Originally Published 2004-01-21 09:16:08 Published on Jan 21, 2004
Days before the historic talks between the separatist amalgam, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference under the leadership of Maulana Ansari, and the Government of India, there is widespread speculation as to the outcome of the same. After all this is the first time
Centre and Hurriyat dialogue: Why now
Days before the historic talks between the separatist amalgam, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference under the leadership of Maulana Ansari, and the Government of India, there is widespread speculation as to the outcome of the same. After all this is the first time that the Government of India has formally invited the APHC leaders for talks on Kashmir, a demand the latter has been making for a long time. So why agree to meet the APHC now, especially at a juncture when the status of talks with Pakistan on Kashmir, looks increasingly promising and therefore a more viable option? The nature and outcome of the talks can thus be predicted with almost a degree of certainty and here are the reasons why.

The primary reason to hold talks with APHC representatives is governed by the fact that in the past year or so the Government's policy towards Kashmir has been dictated by its presence in the valley. There has been a concerted effort to showcase a different, more-friendly image, of the Union Government. The holding of the Inter State Chief Ministers Conference in Srinagar etc can be seen within the larger framework of promoting a more inclusive image of India per se; an image which includes Kashmir and Kashmiris in it. Thus the decision to engage the All Parties Hurriyat Conference for talks on Kashmir is not only unprecedented but also in line with their broader vision of promoting the Government's presence, through alliances with mass based groups in the valley itself.

But why does the Government feel the urge to hold talks with the Hurriyat at this stage? There are two sides to the same issue which speak primarily of the compulsions facing the Government and the Hurriyat, rather than their collective desire to achieve a breakthrough. Their compulsions should be seen separately and then jointly to get a clear understanding of the reasons behind the talks.

For the Government of India emerging successfully from the talks with the Hurriyat would do more for the image for the BJP led NDA government in the upcoming general elections than anything else because of two reasons. For one successful talks with the Hurriyat would not result in a resolution on Kashmir but a possible resolution once the electoral process of 2004 is completed, could be proposed. This factor in itself would underscore the Government's re election bid, for in order to achieve the breakthrough the BJP led NDA government would have to be reelected. In the same vein, as an electoral topic the holding of successful talks with the Hurriyat may well reflect the secular character of the Government as well. This is so because the talks would primarily showcase the sincerity of the Government's efforts in resolving the Kashmir issue through successful engagement of the Hurriyat and Pakistan. Further, initiating a dialogue with the Hurriyat leadership is necessary as they are decidedly seen as being more moderate in their approach vis-à-vis the breakaway Geelani faction and therefore more open-minded.

Then there is the Hurriyat side of the coin. The APHC under Maulana Ansari's leadership would want to appear reasonable yet principled in its stand on holding talks with the Government. As far as the latter case is concerned the Hurriyat's principled position may be derived on the basis of three reasons. Firstly and primarily it may well arise from the acknowledgement of the fact that the Government would be faced with electoral compulsions to call the first such public dialogue with the separatist amalgam 'a success'. Armed with this knowledge they may want to come to the talks with demands that are extreme from the Government's point of view. After all any concessions that may be derived from the Government can be procured now. The success however would be in getting the Government of India to recognize the demands. Secondly, the APHC representatives would not want to appear as if they have sold out the interests of the Kashmiri people in New Delhi. Thirdly the representatives would also not want to appear ideologically weak towards the cause they propound, especially in light of the death threats that militant organisations have made towards them for having agreed to hold the talks.

Seen together there are compulsions on both sides to emerge successfully from the talks. There would be efforts, from both sides to find a common ground between them for a few reasons. For the Government it would be the desire to appear flexible and accommodating on the Kashmir front primarily so because they can push the claim through that they would be able to reach a consensus on the same if reelected. For the APHC on the other hand it would make sense to appear flexible yet hardline in their approach for two reasons. It is after all the first time the Government has heeded to their demands and agreed to hold a dialogue with representatives of the faction. As much as this meeting represents hope for the people of Kashmir it also represents the first time a component of the trilateral meet, desired by the APHC, would be realized. It would appear highly unlikely that the APHC, after having traversed this long road demanding talks, would want to return to status quo due to their failure to see eye to eye with the Government. Flexibility would thus mark their approach so that the continuity of talks is ensured.

After having observed the compulsions weighing on either side for entering into talks, it remains wise to hold off on expecting a breakthrough. Rather, what can be expected is a feel good factor emerging from the talks that would hopefully continue after the elections.
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