It’s been more than a year that the Government of India has nominated a dedicated interlocutor for a peace mission to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). While this was not the first appointment, such national peace envoy was designated in the past and sent to the region for peace negotiation with stakeholders in the state. However, no meaningful achievement has been made yet as the main representative, chiefly as Hurriyat members were not ready to participate in the peace agreement.
On 23 October 2017, a retired decorated Indian Police Service officer (1979 batch) and Ex-Director Intelligence Bureau (2014-16), Dineshwar Sharma was nominated as an interlocutor for J&K, and a focal point of Indian Government to hold a sustained dialogue with people of the state. His past experiences indicate that he was involved in peace talks with Indian North-East insurgent groups such as United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland in Assam, and the United Peoples Front and Kuki Nationalist Organisation in Manipur. Earlier, he headed the intelligence organisation of Uttar Pradesh and controlled “X” branch which monitors special intelligence inputs in the country, when the current Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was the then chief minister of the state.
Sharma’s attempt to begin a sustained dialogue with stakeholders and bring harmony in the state, though partly success has not been not so fruitful. Despite his regular visits in the region and strenuous efforts made, a significant result is yet to be achieved. While a year of his tenure may be early to assess the result of the old decades-long conflict, the interlocutor has to push hard for an effective outcome. Nonetheless, any good talk with the civil stakeholders alone would not be able to bring desirable peace in the region unless an agreement with an overground separatist element such as All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) members or underground secessionist perpetrator such as local Hizbul Mujahideen militants have actively participated in the negotiation process.
Two weeks after his appointment, Dineshwar paid his first maiden visit to the state from 06-10 November 2017. Though the trip was generally considered to be a productive initiative, no significant achievement was procured as key Kashmiri players, APHC members denied interacting with him. Despite his best efforts made, he was denied to hold any dialogue with the separatist chiefs Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, as well as J&K Liberation Front Chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik. However, he was able to interact only with few leaders from notable organisations such as J&K Former Panchayat Members Association, All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee, Global Youth Foundation and Cross-LoC Traders’ Union. These are regular common bodies that do not hold the face of agitated Kashmiris who involved in violent activities in the region.
In his next visit form 25-29 November 2017, key stakeholders including leaders of opposition National Conference and separatist Hurriyat members undoubtedly denied to meet him. His trip was also criticised by political party leaders including State Congress member Ghulam Nabi Monga expressing that the initiative was non-serious. On 25 December 2017, during his third visit in extreme winter at the border town of Kupwara, he had met the cross-section of people including traders who engaged in crossing Line of Control (LoC) and others who addressed issues on employment, lack of power supply and food grains, especially during the winter months.
Likewise, the winter visit was followed by several other official trips. Since November 2017, he has travelled for more than a dozen times, almost every month to various districts, and interacted with individuals from different sphere of life. While his mission is partly successful in terms of addressing public grievances of the region and provide amnesty to some agitators, his difficulties to bring APHC members into the negotiation table challenged the relevance of his position as a peace envoy.
Challenges in Peace Initiatives
The biggest challenge for a peace initiative in Kashmir is to bargain with APHC separatist elements and no peace talk shall be fruitful without the participation of these key stakeholders. While they don’t represent Kashmir, they control the region and are the multiplying factor of conflict. They foment agitators who blindly or cautiously followed their directions. Rejecting the peace initiative, APHC considers that the nomination of Sharma as an interlocutor is an “eye-wash”, “time-buying-tactic” and “a ploy to strike a hard bargain with Kashmiris”. On contrary, Sharma has been trying hard and keep the door open for Hurriyat members to come and join the peace dialogue. However, so far since he began his visit, there has been no instance in which any member of the APHC has shown its interest and get ready to talk with him. However, in an interesting incident, modest separatist leader Abdul Gani Bhat, President of Muslim Conference, a constituent of the moderate Hurriyat Conference had secretly met the interlocutor in December 2017. Later, he was expelled from the APHC for his clandestine interaction with the government envoy.
Analysing the past trend, APHC members are not likely to participate in a peaceful dialogue. Several attempts have been made in the past however not so success was achieved. In April 2001, separatist leaders rejected to meet the Ex-Union Minister and interlocutor K. C Pant. It was followed by another refusal in February 2003 when Ex-Home Secretary and interlocutor N. N. Vohra asked for a direct talk with the Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee. Similarly, in February 2006, they turned down to attend Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation for a round table conference. Subsequently, they denied meeting a group of eminent interlocutors appointed by the then government in October 2010. In a similar event in 2016, Syed Ali Shah Geelani defended to meet an All-Party delegation visited Srinagar.
Achievement of the mission:
While a palpable peace is a long way to ascertain through this mission, the interlocutor has attained a few considerable achievements by addressing the grievances of the society. In two occasions, the government has exonerated police charges from protestors and security operation was temporarily suspended during Ramzan.
Based on his actionable recommendation, the government has granted amnesty to the spoilers (agitators) involved in stone pelting. In February 2018, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in an Assembly Session announced that her government has approved for the withdrawal of 1,745 cases of stone-pelters out of 9,730 registered between 2008 and 2017. As an immediate effect of his report compiled with Intelligence Bureau and J&K Police officials, ahead of the holy month of Ramzan, Home Minister Rajnath Singh on 16 May 2018 announced a ‘conditional’ ceasefire directing the security forces not to perform operations during the month however reserved the right to retaliate any attack from the militants or if it is essential for the protection of the people. In the last three decades, this is the second time that a conditional ceasefire was announced. Earlier it was announced by then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 21 November 2000.
Analysing the past trend, bringing harmony in Kashmir is not so easy as it is speculating, and not possible unless main stakeholders, APHC or other armed non-state actors actively participate in peacebuilding/dialogue. While the nomination of a national interlocutor for peace initiative is appreciative, neither they can change the position of spoilers nor pacify the fervour of militants. As the victory of a peace programme/initiative is determined by the participation of concerned actors (Hurriyat or militants in Kashmir’s case), in the dialogue process, approaching methods of interlocutors in Indian conflict zones are not static and varied from state to state. For instance, in India’s North-East states including Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, the envoy directly dealt with insurgent groups to make agreements and settle peace in the region. However in J&K, as generally opposed by separatists and militants, interlocutors invariably engaged only with civil organisations which at the end yields no significant results.
Nonetheless, Sharma is believed to be a seasoned strategic doyen who also possessed higher profile, the rank of cabinet secretary (appointment ratified by the President of India), than the earlier interlocutors. His tougher position has been expected to influence the Centre for implementing his recommendations. Meanwhile, APHC members may like to consider Sharma’s offer on dialogue and take a new leap for a meaningful negotiating to address the prolonged complexities in Kashmir. While the discussion on policy, economy, society, culture and education with regular stakeholders are necessary for a peace envoy, its real faith lies in the participation of Hurriyat members in the peace talks. At the same time, influences from external elements (neighbouring state) to derail any peace process in India should be strictly followed by the peace interlocutor.
1. “New Kashmir Interlocutor is Already Busy Running Three Peace Talks in the Northeast”, The Wire, 23 October 2017, https://thewire.in/government/dineshwar-sharma-centre-interlocutor-peace-talks-northeast, accessed on 04 October 2018. 2. “Who is Dineshwar Sharma?”, Indiana Express, 24 October 2017, https://indianexpress.com/article/who-is/dineshwar-sharma-rajnath-singh-kashmir-dialogue-intelligence-bureau-4903018/, accessed on 05 October 2018. 3. “Chidambaram calls appointment of Kashmir interlocutor diversionary tactics”, India Today, 28 October 2018, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/chidambaram-appointment-of-kashmir-interlocators-diversionary-tactics-1071206-2017-10-28, accessed on 05 October 2018 4. APHC is a conglomerate or an alliance of 26 political, social and religious organizations formed on 9 March 1993 as a united political front to raise the cause of Kashmiri separatism. Currently, it has two factions, one led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and another by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Mirwaiz-led group is referred to as the "moderate faction". 5. “Kashmir interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma’s visit fails to generate political heat”, New Indian Express, 9 November 2017, http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/nov/09/kashmir-interlocutor-dineshwar-sharmas-visit-fails-to-generate-political-heat-1696895.html, accessed on 04 November 2018. 6. M. Saleem Pandit, “Hurriyat rejects dialogue with Central interlocutor”, Times of India, 01 November 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/hurriyat-rejects-dialogue-with-central-interlocuter/articleshow/61374676.cms, accessed on 06 November 2018. 7. “J&K interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma meets Omar Abdullah”, Times of India, 08 November 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/jk-interlocutor-dineshwar-sharma-meets-omar-abdullah/articleshow/61559099.cms, accessed on 06 October 2018. 8. “Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma wraps up second Kashmir visit without meeting key stakeholders”, New Indian Express, 29 November 2017,http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/nov/29/interlocutor-dineshwar-sharma-wraps-up-second-kashmir-visit-without-meeting-key-stakeholders-1713992.html, accessed on 06 October 2018 9. “J&K interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma visits Valley for third time, meets party leaders”, Indian Express, 26 December 2017, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/jk-interlocutor-dineshwar-sharma-visits-valley-for-third-time-meets-party-leaders-4998645/, accessed on 06 October 2018. 10. Protest Calendar is a routine planner highlighting time, date, place and activities for series of demonstration to be taken place by protesters. From time to time either in weekly or monthly basis, Hurriyat in their interest issued the “protest calendar” to public for participation in mass rally. 11. M. Saleem Pandit, “Hurriyat rejects dialogue with Central interlocutor”, Times of India, 01 November 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/hurriyat-rejects-dialogue-with-central-interlocuter/articleshow/61374676.cms, accessed on 08 October 2018. 12. “Hurriyat Conference constituent splits into two after rebels expel Abdul Gani Bhat for meeting Dineshwar Sharma”, Firstspot, 11 December 2017,https://www.firstpost.com/india/hurriyat-conference-constituent-splits-into-two-after-rebels-expel-abdul-gani-bhat-for-meeting-dineshwar-sharma-4252441.html, accessed on 08 October 2018. 13. In few instances, when NN Vohra was an interlocutor and based on his advice, L.K Advani, then Union Minister of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions had a meeting with Hurriyat delegation in January 2015. Again, it was in Vohra’s tenure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met APHC members led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on 5 September 2005 followed by another discussion with a Hurriyat team led by People’s Conference Chairman Sajad Lone on 14 January 2006. See, Rahul Tripathi, “Before Dineshwar Sharma: What earlier panels to reach out to J&K tried, what they achieved”, Indian Express, 14 November 2017. 14. Sajad Gul, “2 injured in Bandipora during Sharma’s visit to NHPC complex”, Gretaer Kashmir, 27 March 2017, https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/kashmir/2-injured-in-bandipora-during-sharma-s-visit-to-nhpc-complex/280057.html, accessed on 08 October 2018. 15. “J&K govt. okays withdrawal of stone-pelting cases against 9,730 people”, The Hindu, 03 February 2018, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/jk-govt-okays-withdrawal-of-stone-pelting-cases-against-9730-people/article22644060.ece, accessed on 08 October 2018. 16. Vaijaita Singh, “Dineshwar Sharma to visit J&K for ceasefire review”, The Hindu, 23 May 2018, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dineshwar-sharma-to-visit-jk-for-ceasefire-review/article23963075.ece, accessed on 08 October 2018. 17. Jammu & Kashmir: Timeline (Terrorist Activities) -2018, South Asia Terrorism Portal, http://www.satp.org/terrorist-activity/india-jammukashmir, accessed on 11 October 2018. 18. Rahul Tripathi, “Before Dineshwar Sharma: What earlier panels to reach out to J&K tried, what they achieved”, Indian Express, 14 November 2017.