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Echoes in the valley

The talks initiated by the Kashmir interlocutors are having effect, but the separatists must come on board. Toufiq Rashid writes.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2011 23:02 IST
Toufiq Rashid

It has been three months since the three interlocutors on Kashmir have been appointed. But what has been the progress so far on that count?

Journalist Dileep Padgaonkar said on Sunday the interlocutors' team, which he heads, was working on two parallel tracks to bring peace and a "consensus for a political settlement".

"We are working on two parallel tracks. We gave recommendations for our immediate concerns like the intrusive presence of the security forces and their conduct like frisking and crackdowns".

"Unless the people are given due respect, things cannot move in a right manner."

The central government had appointed the interlocutors in the wake of street protests in Kashmir and police action in which more than 100 people were killed in the summer of 2010. The team has the task of suggesting ways of bringing about sustained peace in the state.

The three interlocutors have submitted a report to union home minister P Chidambaram, outlining a basic framework in which peace can return to the state. Sources say Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and economist MM Ansari stressed troops reduction and the "people's right to protest".

The hopeful sign is that the team has been heard.

On January 14, union home secretary GK Pillai hinted at reducing the number of troops in the state, a step attributed to the recommendations of the interlocutors for Kashmir.

Pillai said the move would be part of the confidence-building measures for the state. "The PM has talked about the reduction of security forces. We have taken out most of the forces from Srinagar; 15 bunkers have been removed. In populated areas, the security forces should be minimum... if you can manage with the local police, that would be the ideal situation," Pillai said in a seminar.

Talking to Hindustan Times earlier, chief minister Omar Abdullah had suggested that based on the interlocutors' recommendations, the Centre would be out with a roadmap soon. "I believe the home minister, while briefing the consultative committee of the home department in parliament, has assured that some sort of roadmap will be available within the next four months," Abdullah had told HT.

"The shutdown calendars and curfew are also our immediate concerns and things related to this such as the jailing of stone-throwers, political prisoners who don't have any serious charges against them and other under-trials who have serious charges for detention. Our purpose is to just speed up the whole process," Padgaonkar says.

The interlocutors have been interacting with various sections of society and met key political figures including chief minister Omar Abdullah and opposition People's Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti. "We are also talking to people in the other two parts of the state (Jammu and Ladakh) to know their long-standing grievances like the allocation of funds," he added.

But the people they haven't met are the ones who have to be on board for sustained peace: the separatists.

Both the factions of the Hurriyat said they got calls from the interlocutors but turned down the offer to talk. Media reports at the end of December suggested Radha Kumar tried calling moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, but her efforts failed. A senior separatist who doesn't want to be named said, "Kumar is a friend but I don't take her calls."

The Mirwaiz said there was no change in their stand. "We have given some conditions to start a dialogue process. If the conditions are fulfilled, we will talk."

When told the separatists are meeting parliamentary delegations with no mandate, he said: "It's not a question of meeting people, it's not meeting those who have been delegated to talk by the government. We don't want to talk with government representatives."

Even Padgaonkar agrees that the process is not complete unless the separatists are on board.

"The process is incomplete till we talk to the separatists. Our stand remains the same: we want to talk to all shades of people," he said.

"We have appealed to them to send the documents they have published already if they don't want to meet us," he said.

Lately the Mirwaiz has changed the discourse to development and welcomed the troop reduction proposal, saying things would be smoothened by the step and "dialogue is the only way out". Hizbul Mujahideen supreme commander Syed Salahuddin showed willingness to enter into a "meaningful dialogue".

Th winter has so far been quiet and even Geelani says the slogan "khoon ka badla June mein lengay" (revenge for the blood will be in June) is not something that his cadre support and party supports.

The change also makes Padgaonkar hopeful. "There is hope for things to move on the necessary front this year."