India must start a dialogue in Kashmir before it is too late
Once again India and Pakistan have contested claims over Kashmir at the United Nations general assembly, an annual ritual that remains in the news for about a week and then vanishes. While the two countries accuse each other of terrorism, Kashmir remains a tense region, where people long for a solution, waiting for their demand for azadi to be heard.
Since the uprising after popular rebel commander Burhan Wani’s killing last year, several delegations from New Delhi have visited the Valley, trying to assess the situation. Even the home minister Rajnath Singh made several visits, talking to various political parties and civil society members. Recently, during his visit, Singh said that he was willing to meet “anyone who wants to help us in resolving problems of Kashmir.” Last August, Singh had said, “Whatever steps we are now taking in Kashmir is towards a permanent solution of the issue...Kashmir should maintain its identity.”
Singh’s visit didn’t change much on the ground, but it created a debate in political corridors, with some feeling that the central government may be willing to discuss Kashmir at some point, even though the ongoing NIA investigations against the Hurriyat and other leadership have caused an atmosphere of threat. The pro-freedom leadership has maintained that the dialogue over Kashmir can’t be held in the choked environment but are willing to discuss it if the situation on the ground is not suppressing and involves tripartite talks.
When the BJP’s Ram Madhav, one of the architects of the coalition government of the PDP-BJP in Jammu and Kashmir, visited the Valley, he said India is ready for dialogue over Kashmir without any pre-conditions. Beyond the public glare, this statement was seen as positive for any future talks between the pro-freedom leadership and New Delhi. But officially there has been no such invitation of starting unconditional dialogue.
The situation in Kashmir may not be the same as it was last year but the anger and desire for a peaceful settlement is deep-rooted. People are fed up with the continuous failures of the dialogue processes, whether track two or through open channels. Talks have been going on through track two channels, but such initiatives serve no purpose on the ground, as people remain unaware of any developments.
Several conferences, seminars and delegation visits over Kashmir have been adding up to the atmosphere created for a dialogue process between New Delhi and Srinagar, involving Islamabad also. The violence in Kashmir will not come down by only talking about talking; a serious process of talks must start soon. Else it will not be much time before another series of public uprisings take over the towns and villages of the Valley, more intense than even 2016.
The Valley has been changing since last year; for the Zakir Musa led ideology has grown further. It doesn’t see dialogue as an option to solve the Kashmir issue, rather connects the on going resistance movement with the larger global pan-Islamic movement. Since last year, many youth are now openly disconnecting from some pro-freedom leaders and groups, claiming the purpose of their role has not been fully fulfilled. A young generation defying every aspect of older ways of resistance is taking over, something that is brushed off by people whose stakes lie in the ongoing conflict. The “Operation All Out” as the army calls killing militants may give a sense of relative calm, but it is never a solution. By killing one militant, ten more are inspired to join and this will never stop.
It is high time that the present mood for any meaningful dialogue over Kashmir should not be ruined and initiatives to talk and solve this long pending issue must begin. There are very strong chances that one day New Delhi may want to have dialogue but no one will be there to have it with. That won’t be a situation that can be brought under control either by India or by Pakistan. Both countries owe it to the people of Kashmir to pave the way for their dignity, respect and freedom.
Fahad Shah is editor, The Kashmir Walla magazine
The views expressed are personal