In a contentious recent statement Governor Satya Pal Malik said that the J&K based political parties had no right to seek engagement of Pakistan in dialogue. In similar vein, he told separatists that no talks will be held with them as long as they sought involvement of Pakistan in the process.
Predictably, the statements have elicited sharp reactions from both the separatist groups and the mainstream parties like National Conference and the PDP. What is more, even the senior Congress minister P Chidambaram took exception to Governor Malik’s statement and accused him of acting like a “Viceroy”.
On the face of it, the statement also didn’t sit easy with the image of the newest Governor so far. In all his public utterances and the interviews so far, Governor has weighed his words and tried to be mindful of the local sensitivities. He has been sympathetic towards Article 35A saying even Himachal Pradesh and North East had similar laws and there was nothing that was wrong with it. Reassuringly enough, Malik also said that his position on Articles 370 and 35A was endorsed by the Centre. I am not an elected representative but my stand is that arguments on 35A should be deferred until there is an elected government in power, Malik said in an interview to a national newspaper. And significantly, the Governor made it clear that he wont encourage a government formation resulting from defection. This has generated an amount of rare goodwill for the Governor among the alienated people of Valley
But his gratuitous chastisement of the local parties and the separatists over their advocacy of the engagement of Pakistan has strained this goodwill. For, as rightly articulated by Chidambaram, in a democracy no person, least of all a Governor, should dictate what political parties should or should not say.
There is another dimension to it: Urging engagement with Pakistan for talks on Kashmir has a long historical and a political context. It is unrealistic to expect a resolution of Kashmir by keeping Islamabad out of the negotiation. And whenever this reality has been acknowledged by New Delhi and initiatives undertaken accordingly, Kashmir has witnessed a redeeming change. For proof, one need only recall the peace process between former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his then Pakistani counterpart Parvez Musharraf. The process was later carried forward by the Vajpayees successor Manmohan Singh. And the two worked on what became known as the four point formula for Kashmir resolution. Had it not been for Musharraf’s sudden exit from power in 2008, the dialogue which spanned four years had nearly pulled off a Kashmir resolution.
Talks with Hurriyat alone or for that matter with the diverse stakeholders as tried from time to time have hardly helped. Recent such initiative by employing yet another interlocutor has once again turned out to be a failure.
Any sincere peace effort geared to a permanent Kashmir solution has to thus necessarily involve Pakistan. Far from barring the political groups from seeking a pragmatic solution to Kashmir issue through engagement of Pakistan, Governor should work towards facilitating such an outcome.
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