De-Escalation of crisis in Kashmir: Talks with whom & what for?

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Visual media hype or frenzy over the controversy of holding peace talks to de-escalate the ongoing crisis in the Kashmir valley (over 33 days long curfew) following the killing of terrorist leader Burham Wani (Media poster boy) is unwarranted and the worst fraud on the nation.

Let me highlight that the Kashmir crisis is an extremely complex situation. Let none suffer from the illusion of an easy all inclusive solution. Even Modi must stop nurturing the utopia of peace or chasing the peace mirage.

Let me attempt to unfold the complexity of the crisis and the scope for its amicable resolution.

First, talks with whom? With stakeholders is the suggestion by panelists and anchors.

What does stakeholder’s mean or imply? It means all actors involved in the crisis situation – people of valley including stone throwing agitators in the streets, people of Jammu and Ladakh regions, Kashmir regional political parties, separatist leaders, India’s mainstream political parties including the BJP and its main political opponent the Congress Party primarily responsible for the ongoing crisis and all others.

Add to it, Pakistan that claims to be the real stakeholder with the Armed Forces being the key power holders along with the ISI.  Add to them. Non-state actors like Hafez Saeed, Syed Salahauddin and others to include even the Taliban, the TTP and Islamic State.

Next, talks to be held on what agenda? The demand of the separatist leaders is Azadi. Their leaders in exile in Pakistan want merger with Pakistan.

The regional Kashmir political parties – ruling PDP and the NC – want a political solution without clarifying the political framework within the Constitution of India.

Is granting ‘autonomy’ a way out of the current impasse. If so, Kashmiri leaders must be specify their demands in clear and unambiguous terms instead of being vague.

And, psychologically, significant majority of the people of the Valley on the streets have drifted away from the Indian mainstream. Their sentiments and self respect have been hurt almost beyond redemption.  Having suffered under what they believe is near martial law conditions since 1989, they do not believe any more in the Indian state promoting, protecting and assuring their safety, self respect and security.

No more, “Insaniyat (Humanity), Kashmiriyat and Jammoriyat” have appeal for the disgruntled and dejected people in the valley. Under the prevailing conditions it is a Himalayan challenge to reclaim their confidence and trust particularly with the communal passions arising and engulfing elsewhere in India. Earlier Modi and the BJP realize it the better it is.

Holding talks in the present context with the “barrel of the gun pointing at the back” is quite stupid and reflects meekness and weakness besides intellectual bankruptcy. If any, talks must be held in an atmosphere of ‘give and take’ within limits. So, first the ‘limits’ must be specific and mutually agreed upon by all actors.

To do so, one must first set one’s own house in order. Forging political consensus on the ways and means to resolve the crisis is an imperative that should include both the ruling PDP and Abdullah’s NC. An All Party meeting to find ways and means to de-escalate the crisis on mutually agreed agenda is, therefore, an imperative.

The key issue that needs to be resolved during the meeting is whether to hold talks with the separatist leaders in the valley under the tutelage of Pakistan and other Kashmiri leaders in exile in Pakistan or not. How should they be dealt otherwise? Also, whether talks should be held with Pakistan and if so, with whom and on what basis?

Can Modi and the BJP initiate such an internal political process expeditiously?  Otherwise, there will be mutual recriminations over the ways and means of tackling the situation providing the visual media opportunities to spread venomous diatribe into the drawing rooms to gain TRP status.

After arriving at a political consensus on what initiatives should be attempted, the next logical step should be initiated with those actors or agitators of the valley. And, it is best done through the ruling PDP, the NC and elected representatives of other political parties.

Let me also highlight that Ram Madhav or Tarun Vijay of the BJP cannot reclaim the trust and confidence of the people of the valley by holding meeting at Patni Top on this side of Pir Panjal range (towards Jammu side of Bannihal Pass).

If political parties are genuinely interested in de-escalating the current crisis, all their key leaders starting with Modi, Sonia and Rahul Ghandy’s, Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, Mamata, Sitaram Yechuri, D. Raja and even Arvind Kejriwal should go to Srinagar and make an earnest appeal to resume normal life.

In fact, Modi must take the lead and go to Srinagar and make an appeal to the youth of Kashmir. Holding a “Town Hall” in Srinagar will send the right message to the people. It would set at rest the opposition tirade against his leadership and statesmanship traits.

As regards Pakistan, the stand to be taken is straight forward. Unless they stop aiding abetting infiltration, terror strikes and ceasefire violations, resumption of talks serves no purpose except for media hype, which is largely highly divisive.

Holistically viewed in the above context, there are no easy solutions to the vexatious Kashmir crisis. People of Kashmir valley are the real sufferers. Of course, their sentiments have been hurt; and their self respect and pride is at stake. However, if they remain obdurate and persist with their rigid and violent postures on the streets, they will be hurting themselves on the rebound. They too must realize that escalating the fight for freedom confronts directly with the core national value of secularism.

Even the Indian State irrespective of which political party is in power can ill afford to beat a hasty retreat for it heralds the disintegration process of modern India. However, granting autonomy on mutually agreed terms is an option available for consideration. If China could grant autonomy to remote regions like Tibet and core economic areas like Hong Kong and Macau, why not India?

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