Indian Government’s New Special Representative Visits Kashmir

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
171107-IN-Kashmir-1000 Kashmiri villagers carry the body of local rebel Waseem Ahmad during his funeral procession in Drubgam, 48 km (30 miles) south of Srinagar, in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Nov. 7, 2017.

Updated at 3:13 p.m. ET on 2017-11-07

A special representative of India’s government kicked off week-long talks on Tuesday aimed at boosting prospects for ending a decades-old separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir.

Dineshwar Sharma met with dozens of political and social activists in Srinagar to get a lowdown on issues plaguing the violence-ravaged Himalayan region, officials said. But the central government-appointed interlocutor failed to break the ice with separatists who have refused to engage in a dialogue until New Delhi recognizes what they say is the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.

“The government security forces must first stop unleashing terror here and accept that Kashmir is a disputed territory. Only then can we think of beginning a dialogue,” separatist leader Mohammad Yasin, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), told BenarNews.

Sharma is a former national intelligence chief who was stationed in Indian-administered Kashmir during the insurgency’s peak in the early 1990s. He is the first interlocutor sent there by the country’s Hindu nationalist-government since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power three years ago.

Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, Kashmir has grappled with a separatist insurgency that has claimed upward of 70,000 lives – most of them civilians – since the late 1980s.

On Monday, Indian security forces said they gunned down three suspected members of the Pakistan-based militant outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) during an encounter in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

One of those killed was the nephew of JeM chief Masood Azhar, who is based in Pakistan, police said, adding that the outfit had “already accepted [that] the slain were JeM cadres.”

“We will request Pakistan, through proper channels, to accept the bodies of the slain JeM operatives,” Muneer Khan, the Police Inspector-General for Jammu and Kashmir state, told reporters on Tuesday.

‘Open to talking to everybody’

Sharma, who was appointed as an interlocutor in Kashmir by the BJP government two weeks ago, is expected to meet a host of mainstream political leaders, including from opposition parties and student bodies, during his six-day Kashmir visit that began Monday.

Separatist leaders voiced skepticism about the intention behind Sharma’s visit.

“His appointment is an attempt by the Indian government to divert the international community’s attention from rampant rights abused committed by its forces in Kashmir. A meaningful dialogue is only possible if India accepts the aspirations of the Kashmiris – the right to self-determination,” Yasin said.

Sharma said his visit to Kashmir was a “new effort” that, he hoped, would help bring “peace and prosperity” to the region.

“I want to understand the pain and suffering of Kashmiris. I know it is not a problem that can be solved overnight or in just one visit. [But] it is step one toward bringing peace in the state,” he told the Indo-Asian News Service before he left for Kashmir, known on the Indian side as Jammu and Kashmir.

“I am open to talking to everybody. Anybody who believes in peace and wants to come and give me some ideas how to go about, I am willing to listen,” Sharma said.

Activists who met with Sharma on Tuesday said the interlocutor seemed confident of resolving some burning issues.

“Several Kashmiri youths are languishing in prison for allegedly [throwing] stones at security forces during anti-India protests. I urged him [Sharma] to seriously take up this issue with the government. I also brought up the issue of growing unemployment that was driving Kashmiri youth toward drugs and violence,” social activist Naseer Ahmad told BenarNews.

“Sharma lent a patient ear and assured us that his priority was to resolve issues concerning the region’s youth,” Ahmad said.

But the leader of the region’s largest opposition party said it had “little or no expectations” from Sharma’s visit.

“Nothing positive has come out when government-appointed interlocutors visited Kashmir in the past. He will come, talk with people and go back. But nothing [positive] will emerge,” said former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who is the president of the National Conference.

An earlier version incorrectly referred to the meetings involving Delhi's new special representative in Kashmir as peace talks.


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