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India's new interlocutor in Kashmir raises little hope Open in fullscreen

Umar Lateef Misgar

India's new interlocutor in Kashmir raises little hope

Indian paramilitary trooper stands alert as Kashmiri women walk in Srinagar

Date of publication: 30 October, 2017

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Analysis: India's former spy chief, Dineshwar Sharma, is now in charge of peace talks in Kashmir, raising fears over efficacy, writes Umar Lateef Misgar

More than 70,000 people have lost their lives since the onset of armed rebellion against what many Kashmiris perceive as an illegal Indian military occupation. Since the 1990's, Indian forces have been accused of carrying out systematic human rights abuses to crush the insurgency including torture, extrajudicial executions, rape and enforced disappearances.

Regarded as the world's most militarised zone, with one soldier stationed for every 17 residents, Kashmir has brought the two nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, to the brink of an all-out war. Despite its status as an internationally-recognised dispute, New Delhi has maintained that Kashmir is an internal matter and regards the popular resentment prevalent in the valley as an uprising.

The regular uprisings against Indian rule in Kashmir are met with brute, often deadly, force. During the recent mass protests of 2016, which spread across the region after the killing of a popular rebel leader, around 100 civilian protestors were killed in the Indian forces' crackdown.

Around 17,000 people were injured, of which 1,100 completely or partially lost their eyesight due to the use of pellet guns by Indian forces. Even during the times of relative calm, loss of life and limb remains a constant feature of Indian rule.

After every phase of violent crackdown on Kashmiris, to restore the lost legitimacy of state systems and pro-India political formations, New Delhi often tries to appease the local population through a seemingly softer approach of interlocutors, parliamentary delegations and round table conferences.

 Armed Indian soldiers disembark from an armored vehicle while children wait for the school bus (Photo:Umar Lateef)

Armed Indian soldiers disembark from an armored vehicle while children wait for the school bus (Photo:Umar Lateef)

In 2010, after yet another mass uprising was crushed with heavy force, the Congress party-led Indian government, appointed a three member group of interlocutors to undertake a "sustained dialogue" with the people of Kashmir in order to understand their problems.

The group came up with a comprehensive report that contained recommendations such as reviewing various laws that grant virtual impunity to Indian soldiers in Kashmir and immediately restarting meaningful talks with both Kashmiris and Pakistan. Perhaps out of a fear of antagonising the security establishment by reining-in their vast powers, the government immediately shelved the report.

The current government, led by the ultra-nationalist BJP party, has so far rejected any accommodation for the pro-Independence sentiment that is predominant across Kashmir. Guided by the so called Doval doctrine, composed by India's current National Security Adviser Ajit Kumar Doval, New Delhi has given a free rein to the army and paramilitary forces to use any amount of force necessary to crush any form of dissent. The doctrine, however, has reached a dead end.

Kashmiris regularly flock to the streets to express their resentment for Indian rule and every week is marked by at least one day of general strike. Young men, not caring for their lives, march up to the sites of shootouts between armed rebels and Indian forces to create distractions and help the former escape unhurt.

Realising the futility of iron fist policy to crush a popular sentiment, the Indian government recently announced the appointment of yet another interlocutor "to understand the legitimate aspirations of Kashmiri people."

Dineshwar Sharma, a former head of India's Intelligence Bureau (IB), was appointed to this role. Sharma has also previously served in Kashmir as an assistant director for the IB.

The viability of Sharma as an impartial interlocutor was however immediately questioned. An individual who has served as a point man for the intelligence agency of one of the primary parties to the dispute puts forth legitimate questions on his role as an interlocutor.

Also, the fact that Sharma's mandate has not clearly been spelled out makes him a lame duck both in the eyes of pro-Independence leadership as well as common Kashmiri populace. The utter failure of previous, similar, endeavors also adds to a general weariness towards this whole process.

The primary responsibility conferred upon Sharma, of understanding the wishes of Kashmiris, seems another futile endeavor of forestalling a more serious dialogue, especially considering the fact that the Indian state operates a massive surveillance net across the region and therefore must be aware of the real aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

Although Sharma has expressed a willingness to engage with Kashmir's pro-Independence political leadership, the latter has so far maintained a measured silence over his appointment. During the past few months, the pro-Independence leadership has been constantly hounded and increasingly cornered by the National Investigation Agency, India's version of Homeland Security, on the alleged charges of terror funding. This suggests that New Delhi might want any dialogue to be entirely dictated according to its own terms.

Kashmiris regularly flock to the streets to express their resentment for Indian rule and every week is marked by at least one day of general strike.

The exclusion of Pakistan, a central party to this conflict, also makes the whole dialogue unappealing for many stakeholders. Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson, Nafees Zakaria, called Sharma's appointment as unrealistic and insincere in a statement.

"For any dialogue process to be meaningful and result-oriented, it has to include the three main parties - India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris," Zakaria said.

Soon after Sharma's appointment, India's Army chief unambiguously declared the decision won't, in any way, affect the anti-insurgency operations of the Indian Army in Kashmir. The success of Sharma's efforts is hard to imagine without any lull in the fighting between Indian forces and armed rebels.

It has always been clear that the resolution of this intractable dispute can only be reached through dialogue; but unless that process is carried out on the basis of mutual respect - without resorting to political bullying - it is unlikely to yield any tangible results. Until then, the conflict may well continue to claim more lives, becoming more complex along the way.

India has a long and entangled history of diplomatic overtures when it comes to resolving the long-pending dispute in the region of Kashmir. Owing to both the insincerity of Indian commitment and labyrinthine nature of this conflict, all these efforts have so far failed to yield any substantial results towards the resolution of this deadly conflict.

Whether it be the pledges of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who, in a famous 1947 speech in Kashmir's historic Lal Chowk (Red Square) committed to holding an impartial plebiscite for ascertaining the wishes of Kashmiri people, or the previous year's visit of Indian parliamentarians to the valley, that was then under a military curfew, India's political approach to the resolution of this dispute has always been a secondary tactic to buy time for enforcing further military control.

Umar Lateef Misgar is a graduate student of International Relations at the Islamic University of Kashmir. He regularly writes for The New Arab, openDemocracy, Counterpunch and London School of Economics Human Rights Centre.

Follow him on Twitter: @Kaashur

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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