Originally Published 2003-10-23 06:48:13 Published on Oct 23, 2003
The Cabinet Committee on Security¿s decision to have Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani as the new person to be heading the talks with separatist outfits raises several questions. What had prompted the Government to finally involve a separatist outfit at the level of talks that the latter have been demanding for so long? And then what would be the status of talk¿s vis-à-vis Pakistan especially after this peace initiative?
Kashmir: New Hope?
The Cabinet Committee on Security's decision to have Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani as the new person to be heading the talks with separatist outfits raises several questions. What had prompted the Government to finally involve a separatist outfit at the level of talks that the latter have been demanding for so long? And then what would be the status of talk's vis-à-vis Pakistan especially after this peace initiative? This is an attempt to find out where this latest peace overture would leave us?

If one were to see the peace initiatives, against the backdrop of previous efforts by the Indian Government, then a distinct change between the past and current policies can be discerned. With previous policies Pakistan had been a factor as regards Kashmir. Initiatives were launched wherein it was imperative to involve Pakistan through dialogue irrespective of the fact that the initiative may not have eventually succeeded at all. The true essence of bilateralism, if not exploited, was explored in the past initiatives. But there is a perceptible fork on the road to Kashmir which symbolically has come to represent India's changing strategy on Kashmir. On the one hand direct talks between separatist outfits between separatist outfits in Srinagar and New Delhi could prove to be a more successful approach as the issue of Kashmir is now going to be discussed with people from Kashmir. The latest impetus to the peace moves can be placed within this category.

The second component, in this figurative fork in the road, is that of ties between India and Pakistan. On the face of it a new impetus is being provided to peace in the region through normalization talks and peace proposals etc. But this is also being brought about by literally discussing, with Pakistan, everything under the sun except Kashmir. The twelve points, introduced by the Prime Minister, represent the latest proposals within this second component. The points themselves can be divided into economic, strategic and diplomatic factors which if accepted can be potentially advantageous for India. Thus while the ostensible reason is to promote people to people contact, so as to restore normalcy, the undertones of the proposed points cannot be missed. For instance economically India will have a lot going for it if the air links and over flights are reestablished. Similarly strategically and diplomatically also India would be better placed if a degree of accountability can be established with the Pakistani forces across the border especially through coast guard contacts.

The last aspect at this junction involves fairly long term approaches but options which are inherently achievable. India's border talks with China can be placed within this reasoning and could imply in the long term, an attempt at resolving the issue of the 5000 sq km Aksai Chin territory that Pakistan ceded to China in March 1963. Thus the overall emphasis bluntly put is to continue with bilateral talks, regarding Kashmir, with actors other than Pakistan while simultaneously keeping Pakistan engaged on all matters except Kashmir. That the Pakistanis are not happy with the offer made also comes across through the official statement from the foreign office who expressed disappointment at India's desire to discuss everything but the core issue of Kashmir.

The decision to have Deputy Prime Minister Shri Lal Krishna Advani directly interfacing with the Hurriyat Conference leaders is a decision that is loaded with implications. While it is highly unlikely that the Deputy Prime Minister is going to be involved in the absolutes of the discussions to be held, his presence will nonetheless remain symbolic at the least. For one it will be symbolic of New Delhi's desire to continue engaging with all players in Kashmir while simultaneously also encouraging the separatists to come to the negotiating table by offering them the possibility of engaging with the Government at the highest possible level. Secondly Advani's appointment is also important because greater maneuverability in decision making can be expected from him, something which the State's previous interlocutors had not been able to achieve. Also were it to be so that Advani was not to succeed in his talks with the Hurriyat leaders, a higher court of appeal in Prime Minister Vajpayee still remained open as a foreseeable option. Lastly ideologically speaking any hard line approach, that the Hurriyat may come to adopt, can only be successfully cornered by L K Advani.

On the Hurriyat front the talks can be seen as an acknowledgement of their long stated demands of talks at the highest level but probably not of their desire to be acknowledged as the head of a de-facto nation. That the All Party Hurriyat Conference has recently broken into two factions headed by hardliner Geelani on the one hand and the moderate Maulvi Ansari on the other hand is also an important factor for the Government. The offer for talks can be seen as a recognition of the Ansari led Hurriyat faction which the Center has come to acknowledge as the Hurriyat that represents the 'voice' of the Kashmiri people, in contrast to the Geelani faction, which has been recognised for pretty much the same purpose by Pakistan. The offer has been made to the Hurriyat council per se but in what form will the Hurriyat council come to be represented only the events of the coming few days will show. If the Geelani faction does come on board and the talks fail the blame would not fall on the Government for in all respects they have attempted to engage the outfit. If the Geelani faction does not come on board then also the Government emerges on top as the offer had been made to the body of Hurriyat as such; Hurriyat without any specifications. Also they would have managed to disengage Geelani from all future talks effortlessly.

On the State government front the Center has clearly established the dominant power role that it plays vis-à-vis the State on Kashmir. Politically also this is an important issue as the BJP led Center has overshadowed the Congress-PDP led State government through its peace initiatives and contrary to their healing touch policy.

Lastly this peace proposal will reinforce not only within the state of Jammu and Kashmir but also internationally India's stated position of wanting to resolve the Kashmir issue, as it were, through engagement and dialogue.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.