In Depth

Is New Delhi using ‘talks’ to find its lost Kashmir plot?

After failing to contain its “integral part” through an NIA crackdown, judicial offensive and a martial approach, New Delhi has now proposed talks in a bid to achieve some emergency breakthrough on Kashmir. But given the changed equations on the ground, will the dialogue achieve anything out-of-the-box?

As a signpost of resistance politics in Kashmir, Hyderpora is on tracking system at the moment. Of late, almost in a historic huff, the Joint Resistance Leadership leaders—Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik—turned up to meet the ageing patriarch, Syed Ali Geelani. The rendezvous came in the backdrop of New Delhi’s cast off political reluctance, to offer talks to the beleaguered camp.

Delhi’s dialogue deal has come when some big Hurriyat names are still languishing in the dreaded Tihar Jail cells, and when 2019 isn’t far away.

That political deadline is fast catching up with Jammu and Kashmir as well. In Jammu, for instance, the shamed-sacked minister Lal Singh continues to enjoy his field day. His rowdy ways to cash in on the polarised atmosphere of Jammu has even quietened the local BJP camp — as Singh makes no bones about the political Ashirwaad he enjoys from BJP’s President Amit Shah, in whose presence he joined BJP after deserting Congress, in 2014.

“Now when stakes are in our favour,” said Sunil Sethi, BJP spokesperson, “we’re going for a full scale offensive for the next year’s polls.” In the last polls, even as BJP’s Mission 44 failed, it still swept Jammu at the behest of Modi blitz.

Sethi eschewed the obvious when asked—whether the talks offered to “anti-national” Hurriyat was one of the calculative moves by the rightwing outfit to bring the defiant resistance camp on the table, in run-up to 2019. His stand reflected BJP’s larger confusion regarding talks with their nemesis.

But what appears to be the confusion is perhaps the larger political move in the making. “That’s how BJP plays its politics,” said GA Mir, Pradesh Congress President. “They always look for newer issues and things to woo their voters. With 2019 round the corner, why do you think they’re endlessly delaying verdict on Art 35-A?”

On the other front, BJP’s ally and one half of the “unholy alliance”, Peoples Democratic Party is greatly relying on the talks. Such initiatives, they believe, peddle their late patron’s “vision”—who famously thanked resistance leaders, besides rebels and Pakistan, after floating the alliance with BJP in early 2015.

But while batting for talks, the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had to reportedly face grouse from her ally BJP, which largely sees Kashmir as a “security problem” and endorses a military solution for it.

“One should give credit to Madam [Mehbooba Mufti] for repeatedly pushing for the talks,” said a senior PDP leader, lately seen as the Delhi’s best bet in Kashmir. “It was her doggedness that finally broke the ice.”

For the PDP supporters and leadership—still finding themselves out of bounds from their southern stronghold—the talks might be a ray of hope to reclaim their lost turf, but many see the resumption of dialogue as a desperate confidence building measure to salvage the Indian state’s image in the defiant valley.

“New Delhi’s problem is its skewed and seasonal Kashmir strategy,” said a senior Hurriyat leader, known for keeping a low-profile. “Talks are welcome, if they compliment Kashmir’s disputed nature. But a larger sense prevails in the leadership that Delhi might end up repeating the same old-junked dialogue process.”

Perhaps this was the reason why the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) asked New Delhi to come clean on the talks and end ambiguity, before they become part of the process. One way to end that “ambiguity” is to accept Kashmir as a “dispute”—the vintage war cry of Geelani-led Hurriyat camp.

But while Delhi is yet to accept that condition, many are exhorting JRL to soften their stand on talks and accept whatever is being offered. The offer, however, hasn’t turned many heads around.

The Joint Resistance Leadership.

“They unleashed NIA on the leadership and floated Kill Ops to deal with Kashmir’s dissent and in the process freaked the entire valley,” said a prominent Kashmiri trader who was on NIA radar last year. “And now, when they realised that they can’t contain Kashmir with their military-muscle policy, they resorted to the carrot and stick policy. For sincere talks, they first need to create a suitable atmosphere.”

Amid frequent LoC flare-up and rising rebel ranks, that “suitable” atmosphere doesn’t seem in sight. That, however, doesn’t appear to discourage many quarters, who bat for the talks, arguing that suitable atmosphere is a far-fetched luxury in any conflict zone.

But as uncertainty looms large over the ‘talks’, another worry has already surfaced. The possible resumption of counterinsurgent operations after Ramzan is feared to push the vale back into the vortex of mourning and rage — the twin precursors known to act as the insurgent spark in Kashmir.

In its wake, the insurgents are likely to be trapped inside residential houses. They’re likely to get engaged in gunfights with counterinsurgents—acting on intelligence, before being killed with the blasted ‘safe house’.

Civilian population is likely to run towards the gunfight site in a valiant effort to save the rebel. Their stone is likely to meet the bullet. The troopers are likely to retreat, after leaving smoked houses, fallen rebels and a streak of anger behind. The massive funerals are likely to follow, with multiple prayers and gun salutes.

The townspeople are likely to shut on JRL’s call. A few days later, the uneasy calm is likely to return, with some anxious parents running to register a missing report about their son in some police station. The police officer is likely to raise his eyebrows and anticipate the possible outcome. Another youth is likely to announce his rebel arrival on social media.

And the cycle is likely to repeat itself.

“For all this, New Delhi is a big culprit,” said the senior Hurriyat leader. “Youth are now taking matters on their own hands, rather than re-positing their trust on the leadership.”

Why is it happening?

“Because they barred the leadership from interacting with the disgruntled youth on the ground since 2010, when state used house arrests and detentions as normalcy tools in Kashmir. Now after eight years, they’re inviting the same leadership for talks, knowing well, they’ve already lost their plot in Kashmir.”


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