For a dialogue in Kashmir

THE RELEASE OF five more Hurriyat leaders last week, including the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief, Mr. Yasin Malik, marks another step forward in the Centre's move towards opening a dialogue in Kashmir. Coming on top of the release of three leading lights of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) last month, and informal contacts established with other political leaders, it gives a clear indication of what lies ahead. Instead of relying on the Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, to do the spade work, the Centre in a well- thought-out move seeks to involve a former Chief Minister, Syed Mir Qasim, in back-room diplomacy. Given his stature and experience in the troubled State, Mr. Qasim may be in a much better position to bring a wider political participation into the planned dialogue. Especially because New Delhi is in no mood to resume a broad-based dialogue with Islamabad, it becomes imperative to engage all shades of political opinion in Kashmir in the search for a political settlement. Towards that end, the release of the Hurriyat leaders and the informal contacts being made with different groups in Kashmir are the best way forward.

No formal invitations have been extended. There is nothing official or formal about the exchanges that are taking place. By trying to involve leaders like Mr. Qasim and Mr. Shabir Shah, the Centre is clearly sending out a message that all shades of political opinion in Jammu and Kashmir and even the separatist groups will not be excluded from the intended dialogue. The catchword now seems to be that talks must be held within the ``constitutional framework''. Though the APHC insists that there are no differences or disputes among its constituents, there are certainly different voices and views coming out of that camp. It may be planned or even natural for such a diverse grouping. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a former president of the APHC, argues that ``bilateralism has not worked'' and it may not be realistic to expect a tripartite dialogue any time soon, involving India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. So the Hurriyat seems to be veering round to the view that if and when an invitation is extended, the APHC will not be averse to talks with the Government of India. It is obvious that its leaders will remain in touch with Islamabad and perhaps Muzzafarabad. Whether or not New Delhi grants the Hurriyat leaders official permission to visit Pakistan before or during the talks, it cannot sever the contacts that already exist. So, it is not going to be an easy task to open and sustain the dialogue with the representatives of the people in Kashmir.

The former Home Secretary and veteran bureaucrat, Mr. K. Padmanabaiah, has also been brought into the picture through the special cell on Kashmir. There are indications that other seasoned and retired officials or diplomats will also be roped in to take the process forward. Simultaneously, the Defence Ministry must initiate a two-pronged strategy in the Valley - first to contain militancy and prevent further intrusion of foreign mercenaries and second, to stop all forms of intimidation or harassment of civilians. The security forces must make an all-out effort to check any violation of human rights and killing of innocent civilians even by mistake or in cross-firing. If the Centre wants to initiate a purposeful and substantive dialogue in Kashmir, it must consciously create the right climate for talks by infusing confidence into the people and the participants. The Government must adopt an inclusive approach and encourage all participating parties to commit themselves to a negotiated and peaceful resolution of the problem. What has not been resolved in 50 years cannot be settled in a matter of months. It will be a slow and laborious process. But it has to start some time soon because Kashmir has suffered for too long.