Towards Meaningful Talks

Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s four-month-old peace initiative has lost momentum. It seems to be leading nowhere, despite Dr Abdullah’s assertion that the peace process would continue irrespective of the APHC rejection. And Democratic Freedom Party chief, Shabir Shah’s deputation to K.C. Pant for seeking clarifications is not much of a catalyst. The Hurriyat Conference may not be the only political party in the state, but by virtue of being an alliance of twenty-two parties supporting the right to self-determination for the people of the state, the conglomerate has a marked advantage over all other parties. And whenever New Delhi talks about holding a dialogue with Kashmiri groups, the principle party that it has in mind is this multi-party combine. The APHC’s rejection of the offer has worked as a dampener for the much publicized peace initiative. 

There can be no denying the fact that the offer for talks made by the prime minister’s interlocutor to all and sundry not only lacked seriousness and direction but was also full of contradictions. On the one hand the government of India repeatedly stated that the talks would be held without any pre-conditions, and on the other the union home minister publicly announced that these would be held within the constitution of India. Irrespective of its assertions about holding talks without any set boundaries, the government announced that the objective was to restore peace in the troubled state. The reasons for the Hurriyat Conference to reject Mr.Pant’s offer were perhaps these contradictions.

Unlike the APHC, the Democratic Freedom Party has decided on a tentative contact with New Delhi’s emissary despite explicit contradictions in his offer. It would be difficult, at this juncture, to say whether the decision is an outcome of sheer adventurism or reflects political sagacity, but it has definitely sent New Delhi an encouraging signal that there are certain groups that could be persuaded to come for peace talks without their insisting for Pakistan’s participation. In addition to Shabir Ahmad Shah’s party many more splinter groups or former separatist and militant leaders have shown an inclination to hold talks with the prime minister’s negotiator. But the question that remains is whether permanent peace can be brought to the state without involving all parties to the dispute.

History has a lesson to offer, both to Kashmir leaders and New Delhi. Despite his failings, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was the most towering leader of Kashmir, and one who had a mass following. After three years of deliberations between his and prime minister Indira Gandhi’s emissaries an accord was reached. The six-point accord that saw the burial of the Plebiscite Front was pronounced as an “essay in harmony”. It no doubt brought Sheikh Abdullah back to power and ensured power for his dynasty, but the question that has been haunting people even with average intelligence is what did the government of India achieve out of it. Seen in the right perspective the accord has brought no dividends to the government of India. It did not help in reducing its defence expenditure.

It did not help in ending Pakistan’s claim over the state. It has not helped in ending the movement for right to self-determination in the state. It did not help in reducing tension’s along the Line of Actual Control. It has not helped in soliciting unflinching support from the international community for India’s stand on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Looking at the present initiative in perspective of the Kashmir Accord of 1975, talks with splinter groups will not brining in any positive results. With a view to end the strife in the state and resolve the fifty-three-year-old dispute peacefully there is a need for holding a comprehensive and a meaningful dialogue between India, Pakistan and the people of the state.

Mr. Sajjad Haider is the editor-in-chief of the daily Kashmir Observer.

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