This Article is From Sep 26, 2017

Mani Shankar Aiyar On Ram Madhav's Offer Of Dialogue To Kashmir

By sheer coincidence, I happened to arrive in Srinagar on a private visit on the very day, September 22, when Ram Madhav was quoted by Ashiq Hussain, the Srinagar correspondent of The Hindustan Times, as having said in the J&K capital, "We are open to dialogue".

I was delighted to be on the spot - present at the creation, as it were - since that is exactly what all men and women of goodwill have been urging the Modi establishment to do ever since the BJP-PDP state government, on the eve of its establishment, had promised to do so through the Agenda for Alliance (AoA) they had jointly crafted - the nikahnama, if you like, to enable this weird marriage of opposites to take place. The need for the immediate launch of such "dialogue" had become imperative with the complete breakdown in the state evident since the summer of 2016 that had spilled over into the summer of 2017. Ram Madhav's further clarification that the "door was open for all the stakeholders of the state" was, therefore, doubly welcome. He added, "We are ready to talk to everybody whosoever wants to have a dialogue without preconditions".

My first local interlocutor was a young Kashmiri journalist. I asked him what he thought of Madhav's open invitation. His surprising reply was, "Talking without preconditions is itself a condition". Over the next couple of days, I educated myself on Kashmiri reactions through detailed conversations with a score of Kashmiris, many of whom were first-time acquaintances introduced to me at the wedding I had gone to attend, and several others who were veterans ranging from active politicians to retired senior civil servants to two top "separatist" leaders of the Hurriyat, and a brace of concerned, well-informed presspersons. Their reactions ranged from the muted to the frankly skeptical. None was persuaded that this was a "serious" initiative.

The first question that arose was "Who is Ram Madhav?" That he was a party hack, not a government minister, gave rise to the speculation that he was only floating a speculative balloon, not placing before them a seriously thought-out government proposal. Why, they asked, had Home Minister Rajnath Singh not made such a proposal the centre-piece of his theatrical performance in Srinagar only a few days earlier? When I tried to explain that Madhav was not just any party hack but a man with close links to the RSS who had been deliberately designated Modi's point-man for J&K, the cynicism went deeper: if the government wants to talk, let the government say so. Talking to Ram Madhav is tantamount to a Track-II exercise.

Second, they wanted to know whether the statement represented government thinking or was merely a reaction to the joint statement issued the previous week by three Hurriyat leaders - Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik - that they, for their part, had "never been opposed to a sincere, meaningful and result-oriented dialogue" to fulfill "the will and aspirations of the people of Kashmir".

Third, they pointed out, that as the initial Hurriyat statement had referred to dialogue among "the three parties to the Kashmir dispute" - namely, India, Kashmir and Pakistan - what, if any, would be the Pakistan angle to the proposed dialogue?

Fourth, they thought any substantial reaction could be expected only when a formal letter of invitation was issued, spelling out the details of when, where, how, why and with whom.

This was because only a formal letter of invitation, if ever issued, would clarify the parameters of the proposed dialogue. Thus, such a formal invitation would indicate: who are the "stakeholders" being invited; what are the rules that will govern the entry into the dialogue at a later stage of those who might initially be reluctant to come on board the items on the agenda; will the agenda take as its starting point former Home Minister P Chidambaram's suggestion that all developments since the October 26, 1947 signing of the Instrument of Accession be put on the table for negotiation; will the 2001 unanimous resolution of the J&K assembly on "autonomy" be the point of departure of the dialogue; which of the recommendations of the Rangarajan committee, the six working groups it spawned, the interlocutors' report, the reports of the many all-party parliamentary delegations that have visited the Valley, be submitted for dialogue; will Musharraf's so-called "four-point formula" be considered germane to the dialogue; what is the order of priority in which these items are proposed to be taken up; will they all be discussed in plenary or remitted to separate committees; will the dialogue proceed "step-by-step" or will all accords on specific matters be "provisional" until the conclusion of the agreement as a whole on all issues; will the dialogue be "institutionalized" with designated interlocutors of each of the parties to the negotiations and serviced by a neutral secretariat; will the designated interlocutors be immune from arrest and detention while the dialogue is on;  will street demonstrations be allowed or banned, or ended with pellet guns and mass arrests while the talks are in progress; where is the dialogue proposed to be held; what would be the periodicity of the dialogue - daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly; will the dialogue continue indefinitely till mutually accepted outcomes are secured; alternatively, does each party to the dialogue retain the right to walk out at any time, or does the decision to terminate the dialogue rest with the government alone; what procedures will govern any attempt by government or parties to the dialogue to terminate the dialogue, abruptly or otherwise; what steps will be taken to ensure that the agreed outcomes will actually be implemented within the agreed time-frame; and what measures will be put in place to monitor the pace and sincerity of implementation?

Also, will a parallel dialogue be commenced with Pakistan in recognition of the symbiotic relationship between the New Delhi-Islamabad and New Delhi-Srinagar processes to keep under control tensions within the Valley and minimize cross-border interference in the dialogue process? And will the dialogue conclusions be confined to Kashmir or apply equally to all regions of the old Riyasat? In other words, would there be differentiated outcomes for Jammu and Ladakh? Moreover, how would the dialogue consensus apply to regions under Pakistani occupation/control? A further key question: will the dialogue include Kashmiri Pandits and if so, how will the interlocutors on their behalf be chosen?

These are merely indicative questions. Awareness of these issues has to be expressed in the formal letter of invitation. Ideally, before plunging into substantive negotiations, there should first be several rounds of "talks about talks" to settle the agreed parameters of the dialogue. Such "talks about talks" should not involve summiteers; they should be conducted by lower-level "sherpas" with little publicity and as much secrecy as possible, but with the "sherpas" holding the plenipotentiary powers to come to conclusions on these procedural matters. Only thereafter should the talks be moved to the higher level to take on substantive issues, so that procedural matters do not derail discussion on matters of real import. It is only if this is done that the most essential pre-requisite for successful dialogue - ownership of the dialogue process on the part of all participants - would be established.

Merely playing to the gallery with loud proclamations to the media - or, worse, jumlas, alliterations (goli, gali, gala), and acronyms (Modi's stock-in-trade) are not enough. The state and central governments together must first establish the credibility of their sudden turn-around. Only then will their offer of dialogue sound sincere and inviting.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)

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