Security expert A S Dulat suggests that a government of reconciliation with Kashmir's mainstream political parties could help begin a dialogue with New Delhi and later the separatists. The Congress needs to let go of the levers of power in the troubled state.
Wednesday's all-party meeting in New Delhi was an attempt to find a solution to the current crisis in Kashmir. Last week, on the eve of Id it was expected that some package would be announced to build confidence. That package never came. In the current situation even if you announce a package it won't have any impact.
I am not optimistic of the real outcome of the meeting but the silver lining of the all-party meet is the presence of the Peoples' Democratic Party. It was long overdue. It was imperative that they become part of the dialogue. In Kashmir it takes a long time to include separatist leaders into the dialogue process. They have problems sitting with us, and the government too has issues. But, surely, we can draw mainstream parties into the dialogue process. No one knows why the government has not talked to Mufti saheb (PDP chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) or Mehbooba Mufti. The joint presence of National Conference and PDP in the meeting is a positive development. This development should be taken forward.
Now, I am going to share something that may sound preposterous, but I am serious.
Since the last six or seven months I have been observing that whenever India talks of dialogue and economic packages for defusing the situation in Kashmir, we know well that at the end of the day this is the political issue. From New Delhi's point of view the easiest dialogue possible is with the mainstream parties of Kashmir. India's efforts should be to bring together the NC and the PDP. It's very difficult but not an impossible idea. I propose that let there be a government of reconciliation in Jammu and Kashmir.
I have many reasons in support of the idea. One, as we have seen that anger in the streets of Kashmir is also due to the fact that the government in Srinagar is a coalition government, comprising of the NC and the Congress. I think the Congress should leave the government as soon as possible. Right now, the people's anger is directed towards New Delhi and the coalition government in the state. Lots of anger will subside if the Congress is not in power in Srinagar. One of the excuses behind the people's anger will dissipate. Second, if Omar Abdullah is forced to resign or if he just quits in disgust then what's the alternate plan that we have? I think the government in New Delhi should try to help form the government with all mainstream parties in a coalition. If the Congress and the Centre want then a government of reconciliation is possible in the state.
Many people have argued that if Omar resigns then the Congress and the PDP could form the government. But, I would rather, keep the Congress out. I am repeating again that it will help New Delhi if the Congress gets out of power in the state. This will open the way for a substantial dialogue. Only a government of regional parties (comprising Kashmiris) can talk to New Delhi and establish the new process of dialogue even with the separatists.
See, the Kashmir story is not going to end with the end of Omar's rule or the formation of a new government. Ultimately, you have to reach out to Syed Ali Shah Geelani. He wants you to accept that Kashmir is a dispute. You are saying it's an issue.
Since, you are unable to start with Geelani saab you have to reach to other end of spectrum which are the mainstream political parties.
Here I am not saying that Omar Abdullah or Dr Farooq Abdullah would agree to idea of the joint government nor I am suggesting that Mufti saab and Mehbooba would agree. Both sides have so much hatred that it has become, almost a family feud. It's not easy but it can be done. My argument is that if Geelani saab is ready to talk to New Delhi and if we take on the table his five points then why can't we talk to Mufti saab and Farooq Abdullah? If they can sit under one roof in the all-party meet in New Delhi then why can't they sit together in Srinagar again?
For many months, I have been toying with this idea. In a crisis situation when alternatives are not enough, we have to look for creative options. As on today you can at most go for President's Rule. By doing that you are pushing back the democratic process in Kashmir. If Omar Abdullah is sacked then should Mehbooba be made the new chief minister? There are three parties in Kashmir namely the NC, the PDP and the Congress. The quicker the Congress leaves power, the better for Kashmir and for India. The mood in Kashmir is such that they should not worry about couple of Lok Sabha or assembly seats. It's a bigger question. To push forward the democratic process in Kashmir, a reconciliation government consisting of the NC and the PDP will help. That would build confidence of people in the system.
I also, know well that Omar and Mehbooba are not even willing to see each other but New Delhi has to do something. When am I saying is not an easy job? But, in the last week, did anyone think that Mehbooba would be sitting with leaders in New Delhi in the prime minister's residence? In the Kashmiri coalition whoever is the most acceptable, at this point of time, should become chief minister with the support of the NC and the PDP. If there is really a problem in keeping the PDP and the NC together then, I would say let one party form the government and other regional party support it from outside. The Congress should remain far away from it.
The paramount need of an hour is for engagement. See, Kashmir needs constant watch. Kashmir needs constant interaction. You cannot take Kashmir for granted. Six months ago everything was beautiful and look what happened.
When you disengage or stop caring, these things happen in Kashmir. I see a total disconnect between New Delhi and Srinagar. Let's have engagement. Let's have reconciliation so that the peace process can begin. After all, New Delhi wants peace in Kashmir so, start with reconciliation. And, to do that start with the mainstream regional political parties. Get them connected.
Facilitate them so that they can work together. In South Africa, there was a reconciliation commission. We need a government who will address the peoples' anger. It's possible that Congress leaders like Gulam Nabi Azad or Saifuddin Soz may not like the idea. But, I still think this process is the need of the hour. If you don't think boldly then the Kashmir issue will be politicised and the Congress may use the Bharatiya Janata Party to get rid of Omar Abdullah and so on and so forth. Then, some other party will use the moment to throw out someone else. Those who dismiss this idea should think about the death of 15 people two days back. Find out in which pockets the trouble started. For the first time in Kashmir, the Shias have got involved. It's not a small matter. There is politics behind the unfolding events. People are settling scores in Kashmir. The Jammat-e-Islami and Hizbul Mujahideen are also adding their bit.
The idea of a joint government is not a trial balloon; it has the potential of being a serious initiative. In the past, I have talked to many people about it including the main players. The reaction is not very good. Most people laughed it out but I stick to what I am saying. The point is this all-party meet is a good starting point.
Let the Congress withdraw, and, let two regional parties cobble out something together in best interest of Kashmir. If Mufti saab or Dr Farooq look at the narrow personal view, it won't help them. It's possible that on hearing any such proposal, Dr Farooq would say, 'this idea is rubbish. Why should we sit with them?' Some may argue that it is the PDP, which tried to discredit the NC while remaining behind the scenes, and now how can we talk to them? Mufti saab reaction may be stronger. He could say, 'why should we sit with the discredited party?' This is so because of their political thinking. But, if they can see the bigger picture of Kashmir they can help their people.
The people should see that New Delhi is stepping back a little so that these two parties can come forward. The NC and the PDP combine have the resources to reach out to all Kashmiris. If, they think out of the box then they can talk about their own future.
This could be the first step of a bigger strategy of total engagement of India with Kashmir.
As told to Sheela Bhatt.
A S Dulat is a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing and the country's foremost expert on Kashmir.