By K.N. Pandita
Another civil society initiative following the more recent one of the BJP parliamentary group led by former President Rajnath Singh, has been reactivated to take up the thread of interacting with Kashmiri separatists from where it had been left ten years ago. This is the umpteenth initiative in the long and recurring trial initiatives aimed at finding a path out of the woods in Kashmir. Previously called Kashmir Committee, it had aided the 2004 dialogue between the then NDA government and Kashmiri civil society. Its premiers like Ram Jethmalani, Madhu Kishwar, V.K. Grover and others reported that their group had already received confirmation from some of the Kashmiri leaders like Abdul Ghani Bhat of Hurriyat (M) and Naeem Khan of PDP and Shabir Shah. It is true that Kashmir separatists had developed soft response to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first Indian Prime Minister who stated on Pakistani soil that India had accepted the partition and the birth of a new and independent state of Pakistan out of the original territory of India.
The Kashmir Committee intends to revive their tradition of holding meetings with the people of the state, including members of civil society, media persons, and people with political affiliations including separatists. Though the panel convener Madhu Kishwar and the President, Ram Jethmalani both emphasized that their Committee had o conflict with the tem of interlocutors appointed by the Home Ministry and which has been shuttling between New Delhi and Srinagar for last several months, yet the fact is that the separatists and the Hurriyat refused to interact with the interlocutors arguing that the committee was moving along the lines dotted for it by the home ministry. In all probability, sensing that dissidents in Kashmir had given no credence to the interlocutor’s team, policy planner in New Delhi would not want to let the dialogue process come off the rails, and as such, its independent Track II diplomacy comes to play a part in the shape of reviving the decade old Kashmir Committee. According to a joint press note issued by the President of this Committee, Ram Jethmalani, the committee had, in the course of its previous exercise “made significant progress and a solution appeared near at hand. Unfortunately, it was put on the back-burner.” In a significant conference on Kashmir organized under the aegis of this committee in New Delhi early last year, people from all political streams – both mainstream and separatists – had managed to agree on the PDP Self-Rule framework which laid out a formula for demilitarization, political restructuring and economic integration of the two parts of Kashmir”. Nobody knows whether the team of intrlocutors is also converging in one way or the other on these parameters of settlement of the issue or not.
Nevertheless as the panel convener of the Committee said they couldn’t cash on the gains made in that extraordinary meeting, although some of them have been in touch with people on the ground in Kashmir and yet want to open alternate channels of communication which can prevent many a misleading information. The group, or call it initiative, has covered good ground in creating parallel understanding and rethinking among the intellectuals and legal luminaries of Pakistan. Jethmalani is also traveling to Pakistan next month, along with a group of five people, on the invitation of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary. The visit comes after a peace mission from Pakistan comprising 130 eminent lawyers visited India and decided with the Supreme Court Bar Association of India to work towards peace and strengthening of democracy, and openly discuss contentious issues, Kashmir being one of these. The committee emphasizes that it does not align with or represent any political party and call themselves a deeply concerned group of citizens supplementing the work of all others who have the same commitment and are engaged in pursuing the goal of Indo-Pak peace and an honourable and viable settlement of the Kashmir problem. This notwithstanding, the truth is that neither of the two governments has expressed any doubt or hesitation in the mission set forth by the Committee for itself.
To concretize the political scenario in Kashmir at the moment, we find that two options are being simultaneously examined and a good discourse has been initiated by the media to ascertain which of the two would be the lesser evil. One is the greater autonomy option floated by the patron of the frontline mainstream party, National Conference, and the other is the Self-Rule concept floated by the patron of the party in opposition, namely PDP. New Delhi would like to keep both the options open on the table and go on watching the course of history. This may also lead to subtle polarization of the team workers. Invitation from Pakistan Chief Justice to Jaithmalani team and its associates is also in a way reflective of the support of Pakistani civil society to the democratically installed ruling paraphernalia in that country for the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues between them. It is to strengthen the hands of the civilian government that comes under the pressure of Army hawks more often than not. The statement of Indian Prime Minster that if he is able to bring about peaceful relationship with Pakistan, his job is done is very significant in the backdrop of what has been detailed above.
Tea cup diplomacy:
PoK Prime Minister Sardar Atiq Khan has invited Dr. Farooq Abdullah to join him over a cup of tea at Chakothi on the Line of Control. This is a scintillating idea, something Farooq Abdullah usually feels happy with. Let the two meet not as political heavyweights from each side of the Line of Control but as ambassadors of peace and reconciliation between the two parts of the State. Let them talk freely and heart to heart on ground situation and how it can be improved. The crucial question on which the two ambassadors of peace need to concentrate is ways and means of putting an end to terrorism and terrorist camps on the PoK soil. Dr. Farooq Abdullah has a strong case that must elicit a promise from the PoK leader. The case is that innocent and ordinary Kashmiris are being lured on false propaganda to the training camps set up by an agency beyond the control of Atiq Khan but on the soil of his homeland. This spells death and destruction to hundreds and thousands of peace loving Kashmiri families in the valley. It distances the people in the two parts of the State and that is the main reason of disruption of peace in the region. Farooq has every reason to sympathize with his counterpart while sipping nice tea in a Dak Bungalow in Chakothi for latter’s helplessness in keeping his backyard safe from predators.