Two months after violence broke out in Kashmir, the first steps towards restoring normalcy were finally taken on Sunday when Union home minister Rajnath Singh led an all-party team to the Valley to meet the stakeholders. Unfortunately, the beginning was not exactly what Mr Singh may have hoped for: The Hurriyat Conference leaders refused to meet the delegation.
This response, however, was not unexpected. Nonetheless, the home minister should have desisted from saying that the separatists don’t believe in Kashmir’s jamhooriyat, insaniyat, Kashmiriyat. It is important — and imperative — to remember that the invitation was a half-hearted attempt to get the separatists to the table. It was neither issued by him as the head of the delegation, nor did it go on behalf of the government of Jammu and Kashmir, of which the BJP is a coalition partner.
On the contrary, the BJP made every effort to distance itself from the invitation by ensuring that chief minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote to the separatists not as the CM of the state but as president of the People’s Democratic Party. Moreover, some of the members of the all-party team went to meet the separatists in their ‘individual capacity’ in the hope that their outreach would help open doors.
But the truth is that Kashmiris have lost faith in the all-party mechanism. Many are even questioning the credibility of this ‘individual’ effort, which Mr Singh said the Centre neither approved nor disapproved.
If Delhi dislikes engaging with the separatists then what is the point of taking this road? Surely the Centre knows that the same was done in 2010 when the interlocutors’ group was formed. Some separatists had opened their doors then, but there was no follow-up on the interlocutors’ report. Still the jailed separatists should have used the opportunity to engage and put forth their point of view. By shutting the door on talks — so vital at this juncture — they are once again playing into New Delhi’s hands and increasing the hardship for the ordinary Kashmiris, all of whom are not stone pelters.
The mistakes of 2010 have made it harder for Delhi to bridge the trust deficit; Kashmir needs a sustained and long-term effort to end the current round of unrest.
The separatists are not the only stakeholders; neither can they alone bring peace. The Centre and the state must start several confidence-building measures such as easing the repressive security measures and setting up a team to assess areas from where Armed Forces Special Powers Act can be partially withdrawn. These steps don’t require the consent of separatists or their participation.
Once all these measures ease the tension, the government can then start a sustained political dialogue and look at proposals that are already on the table such as the question of autonomy or the PDP-scripted ‘self-rule’ document.
The road ahead is tough and any peace overture will take time to fructify.
Kashmir needs ongoing engagement, not just tokenism. Continuing commitment to the restoration of peace in Kashmir is the only way forward.