By now so much effort has gone into engaging separatist politicians in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) that the expression “talks on Kashmir” sounds like flogging a tired horse. So when Union home minister P. Chidambaram makes an earnest and well-meaning overture, scepticism is natural.
On Wednesday, Chidambaram spoke of “quiet dialogue, quiet diplomacy” during an interaction with journalists in Srinagar. He said: “We will hold dialogue with every shade of political opinion in Jammu and Kashmir to find a solution in a civilized way.”
The reaction was swift and along expected lines. A day later, moderates from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, welcomed the proposal. The pro-Pakistan Syed Ali Shah Geelani repeated what he has always said: tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris towards self-determination for Kashmir.
The question now is, will the home minister’s talks, whenever they take place, alter the political landscape in the state? In J&K today, there are three shades of political opinion. There are those who believe in democratic politics (as most of the mainstream political parties in the state) and those who are plainly pro-Pakistan. There is also the azadi crowd, one that is likely to be placated by more autonomy for J&K.
If Chidambaram’s effort has to have any chance, it has to revolve around those who want more autonomy for the state. That can act as a magnet and bring together all the well-meaning political parties into one formation. It can also isolate the pro-Pakistan political groups in J&K. If there is success in the process, all efforts should be made to eliminate the latter politically.
Before all this can take place, however, the question of autonomy needs to be addressed. For this is a question that has ramifications elsewhere in the country, too. The contours of what can be relaxed need to be understood beforehand. Those who engage with the government of India need to understand that if more powers are devolved to J&K that will not give them the right to join with, or share the fruits of autonomy, with Pakistan-held Kashmir. That is an issue of retrieving the territory occupied by Pakistan and that has nothing to do with autonomy.
Talks on J&K: will they lead to anything meaningful? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org