Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/ KI
The visit of a five member Track-I I delegation headed by the former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha came in the wake of the centre giving up on all the political outreach to Kashmir. And to be sure, the centre has dissociated from this initiative too. But this hardly detracts from the significance of this initiative, a fact pressed home when Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani didn't shut his door on the delegation. He met the delegation, not once, but twice. Similarly, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also met it, so did Shabir Shah and Prof Abdul Gani Bhat.
If anything, it shows the credibility that the non-government outreaches still enjoy in Kashmir. This is, despite the fact, that like the government initiatives, Track-II outreaches in the past have amounted to little. They have by and large followed identical trajectories: doing the vanishing act as soon as the normalcy dawns.
But then independent Track-II initiatives can't be compared with those sponsored by the government. They can't be expected to have a mandate to do things on behalf of the government or recommend steps to the government more forcefully and with some authority. But this hardly takes away from the potential and the possibility of an independent Track-II. More so, when it is headed by the country's former foreign minister who was once a driver and a participant in the settlement efforts for Kashmir.
The team under him can be hoped to contribute productively if their efforts are not of a cosmetic and adhocist nature but seeks to engage with the fundamental issues at stake. However, they will hardly be in a position to do this, if New Delhi doesn't cooperate in the effort.
So far, the central government has adopted a can't-care-less approach towards the prevailing situation in the state. After a feeble attempt at an outreach by sending an all party delegation to the state, New Delhi relied solely on the security means to put down the mass uprising. In this bleak scenario, one can only hope that the Sinha-led initiative fills in the consequent vacuum and pursues a political way out through a long range engagement. Yet another adhoc process geared to usher in normalcy will only damage the cause of durable peace.
Yashwant Sinha flanked by Wajahat Habibullah and Kapil Kak in Srinagar File photo: Habib Naqash
In an interview to Adil Bhat for Kashmir Ink, Sinha laid emphasis on the final settlement of Kashmir and the need for talking to Pakistan. He, however, emphasized the need for a fresh narrative in Kashmir which looks at a solution to Kashmir outside of UN Resolutions.
Q: How do you look at the last uprising in Kashmir and New Delhi’s response to it?
A: There has been a massive unrest in the Valley and it is the first time that the curfew lasted for five months. It was the longest period. And it was because of this extended unrest that my group and I decided to visit the Valley. It was not a formal state-appointed delegation. It was a group of few concerned people who wanted to go there to relate to the pain and suffering of the people there and explore what they could do in the given situation. We were fortunate because many doors that had been previously closed were opened for us. During our visits we met a large number of organisations, associations and individuals and felt the pain that they had undergone.
Q: Your report on Kashmir has urged media not to escalate the situation. Isn’t it the moral duty of the media to present the truth to the people. How is media responsible for escalation?
A: Let’s not forget that there are some news channels in Delhi that present a distorted picture of the situation on ground. And because of this misrepresentation of facts the situation only gets worse. The same applies to sections of the media in Kashmir. Some newspapers from the Valley also misrepresented the facts relating to the crisis and made it worse. In fact, I would say that such elements in the media have certainly lost their credibility.
Q: Can you name any newspaper or channel that indulged in misreporting and misrepresentation?
A: I think that we know what newspapers indulge in such kind of activities. I would not like to name any, but we know it.
Q: In one of your interviews you have said that we should take the people of Kashmir on board to pressurize Pakistan to stop exporting terrorism to India. However, there is a strong presence of pro-Pakistan sentiment in the Valley. Given this reality, how far do you think such an alliance with the people of Kashmir will work?
A: Yes, that is true. But we should know that there are a very small percentage of people who are pro-Pakistan or rather who exhibit a pro-Pakistan sentiment in the Valley. More importantly, the angry protesters on the streets with Chinese or Pakistani flags are just flaunting it to irritate us. In fact, there are more supporters who stand for the pro-Independence sentiment. During our recent visit we observed that the situation on the ground has worsened and the people, especially the youth, are very disenchanted. We listened to a lot of negative things there.
Unfortunately, there is an old narrative that some people still seem to believe in Kashmir. There is a complete failure of communication and that is why many of them are still talking about plebiscite and the UN Resolutions in the year 2017. Countering this mistaken narrative is a big challenge for all of us. In order to build a fresh perspective we need to take people in the Valley, who are our brothers and sisters, on board for any solution. We need to address the larger sense of discrimination that prevails in there.
Q: In Kashmir India is perceived as an occupying power. Do you think religious radicalism in the valley is in response to the occupation?
A: I disagree on your point on occupation and radicalism. I do not agree that religious radicalism in the Valley is an outcome of occupation. In fact, it is not an occupation. If it was an occupation then why would we see the military organizing large number of welfare projects like the Sadbhavna Operation under which a number of Army Goodwill Schools were opened mostly in inaccessible remote areas of the Valley? These efforts have been undertaken by the Indian Army to address the grievances of the people in Kashmir.
Q: Several hundred people, most of them youth, have been blinded by the indiscriminate use of pellet guns. And now Kashmir will have its first blind school. What is your message to these young people who have lost their vision because of the indiscriminate pellet firing?
A: I regret what happened to these young people of Kashmir. We should not have used the pellets on our own people. These pellets have not been used anywhere in the country and it is very unfortunate that we have indiscriminately used them on the civilians in Kashmir. I have my deepest sympathies for these young victims of pellet guns. We have suggested to the government to offer them rehabilitation and free medical aid.
We have recommended a complete ban the use of pellet guns. Let us see how the government responds.
Q: Your delegation has met Geelani and other separatist leaders. Could you throw some light on the deliberations?
A: Our meeting with Geelani was important. He talked about the 6-point charter of demands stressing on the right to self-determination and demilitarization. Of course, he has been saying this for the last many years. I told him that this was not the time to talk about this but some day hopefully we could sit down and discuss his demands.
Q: There has been a history of delegations and deliberations in Kashmir, but unfortunately nothing has changed on ground. People in the Valley have lost faith in such measures that follow every uprising. How is your delegation different from the previous ones?
A: Yes, I know there have been 158 or so delegations to Kashmir and the people we met told us that we come only when there is unrest. But as I have said before that ours was not a delegation. A lot of people came to meet us and narrated their tale of pain and suffering, which we could relate to. We made this attempt to reach out to the people. This was the most important initiative taken by this group of concerned citizens. I would like to reiterate that we are concerned Qout the suffering of the people and their future.
In fact we reached out to the minorities of the State as well. We met the Sikhs and the Pundits who still live in the Valley. And for a fruitful and constructive dialogue we need to take all the stakeholders into consideration. This means that the minorities too are the stakeholders for any dialogue and we need to address their grievances too. Any dialogue on Kashmir will have to include all stakeholders, including religious minorities and other groups in the state, including the separatists.
Q. The general opinion in India now is that it is not important to talk to Pakistan for a Kashmir solution?
A. For the final settlement, we will need to talk to Pakistan also.
Q. Do you think your visits have made a redeeming difference to the situation?
A. Post our visit we see that some change has happened. The situation has improved and there is greater normalcy. But we need to work towards meeting the challenges that remain for a more stable future.