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Seeking peace in troubled land

How do you solve a problem like Kashmir? Even though there has been relatively less violence in the Valley of late as compared to a few weeks ago, tensions simmer and a solution to the vexed issue is nowhere in sight. Close on the heels of an all-party delegation that visited the Valley from New Delhi comes another initiative from the center. Three interlocutors have been named to open a fresh dialogue between all stakeholders in the Kashmir debate. The home ministry this week named senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, information commissioner M M Ansari, and academician Radha Kumar as mediators. The move has generated much heated debate and provoked extreme reactions from the Valley and opposition parties.

The PTI reported on October 14 that PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had said that "The atmosphere of hope generated by the recent All-Party Meeting in New Delhi and the visit of All-Party delegation has been dampened by choice of interlocutors announced (by the Centre) yesterday. " The BBC quoted Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on October 13 in its report : "By appointing academicians and journalists to the committee, the Indian government has sought to make light of the Kashmir problem. It is yet another joke played with the people of Kashmir. "

Amy Kazmin of The Financial Times wrote on October 13 that "New Delhi has appointed a mediation team to ease tensions in its restive Muslim-majority Kashmir province, after a summer of anti-India street protests in which at least 110 civilians were killed by Indian security forces... P. Chidambaram, the home affairs minister, called the team "people with a good track record" in public discourse. "They are not politicians but all of them have been in public life, " Mr Chidambaram said. "We think they are very credible people. ""

A Hindustan Times editorial on October 14 commented : "If there is one thing that everyone across the political spectrum agrees upon, it is that the intractable Kashmir problem needs a political solution. In this context, the government may have lost the first-mover advantage in its announcement of three apolitical interlocutors. "

Meanwhile, a Mint opinion piece on October 13 defended the committee, saying, "Their task is a difficult one. For one, any political initiative by the Union government is always viewed with suspicion in Kashmir. Then, there is the problem of political voices in that state - irrespective of their party or ideological affiliation - adopting maximalist positions. This always boils down to one point: azaadi or merger with Pakistan. This is a structural impediment, for the government cannot alter the constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K ) without risking a political firestorm. One factor that stands in the interlocutors' favour is that they do not belong to one of the three classes of individuals favoured for such tasks by governments: retired civil servants, policemen and intelligence officials. They occupy a different space. "

In her report for The Wall Street Journal on October 13, Vibhuti Agarwal wrote, "The decision to appoint a group of mediators was one of the main points in the government's eight-point agenda announced last month to bring peace in the strife-torn Kashmir valley. "Such an apolitical group will be able to reach out to all religious and regional groups in the state, " Maulana Syed Athar Dehlavi, representative of a Muslim body in New Delhi said Wednesday. "Their fair assessment would help the Indian government to resolve the Kashmir crisis. " Harinder Singh at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi called the appointment of the interlocutors an "encouraging step. " He added: "Whether this can address the fundamental issues underlying the unrest remains uncertain. ""

The Pioneer slammed the center and the interlocutors in its edit on October 14, by saying, "Usual suspects named as 'interlocutors' !" It went on to say that "The choice of 'interlocutors' for dialogue with various sections of people representing "all shades of opinion", including the separatists, in Jammu & Kashmir as part of New Delhi's concerted eightpoint initiative to restore peace in the State raises a big question mark on both intent and purpose of the Union Government, more so the Prime Minister who undoubtedly had a decisive say in the selection of these 'eminent' persons for this onerous task. "

Reflecting on the current crisis, Jawayria Malik argued thus in The Pakistan Observer on October 14: "With the recent surge in crisis in Kashmir, Nehru's passion for bringing Kashmir within the fold of India seems to be on its last legs. . . The valley of Jammu and Kashmir has been under repression for the last 63 years but the murderous and communally-charged violence, which tore apart the valley this summer, had never occurred. "

The debate is bound to continue as both the centre and J&K government grapple with the problem. Looking ahead, Balraj Puri wrote in the The Times of India that "Whatever final solution Kashmiris, including separatists, may aspire for, it would be viable if the urges and needs of all the state's diverse regions are reconciled. Sheikh Abdullah realised as much when he was leading a secessionist movement, the Plebiscite Front, in 1968. "

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