the protesters and stone-throwing youths. The interlocutors had suggested releasing of about 50 political prisoners, beginning with youths.
Over the past month, the State government has released nearly 30 prisoners, mostly youths, who were arrested after the incidents of stone-throwing.
“It was not at all easy to approach people in the Kashmir Valley who were suffering under spells of curfew and grappling hard to put together basic necessities for leading normal lives under such circumstances. Their confidence and trust in instruments of governance had been completely shaken,” Professor Kumar recalled. She also cautioned of the pitfalls and the dangerous prospect of youth joining the ranks of militant organisations. “Kashmir is teetering on edge, the situation needs to be handled with great care.”
Insisting that the “ground situation” had to change for the people in Kashmir to move towards a political solution, she said the group was overwhelmed at the response it received during their interactions at several places in five districts in the Valley. “At some places, we found a gathering of 150 to 300 persons waiting for us. It was indeed a positive sign that people came out to interact with us,” she said.
Professor Kumar flagged some points on which there was near-unanimity among people — they want a comprehensive and lasting political settlement and the sooner it comes about is better; they stress the need for good governance; and the way to resolve the problem is to recognise the honour and dignity of all concerned actors.
“We realise that there is a diversity of opinion on what a political solution could be based on,” said Professor Kumar, who has had experience in conflict resolution and handling of situations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland.
Admitting that the biggest challenge facing the interlocutors was to demonstrate their credibility insofar as arriving at a political settlement of the Kashmir problem was concerned, she felt that the recent release of youth, removal of security bunkers in Srinagar and an attempt by the administration to reach out to people had, in some ways, contributed towards building a “conducive” atmosphere.
Professor Kumar, however, pointed out that terrible individual sufferings were there and the challenge was to respect the suffering while “we have to ensure that key political issues are addressed.”
She felt that the gains made during 2003-06 in terms of peace, and confidence building measures had, by and large, gone in 2010. “The challenge is also to regain that level and start building upon it. It is not impossible but it surely is a daunting task. Release of political prisoners, addressing the aspirations of youth, easing restrictions and putting in place a responsive and effective public grievance redressal machinery can help in bringing about a change in the ground situation.”
The 2003-06 period saw considerable improvement in the ground situation. During her visit to Srinagar earlier this month, Professor Kumar said that engaging Pakistan for solution of the entire former princely State was a necessity as Pakistan was in control of a large part of Kashmir.
Interestingly, several Kashmiri youth have engaged themselves in Facebook conversation with Professor Kumar, asking her questions about India's sincerity in solving the problem.
“Peace is to be brought by way of peace only and no economic package or change of political dispensation is ever going to make up for the same,” a comment stated. Another commented that peace was an “assiduous exercise, rather a process.” While acknowledging weakness in the UPA, he said the appointment of interlocutors was in itself a “step forward and not backward.”
They also seemed to agree with Professor Kumar's observation and assurance: “Peacemaking is a hard, slow and painful task and all I can say is that I will not give up.”