Time to start talking

Written by Siddiq Wahid | Published on: November 1, 2009
Re-establishing channels of communication between Srinagar and New Delhi

Cautiously realistic was the tone of the home minister’s statements about the renewal of the dialogue process between Srinagar and New Delhi. The call should be reciprocated by the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir. After numerous false starts in addressing the Jammu and Kashmir conundrum, to be either optimistic or pessimistic is to impose one’s own biases on facts.

That said, it would be good to note that unlike many other occasions in the last few years, there was depth in Mr P. Chidambaram’s words of October 14, 2009. We have become accustomed to references to the problem in – and of – Jammu and Kashmir as a "complex" one that cannot be solved "overnight". This has become a callous mantra seeking to legitimise procrastination and worse, neglect. Chidambaram’s comments have decoded these words in recognising and acknowledging the "unique history and geography of the state". That this is being acknowledged to the citizens of the state is a large step forward. In a sense, it contains a measured middle-path response to the extreme positions of Jammu and Kashmir being an "integral part of India" or the "jugular vein of Pakistan" while at the same time taking into account important aspects of "the sentiments of the peoples of the state". This is no less than a tacit acknowledgement of a dispute. To demand overt statements on this is not only to be churlish but to endanger talks even before they begin.

There are concrete reasons for hope in Chidambaram’s initiative. The first of these is in the decision to hold talks "individually" with "different shades of opinion". Second, we are told that the initiative would be a "quiet" one. Third, the home minister was unambiguous in his statement that the ultimate objective is to find "the contours of a political solution".

There will no doubt be objections to – and naysayers for – each of these criteria. For example, there will be a rush to denigrate talks with various hues of opinion from Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir valley (none of which are monolithic entities) as an attempt at encouraging divergence in the face of the state’s natural diversity. But if that is being done, it will become evident once the "contours" are announced and can be rejected; there is a large constituency in all parts of the state for such rejection. Similarly, to hold talks away from the glare of the media will be interpreted as being secretive. But here we have to make a distinction between secrecy and confidentiality. The former suggests opacity, being kept in the dark. The latter does not rule out transparency regarding certain aspects of the talks while they are in progress. Towards this, the Government of India and the varied interlocutors of stakeholders within the state must recognise, and create a mechanism for, the need to keep the peoples of the state informed about any progress. The third encouraging announcement by Chidambaram was that he would attempt to find a solution to the political dimension of the conundrum. By recent standards of attempted engagement from New Delhi, that is a lot.

The current offer of talks by New Delhi is of a genus that is different from the ones in the past. Chidambaram’s offer is seized of the weight of the historical, political and legal dimensions of the Kashmir problem. That gives it a different tone altogether. For their part, the interlocutors for the state of Jammu and Kashmir will have to recognise that the problem has become layered with the debris of time. Empires have dismantled, new hopefuls assert themselves, armed violence has replaced discursive politics in much of the world (historians attest that the last century has been the most violent in human history by far), the information-cum-communication revolution has not yielded its assurance of greater understanding between peoples and the promise of a ‘new world order’ is still evolving. All these factors will impinge on any negotiations.

But the most important factor that should have a bearing on the talks is this: the state, in its entirety, has been plagued by uncertainty, disingenuousness, intransigence and war for 60 years. In the last 20 years there has been enough violence in the valley to wipe out the future of two generations of its youth lucky enough to survive. It is time for civil society in the state, of all shades, to lend its voice to the call to begin an uninterrupted dialogue. It is the only way out.

There remain, of course, the other side of the LoC and Pakistan pieces of the problem. We cannot hope to resolve the conundrum without addressing the Mirpur-Muzaffarabad strip and the Gilgit-Baltistan issue. This must be accepted, equally, by Delhi and Islamabad. Similarly, consensus between Delhi and Islamabad will be a critical ingredient for any steps forward. The Hurriyat has called for "trilateral" talks; but surely beginning the talks without Islamabad does not obviate the latter’s locus standi in the dispute. It is true that some in New Delhi (which too is not monolithic) would like to wish away Pakistan in the context of Jammu and Kashmir. However, it would not only be unrealistic but foolhardy to think that is possible. In part, it is precisely this proclivity for wishing away a role for Pakistan that has invited several wars over and in the state.

With apologies to Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian thinker and writer, it would be apt to recount here a story from his rich repertoire of folklore retellings to underscore the need to talk – now. There came a time in the jungle, Achebe tells us, when its denizens thought it wrong that King Lion should indiscriminately prey on his various subjects. So they called for a council in the jungle square to talk things over. As all the animals were headed towards the assembly, Fox noticed that Hen was trotting away from the square. "Are you not joining in the discussions?" he asked. Hen replied that she had an important task to attend to and was happy to be told of the outcome later. On returning from her task, she was told of the verdict. "We decided," said Fox confidently, "that it is unfair of King Lion to prey randomly on us. So after much discussion, we decided that he should only dine on hens!"

It is time to start talking.

Archived from Communalism Combat, November 2009 Year 16    No.145/ Breaking Barriers 2

Courtesy: Rising Kashmir; www.risingkashmir.com