Dineshwar Sharma’s unenviable task as interlocutor in Kashmir will be to bridge the chasm of discontent
Sharma has an important job because the Valley, brutalised over the years, is in desperate need of some balm. His advantage is that he has ample experience of dealing with Kashmir,and knows his disadvantages beforehandUpdated: Oct 26, 2017 17:22 IST
A quiet, nondescript man, who has worked at the deep end of the deep state has now been picked to start what home minister Rajnath Singh called a ‘sustained dialogue’ in Kashmir. The state has for long been convulsed by violent civilian protests and sustained security operations that have pitted the common Kashmiri against the men in uniform.
Former intelligence bureau chief, Dineshwar Sharma has been given the unenviable job of finding peace in a place that has a three-decade-old violence data graph. Successive governments have in the past appointed interlocutors but Sharma’s job will be tougher than his predecessors, who included Ram Jethmalani, KC Pant, NN Vohra and Dileep Padgaonkar.
Sharma has an important job because the Valley, brutalised over the years, is in desperate need of some balm. He has said that he wants to build bridges and win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris and he deserves a fair chance. The advantage with Sharma, who has ample experience of dealing with Kashmir, is that he knows his disadvantages beforehand.
To start with, he will be visiting the Valley as an emissary of the Narendra Modi government and he is mindful of the fact that the common Kashmiri perceives the Modi government as one that has articulated and practised the hard, nationalistic line. Sharma will find it difficult to convince stakeholders – and I’m not yet including the separatists – that he has truly come to listen to their grievances and understand their ‘legitimate aspirations’. The same government, after all, authorised the use of pellet guns that have became a symbol of oppression. It also did not disapprove of a civilian being tied to an army jeep. In fact, the army went on to honour the officer guilty of the human rights violation.
Deconstructing the image will not be easy. Image apart, Sharma will be going to a Valley that is vastly different from what his predecessors have had to contend with. The current Kashmir is angry, not only because militant commander Burhan Wani was eliminated in an encounter, but because the trust deficit between the Valley and Delhi has been eroded over the years and has now reached break point. For too long, Kashmiris believed that the Centre would address their grievances politically. They believed that in 2008 when civilians were killed and again in 2010, when 116 youth were killed. For too long, Kashmiris have lived in the hope that Delhi would pay attention to the reasons for their alienation; for why they continue to suffer in one of the most militarised zones.
There was a glimmer of hope in 2010 when Delhi had tried to address the anger by sending a team of interlocutors led by Padgaonkar. They had painstakingly spoken to several stakeholders and had finally turned in a report that referred to Kashmir as a ‘dispute.’ No one, however, paid attention to the recommendations and we now have another interlocutor.
Sharma was the intelligence bureau chief through the period of the uprising and knows that 2016 was a consequence of 2010. Not paying any heed to the interlocutors report came at a cost and increased the chasm between Kashmir and New Delhi. He will have to contend with the disturbing new reality that local Kashmiri youth are finding the gun attractive. Despite security successes, in which many such youth have been killed, many still continue to choose the path of violence, especially in South Kashmir which is the stronghold of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Mufti heads a coalition in which the ideologically-opposed BJP is a partner. Even before Sharma gets down to trying and convincing the separatists to be a part of the sustained dialogue, he will have to do a balancing act between Mufti’s PDP and the BJP. The former has often been described as a ‘soft separatist’ party while the BJP wants Article 370, which gives the state its special status, scrapped.
Finally, he will have to convince the separatists to be a part of the dialogue. That is also a difficult task because the Modi government has often referred to them as ‘proxies of Pakistan.’ Besides, they have not engaged with previous interlocutors except once, when invited for talks by then prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Peace in Kashmir is elusive for multiple reasons and that is precisely why it needs an interlocutor. Few expected the Modi government to open a window of opportunity. Now that it has, Sharma must strive to win hearts and bridge the chasm.
First Published: Oct 26, 2017 17:22 IST