Commentary - J&K: Special Representative’s Road Ahead will not be Easy
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Appointment of Mr Dineshwar Sharma , former Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB), as special ‘Representative’(SR) by the government for Kashmir to interact with the wide cross section of society in Kashmir to understand their “legitimate aspirations” is a positive and bold step. While there have been many calls for a dialogue in Kashmir, most analysts had surmised that the government would continue to follow a hardline approach. Yet, the government has managed to surprise every one and taken the initiative in its hands. The appointment of Special Representative has the Prime Minister’s support.

It is also a timely step because over the last few months the government has been able to bring the law and order situation under control. PM spoke of a conciliatory approach on Kashmir,“…..Nagoli se, nagali se………”, from the Red Fort. The Home Minister has undertaken several visits to Kashmir. Some stability has returned to Kashmir. The Government waited for this moment. This is the right time for the Government to launch an initiative in Kashmir. By conducting operations against terrorists, the Government sent a signal that lawlessness and terrorism will be tackled with a firm hand.

The Government move also shows that it is ready to follow a multi-pronged strategy in Kashmir. A firm approach in dealing with terrorism is being complemented with a political approach. The move has been generally appreciated by the stake holders although some criticism has been made that the interlocutor should have been a ‘political’ personality rather than an ex-DIB. But the credentials of the new SR are impeccable and this has been accepted by all. Further, being a non-political personality, he is better placed to have an unbiased approach.

The important point to consider is how the process will move further. Only time will tell. In the past there have been several initiatives which did not succeed. The state of J&K has gone through a turbulent time in the last one year or so. So, it is natural that there would be heighted expectations as well as skepticism. The Hurriyat seems to be rejecting the dialogue with SR but one will have to wait and watch how the situation develops when the he begins his work.

The media will have a role to play in the success of the initiative. Hyper-ism should be avoided and no artificial deadlines should be imposed. The process should be allowed to take its own course. The political parties, one hopes, will keep national interest rather than narrow partisan interests uppermost while reacting to the initiative. Also, it would be better that expectations are tempered down and kept more realistic.

The previous initiatives did not succeed. Why? The issues involved are complex and carry the historical baggage of 70 years of history during which many mistakes were made by all sides. Also, the external sponsorship of terrorism and militancy has complicated the problem immensely.

Be that as it may, the special Representative should have an open mind. He should listen to all sides without preconceived notions. Now that the government has decided to appoint a Representative, he should be open to discussion with the entire political spectrum and all sections of the society.

However, one thing has to be kept in mind. Talks and violence cannot go hand-in-hand here. Talking cannot be a license for violence. Similarly, the security forces cannot afford to lower their guard against Pak sponsored infiltrators and tanzeems. Those who instigate violence should be dealt with in accordance with law. Further, lessons should be drawn from the previous experiences. A proper assessment of the earlier episodes should be made and factored in.

In an interview to The Hindu (31 Oct 2017), The Mr Dineshwar Sharma said that government’s focus is on bringing “permanent peace” in Kashmir. “Permanent solution and peace can only be brought about the dialogue”, he said. He stated that the government has given him “a free hand to speak to anyone” as he wanted. The people of Jammu and Ladakh would also be included in the dialogue. The final call, however, will be of the Government.

It is not difficult to guess what issues might be raised by different stakeholders. Some of these would be: Article 370, autonomy, self-rule, pellet guns, socio-economic development, Pakistan’s role, terrorism, Kashmiri Pundits, aspirations of the youth etc. Some questions are of political nature while others will be of socio-economic development, cultural character. The regional disparities – the aspirations of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Poonch etc. would also be raised. Some sections may even boycott the SR, just to make a point or gain publicity. The SR should take all this in his stride.

Different stakeholders would have varying agendas. This can be expected. Sometimes, these agendas are irreconcilable. But the government should be cautious. The agenda of the radical elements, jihadis and separatists should not be allowed to succeed. The initiative cannot be a road to disintegration of India.

The J&K Representative’s efforts deserve to be supported but the road ahead will not be easy.

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF.)

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