If there is one thing that everyone across the political spectrum agrees upon, it is that the intractable Kashmir problem needs a political solution. In this context, the government may have lost the first-mover advantage in its announcement of three apolitical interlocutors. The uniformly negative reaction from the Kashmiri leaders, both moderates like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, will make it difficult for the new team to engage in any meaningful dialogue. The announcement comes at a time when even the likes of Mr Geelani had shown some signs of accommodation and others had reluctantly agreed to the need for a dialogue.
There is no doubting the credibility of the three interlocutors. But, there is merit in the argument that the Kashmir situation is so complicated and sensitive that any team that can restart the dialogue process will need members who carry weight both at the Centre and in the state. It now becomes easier for the Cassandras to say that the government is perhaps not as serious as it should be given the composition of the team which appears hampered from the word go. With most Kashmiri leaders going to the extent of saying they will not even meet the three, the government will certainly have its work cut out for it if it hopes to begin the process of bringing about some semblance of normalcy to the state. However, for the government the constitution of any interlocutor team is fraught with problems. If it were largely political, the charges against it would be that it would become prey to partisan politics. A neutral apolitical team, as we have seen now, will attract criticism that it carries little weight.
However, any attempt at a dialogue is not a one-way street. It would help if Kashmiri leaders would get out of their habit of constantly carping and come up with some suggestions of their own. It has almost become a kneejerk reaction to dismiss out of hand any gesture or attempt made by the government to address the state’s problems. Now that the interlocutors have been appointed, whether the experiment works or not, the government must deliver on its development package and also on some form of political solution simultaneous to the efforts made by the three. It might be a good idea to expand the team of interlocutors in consultation with Kashmiri leaders and make it more broad-based and, if need be, more political. And it might be best to move on this while there is a modicum of calm in the volatile state. Otherwise, at the end of this tunnel too, there will be one more tunnel.