Initiatives such as the recent all-party delegation visit to Jammu and Kashmir are the ones that generate optimism.
One message to emerge from this season of delegations to Srinagar is: what Kashmir wants from New Delhi is political outreach.
Earlier this month, a non-official delegation of parliamentarians and civil society made a three-day visit to Srinagar in an effort to break the ice on Kashmir without involving the government and by avoiding the trappings of state protocol.
Its efforts at creating the space for dialogue made an impact. For senior parliamentarian and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan, it was his second visit in a little over three months. He was part of the all-party delegation that visited Jammu and Kashmir in September to reach out to people.
Mr. Paswan and his colleagues, among them D. Raja, Nama Nageshwar Rao and Mahesh Bhat, were received warmly by prominent political leaders. From hard-liner Syed Ali Geelani to moderates Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah, the delegation struck a cordial note with each one of them.
“We need to persuade Kashmiris with love and sincerity,” Mr. Paswan said at the conclusion of the visit. After interacting with a cross section of people, particularly the relatives of many of the 112 people killed in police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) firing during the summer protests, the members did not have much to say but expressed solidarity with the families, saying “we are with you in this hour of tragedy”.
The delegation did not hide its disappointment over the fact that nothing much had been done to restore the confidence of people who remained embattled with police and security forces in summer.
“Nothing is visible on the ground,” Mr. Paswan said, referring to the eight-point formula (to address problems in the State) unveiled by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in the first week of October.
When the delegation visited Kashmir, it generated much hope with the general public attaching much importance to it and its outcome. Despite the fact that separatists stayed away and left the space open for mainstream parties — to convey the message that they are responsible for the mess — people were, for the first time, optimistic that something concrete was being done to address the Kashmiri crisis politically.
It was for the first time in the last two decades that a political dialogue had been initiated with Kashmir. Back in 1990, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had led a similar delegation to Kashmir but he and his colleagues were caged in the Centaur Hotel, with militants having taken over the streets. This time, however, the situation in Kashmir had more political space, and the delegation was warmly welcomed as being a part of a genuine initiative.
It was following the visit that the government announced its eight-point package. One of these was the appointment of a three-member team of interlocutors to prepare the ground to restart the dialogue process in Kashmir.
Their appointment, without any aspersions on their integrity, was received with scepticism in the Valley. Even Mr. Paswan and his delegation seemed to have sensed the cynicism. They too expressed reservations about the interlocutors, maintaining that it needed to be given a political colour in order to send a strong political message on the ground.
The panel of interlocutors did meet a number of people on their two visits to Jammu and Kashmir but have so far failed to reach the main political constituency whose support would be required for a durable peace process. Given New Delhi's mutilated track record of appointing interlocutors and setting up working groups, people have good reason to be sceptical. Without a clear-cut mandate, the interlocutors are engaged in an exercise that a delegation of officials could be entrusted with.
A fragile peace
A fragile peace now prevails in Kashmir. But slogans like “khoon ka badla June mein lengey (Will take revenge for the blood spilt next June)” have already cast a shadow of despair among people. The Omar Abdullah government might have managed to bring back normalcy, at least outwardly, but it is difficult to say how long it will last.
The trust deficit vis-a-vis Delhi is yet to show any decline. People on the ground ask what happened to “ambitious” Working Groups constituted by the Prime Minister in 2007. All the groups have since given their recommendations but there has been no sign of any of them being implemented as yet.
One group, headed by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, had recommended the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which has now become a bone of contention between political parties and the Army. It led to a direct confrontation between Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the Army with the latter questioning his decision to “demilitarise some parts of the Valley”. The former Reserve Bank of India Governor C. Rangarajan has now been appointed the head of a committee to create employment opportunities in the Valley but people are asking what happened to his report on economic reforms which he gave as head of one of the groups.
The Paswan-led non-official delegation has rekindled some hope of a political dialogue. While the separatist group met with the delegation, it too did its bit to reach out to the separatists, even seeming open to four out of five demands that Mr. Geelani had made. Mr. Paswan stated that there might be disagreement on his first point of “declaring Kashmir as a dispute” but “there is no harm in discussing the four points”.
A significant development during their visit was a “political dinner” at Hurriyat Conference leader Bilal Lone's house. Here, his brother Sajjad, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Gani Bhat, Yasin Malik and a senior functionary of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were also present. Although too much should not be read into the guest list, it did give room for speculation about political possibilities in the future.
It is political initiatives such as these that enhance the chances of working with the peace constituency in Kashmir. The delegation's recommendations could be the foundation for this, and for a peaceful summer in 2011.