By K.N. Pandita
That the team does not include a political heavyweight is not of real consequence. A low level, academics-oriented team with a clout somewhere up the official line may have been decided upon to encourage all shades of opinion makers in Kashmir to articulate their grievances freely.
Don’t forget that the US is keeping a close watch on what is happening in this disputed Himalayan region. Also don’t forget that President Obama is visiting this country in November. Of course, he will want to know the latest on Kashmir issue. By and large, low-key diplomacy is Washington’s success story in the context of many global issues. They believe it may not be elusive in the case of Kashmir.
Mr. Padgaonkar will be acting as the team leader. Interestingly, he has come up with a recap of his team’s recent meeting with the Home Minister. Unusual to parleys of this type, he has underlined the broad and crucial aspects of the mandate for the team. This somehow reveres Chidambaram’s assertion of “silent dialogue” Maybe he has realized the infertility of his espoused approach to Kashmir talks and, therefore, created a face saving device in constituting the team of interlocutors.
The crux of the mandate as he stated is (a) team interlocutors meets all ideological sections of valley people (b) compiles a log book of their demands and wishes (c) takes into consideration all the views obtained including those of the parliamentary delegation and the team’s own assessment (b) submits the recommendations to the Union government within one year.
This seems a formidable task to be completed within the mandated period of 12 months. Padgaonkar has been somewhat euphoric about the mandate given to the team, and he, more than once, calls it a “political solution” of the Kashmir tangle.
The term “political solution” has one meaning for the Union government and the team and another for the valley majority especially the secessionists and separatists. The chief of Hurriyat (G) has often and repeatedly made it clear that for the people of Kashmir, political solution means simply secession of J&K from India, withdrawal of all Indian forces from the territory and freedom to the people to decide their future.
The first and foremost task at hand for the team interlocutors is to decide whether it is prepared to talk on the process of secession of the state. If it has that mandate, then of course all sections of people in the valley will be happy to send their representatives to the team and articulate on the process of secession.
If that is not the mandate and the team interlocutors is not going to talk on that subject, then, their mandate becomes redundant and meaningless as expressed by both factions of Hurriyat and their cohorts.
Maybe the team has been briefed on the issue of autonomy. The fact of the matter is that much water has flowed down the river when “greater autonomy” bogey was raised by National Conference. Today after months of turmoil and large scale public protest rallies, autonomy —- greater or smaller —- has lost its efficacy and impact. Even National Conference is faced with clear dissent within the party on the issue.
There are reports from unconfirmed quarters that New Delhi is inclined to rethink the autonomy concept for J&K though it could not be precisely the same as envisaged in the Greater Autonomy Bill pending before the parliament. Notwithstanding the quantum and contours of autonomy under consideration, New Delhi is fully aware and so are the interlocutors that the cry in Kashmir Valley is for “azaadi” meaning freedom from Indian presence. Grant of autonomy in whatever form it is will not douse the flames for freedom of the valley from the Indian clasp. Any recommendation by the team for autonomy will be fraught with disastrous consequences.
Remember that Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah’s intermittent reiteration of “Kashmir a political issue” is his antics of wooing the dissenting segments within his party who his father tried to admonish for their recalcitrance albeit only vainly.
Prolific rhetoric exuded by Padgaonkar in his statement to the press about his meeting with the Home Minister and the brief conveyed to him carry very little meaning for the Kashmir separatists and secessionists. They know it is all for the consumption of Kashmir watchers in Washington. Team interlocutors’ rhetoric would have carried some weight if, even only for formality sake, Padgaonkar had used the “provocative” condition of “talking within the frame of Indian constitution”.
Nowhere does the team leader’s statement speak of interacting with the people in Jammu and Ladakh as if they have no problems or that Kashmir solution does not impact them. It means the team is strictly mandated for Kashmir valley only out of three regions comprising the entire State. Kashmir centricity gives rise to many doubts about the mission.
Again, among the groups of people with whom the team will be eager to meet and talk are the students and youth “throwing the stones or not throwing the stones”. The rationale of talking to them is drawn from the cliché of them being the citizens of India and “our own men” in the terminology of Congress supremos. It did not come to Padgaonkar’s mind that no solution of domestic problem in Kashmir can be possible and viable as long as the entire four hundred thousand strong community of its religious minority remains extirpated from its homeland. Talking to them is not perhaps as important for the team as talking to “students and youth not throwing stones”.
Padgaonkar’s statement exudes euphoria of not using the conventional cliché and not towing the beaten track. The impression one gathers is that there is something premeditated about what the team is going to suggest to the government. But at the same time, he contradicts himself by saying that he has no definite brief from the Home Minister. If that is to be taken on its face value, then the Home Minister wants the team to reconcile to what he previously termed “a unique issue needs a unique solution”.
The “uniqueness” of the issue lies in Valley having completed the unfinished task of two nation’s theory (ethnic cleansing), is now headed to azaadi from Indian presence in toto, and subsequent willing accession to Pakistan. If the team interlocutors have been mandated to formulate that process, then inclusion of some legal luminaries conversant with international law and processes of drawing international boundaries should not have been circumvented. But if that is not the mandate, then all that can be said about the tem is that it is another sophisticated ploy of browbeating the Americans and dangling the carrot before the unwilling taker.
This then reduces the task of the team to be honest to their conscience by making one simple and threadbare announcement that J&K remains an integral part of the Indian Union, which retains the right to take back the part of the state illegally occupied by Pakistan and China. This one simple statement can be made by Padgaonkar team after making its first and last visit to Kashmir. There is no need to drag the affair to one long year or more and go on enjoying the Kashmiri goshtaba during the enervating summer of 2011 at the costs of poor Indian tax payer.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).