The dialogue that Kashmir needs

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Though centre has ruled out political engagement to address the deepening crisis in Kashmir, it will not find the political outreach to Kashmir easy at all. And even if the government chooses to engage separatist groups, it will find them unwilling to respond because of the unproductive nature of such engagements in the past and the new complications and factors in play which have drastically shrunk Hurriyat’s space for talks.

Centre has told Supreme Court that it will hold talks with legally recognized stakeholders in Kashmir and not the separatists. But even if these are held, such talks will hardly matter as the New Delhi recognized parties don’t question the political status quo and their politics doesn’t lead to frequent anti-India uprisings. By the same token, a stage-managed process of talking to obscure and generally unidentified delegations of people will hardly change anything. What will make a difference is not only an offer of a meaningful dialogue which not only promises staying the course but is also held with the right interlocutors. And in Kashmir, only separatist groups fit this bill.

But it is not so simple. For one, the kind of the open-mindedness such an engagement needs, the BJP government in New Delhi does not possess. The saffron party champions an extreme integrationist view on Kashmir, one which includes abrogation of Article 370 which gives J&K its autonomous status — albeit drastically eroded — in Indian Union. And Hurriyat, which represents the separatist extreme in Kashmir politics, cannot be approached from an integrationist standpoint. It will kill the political raison d’etre of the separatist amalgam should they become part of such an engagement, especially when Pakistan is also being left out of the process.

In the existing political scenario, there are fewer prospects for a dialogue with Pakistan. The relations with the neighbour already in tatters. The ties have sunk to a new low following  the death sentence to Kulbushan Jadhav and India’s alleged arrest of a Pakistani intelligence officer in Nepal.  In addition, there have been continuous acrimonious exchanges and the blame game over the prevailing turmoil in Kashmir. And with Islamabad out of the loop, Hurriyat will hardly find it politically tenable to be a part of the dialogue process with New Delhi, nor worth its while given such parleys by their very nature drastically circumscribe the scope of a political settlement and limit it to a little more than some local and minor political and administrative re-adjustment. Also, on past evidence, even such adjustments are unlikely to materialise and the Centre has often pulled out of the process at the first sign of normalcy.

Under the circumstances, New Delhi is left with no option but to try and use more force to suppress the uprising and hope that fatigue sets in and leads to normalcy. But this approach has left Kashmir simmering with chances of yet another extended unrest in near future. The only way to approach and address the current turmoil in the state is to start a sincere engagement to resolve the long festering issue. This will require talks not only with Hurriyat but also with Pakistan.

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