Experiments with Kashmir

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Over the past month, civil society groups have made a beeline to Kashmir. After a group of high profile concerned citizens led by the former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha came the  led by Seema Mustafa, then a group of journalists followed by Chauthi Duniya. All have published their respective reports which have taken an empathetic view of the prevailing situation.  Unlike the all party delegation, some of these groups have gained access to separatist leaders.  While leaders like Sitaram Yechuri and D Raja had Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani slamming his door on them,  Sinha’s team visited his residence twice in two days.  Similarly, the former Member Parliament also met the Hurriyat leaders including Geelani. But the question still remains, to what end?  True, Sinha has issued some important statements like calling for Srinagar, New Delhi dialogue and highlighting the urgency of the efforts geared towards a Kashmir solution.  But the other members in the team have made no bones about the fact that their effort was little more than an outreach on behalf of the concern citizens.  In their interactions with the media and civil society groups, they have been at pains to dissociate from the government. But this hardly detracts from the importance of this group.  Perhaps, this is as well. Because of their past record, any initiative associated with the government carries now little credibility in Kashmir. But then what is the fun of the civil society engagements if all these end up doing is to extend their sympathies to the people.

And if anything, this was what even the official group of interlocutors headed by the late Dilip padgaonkar ended up doing, their elaborate report notwithstanding.  To be fair to them, the Padgaonkar panel had certainly put in a lot of effort to generate an air of seriousness about their work. Theirs appeared first such attempt where the effort was to take a fresh look at Kashmir and try to find out how the conflict operates at the ground level and across its regional and political diversity. But we all know what happened to their report.

Sinha panel, on the other hand, has no such mandate. Its visit-specific reports, at best, deal  with the issues of governance and some small level confidence building measures like the release of prisoners. They also tend to dabble in regional grievances. But these are the  aspects of development, governance and regional grievances that can best be left to be sorted out by a government response. True Kashmir problem has a layered reality within the state with an inherent conflict among the regions and within the regions themselves, but this is not what triggers uprisings and the violence in the state. This results from an inherited collective sense of Kashmir being disputed and an unsettled issue between India and Pakistan.  And representing this conflict in the state are primarily the separatists and an overarching narrative of the right to self-determination coming down from the partition of India. In the past 64 years, Kashmir has hardly moved on from this debate. And any sincere initiative on Kashmir will need to directly wrestle with this reality.

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