The separatist leaders said that for any meaningful dialogue to take place, the government must first acknowledge that there is a dispute that has to be resolved.
Srinagar: Hardening their stance, separatists in the Valley on Tuesday ruled out talks with the Centre’s interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, calling the offer an “exercise in futility” and describing the initiative as “nothing more than a time-buying tactic” due to “international pressure and regional compulsions”.
In their first formal response to the announcement made by Union home minister Rajnath Singh on October 23 that Sharma, a former Intelligence Bureau director, would hold sustained dialogue with all stakeholders in the state, separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik questioned how New Delhi would address or engage with Kashmiri people’s “political will and aspiration of self-determination” when it even rejected the autonomy guaranteed under the constitution.
‘Ploy to strike hard bargain’
While the Hurriyat leaders had all this while preferred not to speak to the media on any decision over engagement with the interlocutor, a source said they had been in touch with each other and “discussed the issue” before making their stance public on October 31.
“In principle, the pro-freedom leadership has always advocated and supported sincere and productive dialogue as a means of conflict resolution over Jammu and Kashmir. It entails all participants to acknowledge that there is a dispute that has to be resolved. But the GoI continuously refuses to accept this basic premise,” the separatists said in a joint statement.
The Hurriyat leaders opposed engagement by any other group with Sharma, who is expected to arrive in Srinagar later this week. They said that for any Kashmiri to be part of this “futile exercise” would only “undermine our internationally acknowledged legitimate and just struggle, nourished by the blood of our martyrs and great sacrifices and hardships rendered daily by the masses”.
The day Sharma’s appointment was announced, Islamabad had dismissed it as “insincere and unrealistic” while reiterating that for any dialogue process to be meaningful and result-oriented, it has to include the three main parties – India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Even United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin had maintained that for talks to happen, India should accept Kashmir as a dispute and the dialogue should be “trilateral in the light of UN resolutions on Kashmir”.
Sharma, however, said that he has the government of India’s “full mandate” and “complete independence” in deciding whom to talk with. In one of his statements to the media last week, he remarked that the way youth of Kashmir were moving, “which is radicalisation”, it would ultimately “finish the Kashmir society itself” and that if all this picked up, the situation will be like Yemen, Syria and Libya.
Taking exception to the statement, the separatists said “comparing the internationally-recognised 70-year-old political and humanitarian issue of Kashmir to that of the sectarian war and power struggle in Syria is deception and propaganda”.
“His (Sharma’s) assertion that he was coming to Kashmir with the directive from government of India to restore peace rather than addressing the dispute or its resolution limits the scope of any engagement,” the separatists said, adding that unless the Kashmir dispute was understood and addressed in its historical context and in the background of international commitments made over it, lasting peace can neither be achieved in the region.
“To talk of peace and dialogue was also a ploy by the Centre to strike a hard bargain, to which the people of Kashmir and leadership will never succumb to.”
‘Taking Pakistan on board a must’
At his Muslim Conference office in Wazir Bagh, separatist leader Abdul Gani Bhat argued that the announcement of talks at an internal level was “provisional and lopsided effort”, which according to him won’t yield any result unless Pakistan was taken on board.
“This initiative will never get us anywhere. It has never happened in the past, it will never happen in the future either. You are probably ploughing a field with seeds which never will grow into plants… It [appointment of Sharma] is a repetition of yesterday. We want to move forward,” Bhat said.
Wearing a pheran, 82-year-old Bhat, who has served as chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, insisted that talking to Islamabad was more important than talking internally. “I have no misgiving about it,” Bhat said.
After a long pause, he continued: “I call a spade a spade. Kashmir is not a sovereign state but a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. I can’t fight India and I can’t fight Pakistan but India can fight Pakistan and Pakistan can fight India. I can at the best raise slogans and in a fit of anger throw stones. That is what I can do.”
Referring to past initiatives by the Centre, from the appointment of K.C. Pant to N.N. Vohra as interlocutors to the constitution of a Kashmir committee and the 2010 appointment of three interlocutors, Bhat said nothing had come of such exercises.
“You (the Centre) have been talking on Kashmir but what did you get out of it. Kashmir is an issue between India and Pakistan; they fought wars on Kashmir; they signed agreements; their armies met in battle fields and then their leaders met in Tashkent, in Shimla, in Lahore, in Islamabad. Why? The government of India went to United Nations. Kashmir is a dispute no doubt about it but the solution to it lies in New Delhi and Islamabad and not in the streets of Srinagar, Jammu or Ladakh. Any engagement between the two nuclear countries is extremely likely to give the results,” said Bhat, quickly adding that Kashmiris have had to make sacrifices because of the India-Pakistan rivalry and they should be taken into confidence in the way that Pervez Musharaff and Atal Bihari Vajpayee did.
Bhat, who was the first separatist leader to speak against the prolonged strike called by the Hurriyat leadership, had a word of caution as well. Kashmir as a dispute, he said, has today assumed a much bigger dimension and is directly linked to the future of the entire South Asian region.
“Look at China and Pakistan, look at America and Afghanistan and then look at Indian and Afghanistan. It is a huge problem. Kashmir issue is not just about Kashmir, it is about entire South Asia…the entire world has just shrunk to South Asia as far as disputes are concerned and the mother of the disputes is in Kashmir,” said Bhat, adding if New Delhi and Islamabad decide to talk tomorrow there would be healthy change in the Valley.
‘More militarily than political’
There has been no clarity on Sharma’s mandate and the contradicting statements from several Union ministers during the last week over the nature of his job have only added to the pessimism in the Valley.
“Doesn’t New Delhi know about the Kashmir problem? How does the appointment of new interlocutor change the ground realities in Kashmir? Their intent seems to be to reduce us to one of the hundreds of stakeholders in Kashmir?” said a senior separatist leader who wished not to be named.
Referring to the arrest of several Hurriyat leaders by the NIA, he said: “You jail our leader and workers on the flimsy grounds without coming up with a single proof and then want us to talk. Is this the way talks are held?”
Political analyst Noor M. Baba said the appointment of Sharma seems more to be “supplementing” the ongoing “military action” in Kashmir rather than a political initiative. “Didn’t they [the separatists] talk to the government of India earlier? What did they gain out of it that time? Even a single prisoner wasn’t released that time,” he said referring to talks held between Hurriyat and government of India earlier. In fact, years later, Fazl Haq Qureshi, the founder of the Hurriyat Conference, who had engaged in talks with the government of India, was shot dead outside his home.
According to Baba, the unity among the Hurriyat leaders this time and the bitter experience of the past would have also contributed to the decision making.
“Hurriyat’s dismissal of talks was just a formality as new Kashmir interlocutor, unfortunately, from day one, was more interested in Syria than Kashmir,” senior journalist Naseer A. Ganai wrote.
While there are those who say that the success of any interlocution in Kashmir would largely have depended on engagement with the separatists, it remains to be seen how the Centre’s interlocutor will begin his mission Kashmir later this week.
“Appointment of former spymaster Mr D. Sharma as Delhi’s special representative has killed all hopes and sent a wrong signal to Kashmir. And Mr Sharma is talking about the ISIS, online radicalisation, Syria, Egypt, auto-rickshaws and rickshaw pulling. A wrong man for the job from a dialogue point of view. A right man for the BJP’s game plan in Kashmir as yet another intelligence operation,” commented another journalist, Gowhar Geelani.
Mudasir Ahmad is a Srinagar-based reporter.