There is much to be read into the statements of the government’s newly appointed interlocutor for Jammu & Kashmir, or, as the home ministry put it on 23 October, a representative to spearhead a process of “sustained dialogue" in that roiled state of war and wasted opportunities. That person is Dineshwar Sharma, who was until December 2016 director of the Intelligence Bureau.
This reaching out is evidently a change from the “muscular policy" that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) officials have often celebrated, even as recently as April and May this year, when suggestions by former top intelligence agency chiefs and national security advisers urging dialogue with all stakeholders, including separatists, were dismissed out of hand. That stand also dismissed a similar approach suggested by Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir; significantly, her Peoples Democratic Party is coalition partner of BJP in that state.
“For a substantive dialogue, I will need to talk to everybody," Sharma told Harinder Baweja of the Hindustan Times, a J&K specialist who actually has spoken to all sides during her decades-long eyes, ears and feet on the ground in that conflict zone. “Peace must be restored in Kashmir and for that I will talk to all people in an effort to bring about a solution."
Dineshwar Sharma saw the storm that broke in Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani, a militant commander, in mid-2016. The political and human rights—call it the “pellets incident"—fallout from the crowd reaction and government counter-reaction hasn’t fully subsided. Even though the involvement of various Pakistani agencies in fomenting trouble in Jammy and Kashmir is widely documented, including alleged confessions to the Indian security establishment by members of Kashmiri separatist groups, who admit to being liberally funded by such agencies, India isn’t flavour du jour in Kashmir mainly on account of its own workings.
This new move for inclusive dialogue is being portrayed by establishment-friendly analysts as less a U-turn or failure of policy, and more an extension of established policy of strong-arm—utter domination of militancy and violent protest—followed by carrot when the fires dim. Some call it an extension of the Doval Doctrine, an easy-speak tag that security legend has named after national security adviser Ajit Doval. They point to the undeniable—numerically undeniable—lessening of militant-or-terrorist attacks in J&K this year over the last, and the death and arrest of several leaders, cadres and sympathizers. And so, dialogue.
It must indeed be a remarkable doctrine that deliberately permits the massive spiking of conflict and broad-spectrum human rights violations in the wake of ham-handed handling of matters after Wani’s death, and, consequently, immense public ill-will generated against India, as an opening gambit for peace.
In any case, Sharma and his colleagues could first look to recent history. It isn’t as if the government of India hadn’t earlier attempted to draw people to dialogue. I would draw attention to the 2012 report, A New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir, commissioned by the United Progressive Alliance government of the time.
There was some ridicule in rightwing circles about the effort, mostly about how the interlocutors, academician Radha Kumar, M.M. Ansari, a former government official, and senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar were living well on the government’s account as they went about the business of conflict resolution. But perhaps appointing individuals away from the construct and daily business of government, and yet, fully backed by government, was the best thing about the effort. It created trust through distancing from over-arching, sledgehammer government and at the same time provided the heft of government sponsorship for a genuine effort that invested time and resource.
Over 11 visits to J&K from October 2010 to September 2011, the group had more than 350 meetings and interactions with individuals and delegations. This included every manner of representation from legislators and government officials and those jailed for anti-state activities, to displaced Kashmiri Pandit refugees, students, businesspersons and representatives of the Sangh Parivar. This report and its suggested approach (which I will discuss in future columns) form arguably the most comprehensive such recent exercise. Of course, while it made several excellent suggestions, it did have a lack of substantial separatist voices on board—what Sharma’s approach, if it is to be of any worth, may attempt to redress.
New Compact was received by the government at the time, and buried. Today’s government would do well to bring it back to light. Jammu & Kashmir and India sorely need a new compact.
Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, runs on Thursdays.
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