Involve Kashmiris in peace talks
While many Kashmiris, including former chief minister Omar Abdullah, view the ongoing violence in the Valley as locally inspired, the BJP-led government of India says Pakistan is instigating it. Stoking anti-Pakistan sentiment may be useful for the BJP which faces difficult elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat states. Over the past weeks, as Pakistan made efforts to tarnish India’s image by highlighting alleged human rights violations in Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit back by reminding Islamabad of its own human rights abuses in Baluchistan. The two South Asian neighbors are now preparing for a showdown over Kashmir at the UN General Assembly later this month. Amid the war of words, India should still make efforts to restore peace in the Valley by involving Kashmiris in future talks.
The Indian security forces have allegedly committed human rights abuses during the ongoing violence in Kashmir following the killing of a militant leader Burhan Wani.
Pakistan intervened to glorify Burhan Wani as a freedom fighter and Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded by attacking Pakistan’s poor human rights record in its Baluchistan province and other disputed areas.
But the diplomatic advantage has gone to Pakistan. China, which has funded the massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project running across the Indo-Pak disputed territory, has warned it would intervene if India initiated any adverse action in Baluchistan.
The human and material cost of alleged police atrocities during Kashmir violence has been immense. Curfew across the state has continued with 81 civilians dead, thousands injured, hundreds of children fully or partially blinded by pellet gun shots and the economy and business in ruins. It would take years for the people of Kashmir to recover.
Surprisingly, Modi has found no time to visit the Valley and assuage the sufferings of the people. His neglect of the Valley reminds one of the alleged callousness he had displayed as chief minister during the Gujarat carnage of 2002. His recent talk of development and building trust in the Valley fails to carry conviction.
The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leads an uneasy coalition government with the BJP. During her recent visit to Delhi, she, however, reaffirmed her faith in Modi’s leadership and squarely blamed Pakistan for fueling violence in the Valley.
Giving credence to her claim, the National Investigative Agency has found evidence of large amounts of foreign funds flowing into separatist coffers in the Valley.
On the positive side, an all-party delegation of parliamentarians led by the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited the Valley for discussions with the stakeholders. Some of the parliamentarians, ignoring BJP’s position, met with two leaders of the separatist Hurriyat Conference.
After returning to Delhi, the parliamentary delegation called for unconditional talks with Kashmiri separatists and others, immediate halt to the use of pellet guns against protesters and repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 in the Valley.
Distinguished Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar, who visited Kashmir at the invitation of the agitating youth, noted that the present situation in the Valley demanded a settlement between the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar and also the involvement of “Kashmiri people who have a role in any dialogue on the future of the state.”
Rejecting the 1947 UN resolution calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir, and the 1972 Shimla Agreement between Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nayar said the recent visit by the parliamentary delegation to Srinagar may turn out to be futile since Kashmiris feel betrayed by the failure of similar exercises in the past.
Nayar called for “triangular discussions” between New Delhi, Srinagar and Kashmiris before India plans official visits to Pakistan.
He pointed out that former Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah is on record that Kashmir had joined the Indian Union by conceding only three subjects to the Union of India: defense, foreign affairs and communications. This should be the starting point of the discussions.
Strangely, peace efforts in Kashmir took a spiritual turn when Muzaffar Wani, father of the slain Burhan Wani, met with spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at his Bengaluru ashram. Ravi Shankar is reportedly close to Prime Minister Modi.
During his two-day stay at the ashram, Muzaffar held talks on several issues with the spiritual leader and seems to have laid emphasis on an unconditional dialogue by the federal government with Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani who, according to Muzaffar, should then be allowed to go to Pakistan for preliminary discussions.
The Kashmiri spiritual leader, Dr. Ghulam Rasool Hami, too is reported to have met with his south Indian counterpart.
The Modi government, however, has put a hurdle to peace talks by saying “a part of Jammu and Kashmir is under illegal occupation of Pakistan.”
This is a reference to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) which had not come up during previous backchannel negotiations.
Pakistan has expeditiously dispatched a team of 27 diplomats to different countries across the globe to advocate its case on Kashmir.
Later this month, Pakistan and India are set to clash over the situation in India-held region at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will address the UN on September 21 and India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj will give her speech on September 26.
According to Indian officials, Swaraj is expected give a befitting reply to any charges that Sharif makes. Sharif has assured PoK leaders that he would raise the Kashmir dispute at the UN in a forceful manner.
The writer is former Director, Research and Policy Division, Union Home Ministry, Government of India, and former Director General of Police in Northeast India. He is the author of, among others, ‘Political Violence and the Police in India, Sage, 2007, and ‘State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India, Routledge, 2016)