From Freeze Frame, Kashmir Talks Enter Suspense Mode

NC patron and PAGD leader briefing media.

Amid rumours, experts believe that the “international pressure” might be behind the possible political revival in Kashmir.

CUTTING through the fog of the dominant fringe discourse, a senior leader of Kashmir’s grand old political party National Conference says New Delhi is once again seeking an audience of its “tested and dusted” assets in the valley.

The reported reliance on the “dynasts” makes many believe that the much-touted “northern alliance” might’ve to just settle with second fiddle now.

“What used to be mere feelers and signals till a month ago have now started shaping up as the quiet talks,” the leader says. “But let me tell you, the political dialogue is still work in progress.”

The indications of the possible return of the political trope in Kashmir valley came when Dr. Farooq Abdullah-led Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) regrouped in the Fairview residence of Mehbooba Mufti on June 9 this year.

The seven-party group formed last year for the restoration of Article 370 met in the backdrop of the raging rumours. But the minutes of the meeting turned out to be a mere dud, with the NC veteran talking about the vaccination process apart from the coronation of comrade Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami as the new spokesperson of the alliance.

His son Omar Abdullah’s presence in New Delhi at the same time fuelled loose talks about “some business” in Kashmir.

PAGD leaders emerge from months of hibernation to register their presence. KO Photo By Abid Bhat, June 9, 2021.

“If reports of political outreach are true then we must understand that New Delhi didn’t find it an easy go in J&K,” says Prof. Noor A Baba, a political scientist here.

“At the same time there are pressures on the Government of India internationally.”

The talks came in the wake of a US Congressional hearing in which Dean Thompson, Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia said that the US is encouraging New Delhi to take electoral steps in Kashmir.

However, Prof. Baba said, it’ll be interesting to see on whose terms the negotiation will be, and who is going to take a stand.

“Right now,” he said, “it’ll be difficult to presume what’ll happen. But one thing is clear, New Delhi is under a lot of pressure viz a viz J&K.”

It’s in the backdrop of this “pressure” that many see the possible melting of political ice in Kashmir. And talks being one of the foregone conclusions of this renewed political engagement have already become the talk of the town itself.

“We’re not averse to talks,” Tarigami said. “We do believe that all issues can only be solved through dialogue.”

However, some of these unionists say that the possible dialogue might revolve around Assembly elections and the Delimitation process in the erstwhile state. Among the regional political outfits, NC has already shown its eagerness for the process.

“Yes, the working committee met virtually last week and the matter of participating in the Delimitation process was discussed,” NC’s Ruhullah Mehdi said. “However, I made it clear that we shouldn’t participate in any process that is based on BJP’s terms and give legitimacy to the August 5, 2019 decision.”

The Delimitation Commission headed by Retired Supreme Court Judge Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai is a panel that was set up last year to redraw the electoral constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir and four north eastern states— Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.

Interestingly, when the commission on J&K held the first meeting on February 18, 2021,the NC parliamentarians, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Hasnain Masoodi, and Akbar Lone, skipped the meeting.

Already, Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it’s not going to participate in the ongoing delimitation process.

“We’re more concerned about New Delhi’s new moves about J&K,” Najmu Saqib, the party’s additional spokesperson, said.

“If they turn back the clock to 5 August, then our party is ready to engage with anyone.”

For any talks to happen, the PAGD spokesperson said, New Delhi has to listen to what people of Jammu and Kashmir are saying.

“We won’t chalk out our strategy on the whims and wills of New Delhi,” Tarigami added. “It needs to take people into confidence.”

But if Kashmiri leaders are being engaged on New Delhi’s terms and demands, then it’s a win-win situation for the Centre, Mehdi said.“The PAGD leaders need to take a stand and anything minus Article 370 shouldn’t be discussed.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is a Srinagar-based journalist and tweets @AuqibJaveed.

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