In 2010 Kashmir saw massive protests for a third consecutive year and more than 120 people as young as nine were killed in the unrest. In response New Delhi appointed a three-member panel of interlocutors to carry out a ‘sustained uninterrupted dialogue’ in an attempt resolve the Kashmir dispute.
Earlier this month, the panel – consisting of journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and bureaucrat M M Ansari – submitted its report ‘A New Compact with the people of Jammu and Kashmir’.
But detailed analysis of the report reveals that it is yet another opportunity to resolve the Kashmir issue gone begging. It is clear yet again that for India the current state of affairs is not only an option but a permanent solution to the 65-year-old dispute.
From the onset the selection, appointment, and functioning of the panel members was seen as ‘deeply flawed’. Political observers say the report reflects New Delhi’s misguided approach to the Kashmir problem and is little more than a delaying tactic.
Firstly, any dialogue with people of the Himalayan region falls flat due to the overwhelming military presence and the carte blanche they enjoy. Secondly, the situation in Kashmir needs a political solution which the panel – that has no stake or say in the decision-making process – clearly avoids. The 176-page report is therefore not only reductive and repetitive but it also strengthens existing stereotypes and metanarratives.
International pressure was mounting on the Indian government in 2010 owing to the use of force by its agencies in Kashmir and it now seems the formation of the panel was meant to appease those seeking an end to the impasse in Kashmir.
Although the Indian Home Ministry brazenly touted the initiative as a conflict resolution exercise, when the report was made public it issued a disclaimer: ‘The views expressed in the report are the views of the interlocutors,’ adding, ‘...the Government has not yet taken any decisions on the report.’
Such disowning is not new. Political observers say while it may seem to the international community to be a conflict resolution process to it is actually a tactic to maintain India’s current dominance of the region.
Interestingly, Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah subscribes to the fact that India is intent on maintaining the status quo. According to a Wikileaks cable released last year, he told US diplomat Dan Burton in 2005 that India did not have a roadmap to solve the issue and New Delhi was content with the current situation.
For the pro-freedom groups, who chose not to meet the panel, their stand seems to have been vindicated. As Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a top religious and political leader in Kashmir, remarked: ‘As the saying goes, if Indians have to delay a solution, they form committees.’
The report also suggests economic confidence-building measures (CBMs), again an incorrect diagnosis of a political problem. Surprisingly, it suggests Special Economic Zones be created modelled on those of northeastern states. The idea to import a model that is not only flawed but has drawn considerable flak from activists and is seen as exploitative seems highly imprudent.
Even though Omar Abdullah has asked for the revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act – which seriously impinges on the fundamental rights of the people by giving the military near impunity – the report moves a step back and asks for it merely to be ‘reviewed’. There is no mention of how the state abuses these draconian laws which include the Public Safety Act.
The long and short of this report is that India is yet again buying time, maintaining a culture of silence and yet very cleverly carrying forward its PR exercise of claiming to be the largest democracy, not to mention its status as an emerging global leader. But ultimately, the perpetual spiral of injustice and exploitation continues.