Kashmir valley and the instrumentality called the all-party (Parliamentary) delegation are no strangers to each other. They have met four times in the last 26 years. The first time was in 1990. They had their fourth and latest, meeting on Sunday (September 4). The stated purpose of all such meetings, more so of the latest one, has been to enable parliamentarians across the board to meet ‘all stakeholders’ in Kashmir and arrive at some kind of common ground that could help maintain peace in this strife-torn region. All these meetings failed on this count, in one or the other manner. The latest one seems to have managed to fail rather spectacularly.
It might have looked dramatic on television, but the way some prominent leaders of the opposition were snubbed by so-called leaders of ‘azadi’ was plain ugly, to say the least. The nearly 2-month-old, and ongoing, unrest in Kashmir valley has been both a teenage rash and a bit of an orphan, inasmuch as it was neither initiated nor steered by the traditional separatist formations and consisted predominantly of teenagers and pre-teens. The present unrest began in spite of, rather than because of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, the separatists some members of Indian Parliament were so keen on meeting and actually attempted to resulting in visible embarrassment. That they had done so on their own, without other members of the all-party delegation being on board, was made clear by Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his press briefing.
It was also mentioned by Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress the previous day. Had any of these worthy members of Parliament taken such an initiative, individually or as a group, a month ago it would have had some meaning, would probably have stemmed the flow of blood a little or would, at the very least, have given the country leader(s) of opposition of the stature the country so desperately looks for, and doesn’t have. Instead, the opposition was, as usual, busy raising the heckle quotient even as the governments at the centre and in the state were blundering along.
Sitaram Yechury’s plea for talks, by the Centre, with all stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir without any pre-conditions sounds very commendable and lofty till the time one begins to ask exactly what stakes are meant here? Quite obviously those who are relentlessly pursuing the secession of the state from the Indian union have different stakes from those that do not wish to secede including those who are willing to work on Centre-state relationship within the contours of Constitution of India. A more realistic, and workable, formulation would perhaps be to make a constituency of peace the focal point of all talks. As far as Pakistan is concerned, there has to be engagement with it over letting this constituency of peace evolve without any pre-conditions and without it being held hostage to all other outstanding issues, which can be addressed separately and perhaps collaterally.
The effort to engage proxies of Pakistan instead of Pakistan itself makes little sense. Ali Shah Geelani is unapologetic about his fealty towards Pakistan. Both Yasin Malik and Omar Farooq merely maintain the facade of being leading lights of what they call ‘Kashmiri nationalism’ while they conduct their politics as an extension of, and in concert with, Pakistan’s game plan, and have been doing so for some time. Pakistan-based Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen threatened, on the eve of the visit of the All Party Delegation to Kashmir, to let loose suicide bombers all over Kashmir, this – without a murmur of protest from Kashmir based ‘azadi’ leaders. That Pakistan has, for some time, been trying to get India into an end-game situation on the Kashmir chess table is rather obvious.
India, on its part, must continue working on a middle game, work on building a constituency of peace, ensure good governance with governance audit from time to time and generally get ordinary Kashmiris out of the misery their lives have been turned into, and then try and solve the thorny ‘K-problem’. Situations don’t necessarily have to become dismal and war-like for solutions to emerge. They are more likely to emerge from peace.