The Home Minister Rajnath Singh has come and gone without making things clear on the dialogue with Hurriyat. He didn't add much to the centre's ongoing narrative on the state, even leaving the extension of dialogue to a later day.
On the other hand, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been vocal about the talks with separatists. In fact days before Singh's visit, Mehbooba had made an impassioned appeal to the separatist groups in Kashmir to join the dialogue with the centre.
Taken at its face value, her line of argument was persuasive: Today you have an offer of dialogue. Centre is saying come and talk to us. Such an opportunity doesnt come everyday, she said in her address to the party workers in Srinagar.
But the following day, separatists in their response had nothing but contempt for her. They regard mainstream leaders as pro-India and therefore a part of the problem in Kashmir. Besides, separatists dont think that the mainstream leaders have the agency to make a policy statement on behalf of the government of India and hence such statements are mostly ignored, if not derided right away.
But they do lend their ears to what the centre has to say and so respond in all seriousness. For example, in their response to the recent chorus of noises about the dialogue from New Delhi, the top separatist trio of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik expressed their readiness to talk provided centre removes the ambiguity in its stance towards Kashmir.
The ambiguity that is sought to be cleared are the contradictions in New Delhi s position on talks.
To paraphrase the separatist view of the dialogue with the centre, they want four things: one, a formal extension of the talks offer; two, a dialogue without the requirement of its being held within the ambit of the constitution; third, a process geared exclusively to the resolution of Kashmir issue; and fourth, involvement of Pakistan in talks.
Their rationale for Pakistans involvement goes like this: As J&K is a divided territory and half of it is in Pakistan, this dispute has three stakeholders India, Pakistan, and people of this land. Meaningful talks based on a clear agenda underlined by a sincerity of purpose among the three stakeholders is an assured and peaceful way to resolve the conflict of Kashmir in all its forms and dimensions.
Mirwaiz as the head of a separate Hurriyat amalgam has earlier been a part of several rounds of dialogue with the centre. First one, with the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was called an institutionalised dialogue. The process was carried over into the succeeding UPA regime but was discontinued when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to broaden the dialogue to include other stakeholders in the state. Hurriyat pulled out of the process, sore at being downgraded as one among many political stakeholders in Kashmir.
This was followed up with secret talks with the then home minister P Chidamabaram in 2009, which too was abandoned when it was exposed by a newspaper. Following this, a veteran member of the Mirwaiz faction Fazl-e-Haq Qureshi was shot at by unidentified gunmen and critically injured. Earlier, suspected militants have killed an uncle of Mirwaiz and burnt his familys century-old school in Srinagar for talking to the centre in defiance of its opposition by the militant groups.
Now Mirwaiz, along with Geelani and Malik is a part of a united separatist front called Joint Resistance Leadership and this has made the separatist participation in dialogue even more difficult. Any decision to join talks has to be thus based on consensus among the three leaders. Geelani has the hardest and the maximalist line on the dialogue among the three and would never join a dialogue without a concrete agenda.
Hurriyats approach so far to talks has a wide social approval. On social media, the amalgams reiteration of its longstanding stance on an engagement with New Delhi has been largely welcomed by the people. Similarly, Mehboobas call for separatists to join dialogue has evoked derision.
The situation as of now is thus uncertainly poised. Any fresh progress will depend on what the centre has on its mind. The home minister Rajnath Singh has yet again left things unclear. A dialogue with Hurriyat would be important to build on the potential gains from the ongoing ceasefire. But as it complexities would bear out, it would be a while before an engagement is instituted.
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