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Reinventing a futile wheel that has failed to move Kashmir (News Analysis)

New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) The government's ostentatiously "important announcement" on Monday to appoint an interlocutor for initiating a dialogue with "all stakeholders" is a redux of previous similar attempts that have failed to solve the festering problem of Jammu and Kashmir.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, in a hurriedly called news conference, announced former chief of Intelligence Bureau and 1979 IPS officer Dineshwar Sharma as the government's representative to hold a "sustained dialogue" in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the nearly three decades of armed insurgency and the relatively recent phenomenon of stone-pelting and street violence, the successive central governments have appointed several interlocutors -- some behind the doors while others were announced publicly.

History is replete with examples that the idea is hardly a sure-fire solution. Similar attempts have either proven to be non-starters or reports by interlocutors of previous such measures have been gathering dust in the corridors of the North Block here.

Though many political initiatives were also taken since the early 1990s, when militancy erupted in Kashmir, the problem has kept on getting worse since then.

The first known attempt was when a group of former militant commanders -- Imran Rahi, Babar Badr and Bilal Lodhi -- started a dialogue with then Home Minister S.B. Chavan. But the process proved short-lived.

It was in April 2001, that the then BJP government appointed Planning Commission Deputy Chairman K.C. Pant as its official envoy on Jammu and Kashmir, marking a new beginning in the central government's strategy to bring peace to the troubled-state.

But the "Pant mission", as it was often referred to in the media, was a washout. He could meet only Shabir Shah -- a veteran separatist leader whose party was not a constituent of the Hurriyat Conference that had set a pre-condition that Pakistan needed to be involved in any talks over Kashmir. The mission was wound up in 2002 sans any success.

Months later, a panel called "Kashmir Committee" was formed, with noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani -- known to be friendly with Hurriyat leaders including Syed Ali Shah Geelani -- as its head. The other known names in the panel included journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, Supreme Court advocate Ashok Bhan, retired diplomat V.K. Grover, eminent lawyer Fali Nariman and then journalist M.J. Akbar, who is now Minister of State for External Affairs.

The Jethmalani panel succeeded in talking to several separatist leaders, including Geelani. But nothing was achieved.

A year later, the NDA government at the Centre appointed former Home Secretary N.N. Vohra, now the governor of the state, as an interlocutor. But like Sharma, Vohra had no clear mandate or a roadmap. Vohra still managed to rope in moderate Hurriyat leaders, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and took the initiative forward. The Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat faction entered into talks with the then Home Minister L.K. Advani. But the issue remained as it was and the stalemate continued.

Behind the scenes, former RAW chief A.S. Dulat also tried his hand at starting the dialogue in Kashmir but was unsuccessful.

The first major political initiative on Kashmir was taken by the Manmohan Singh government who held round table conferences in 2006, inviting all Kashmiri political parties. The Mirwaiz Hurriyat faction welcomed the move that was opposed by hardliner Geelani.

The exercise, seen as an inward-looking process, without any move to talk to Pakistan, failed to rope in the separatists. The roundtables ended in the setting up of five working groups to deal with a host of problems in Kashmir, including matters relating to the state's special status within the Indian union.

The working groups submitted their reports on extending confidence building measures for violence-affected victims, strengthening relations across the LoC in terms of more people-to-people contact, economic development, ensuring good governance and improving and strengthening centre-state ties. The group looking into the centre-state relations even discussed self-rule in terms of regional federalism and greater autonomy for the state. But the process too petered out.

It was in 2010, after months of summer unrest in the Kashmir Valley that the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram appointed a three-member team of interlocutors -- Padgaonkar, Jamia Milia Islamia academic Radha Kumar and Information Commissioner M.M Ansari -- with an objective to "begin a process of sustained uninterrupted dialogue with all sections of people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially with youths and students and all shades of political opinion".

The interlocutors after meeting some 700 delegations, including politicians, submitted their recommendations on a political roadmap for Jammu and Kashmir that would fill "the political aspirations of all the people of Jammu and Kashmir to a great extent, if not in full measure, without harming national interest".

They had broadly recommended greater autonomy with a regional devolution of power in the state to meet the aspirations of Jammu and Ladakh region. The report was made public but nothing moved.

Kashmir saw another unrest last year and this year too peace has been deceptive.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at sarwar.k@ians.in)

--IANS

sar/hs/bg


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