Since street battles broke out in Kashmir this summer and took on an ominous character of a full scale agitation, New Delhi has finally laid out a plan for political action. After an all-party delegation of members of Parliament visited Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month which he led, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has promised that New Delhi will appoint a group of interlocutors to engage with the State's people. The Union government has also signalled that it will respond to the youth rage driving the current flare-up by addressing key issues like the chronic unemployment engendered by the State's dysfunctional economy. It has also made clear that it expects the State government to apply a healing touch to the inflamed situation. None of these ideas is new. Ever since 1996, successive governments have wanted to remove the obtrusive bunkers set up to combat a massive urban insurgency that no longer exists. But they failed to evolve creative solutions that could meet community needs and address counter-terrorism imperatives. However, the appointment of interlocutors to take the dialogue with the Kashmiris forward is a positive step. It will work — but only if key actors in New Delhi and Srinagar have the will to make it work.

New Delhi's interlocutors will have the unenviable task of negotiating a way through the maze that has claimed so many peace efforts. Various Prime Ministers from Atal Behari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh have launched serious efforts at making peace. Both Mr. Vajpayee and Dr. Singh have held direct meetings with key secessionist leaders. Dr. Singh's latest efforts included two round tables which threw up key recommendations to institutionalise the peace process in the troubled State. In essence, the idea was to build a consensus around a future where Jammu and Kashmir would have significant federal autonomy, while protecting India's concerns about sovereignty. The problem, though, was that the secessionist leaders were unwilling to sign on to a deal that did not have Pakistan's backing. Prime Minister Singh and President Pervez Musharraf came close to such a deal in 2006. Since then, crisis-ridden Pakistan has shown little interest in moving forward. New Delhi can unilaterally arrive at an arrangement with some key actors who have salience in the Valley. But such understandings may not prove durable unless backed by a real consensus. Each past failed peace effort has left behind a trail of betrayed hopes, engendering frustration and cynicism. But the overwhelming sense of national solidarity with Kashmir's suffering as demonstrated by the visit of the all-party delegation should ensure that this time, the peace process does not fail.

Keywords: Kashmir issue

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