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Talk about the talks: But where is the offer?

It has been two weeks now since the Union home minister Rajnath Singh said on a TV show that the government of India was not averse to talking to the separatist leadership of Kashmir in order to bring peace to the Kashmir valley. But during the last fortnight there has been no concrete offer to convince the wary leadership of the separatist movement that New Delhi was well-meaning and sincere in its initiative to begin a serious round of discussion this time round on the Kashmir issue.

“Just making statements in the media and expecting the other parties to respond doesn’t make any sense. There has been no clarity on their (the government of India) part about what they want to talk about,” said a senior Hurriyat leader. The leader referred to the recent statement of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) in which Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik had asked the government of India to come clean on the talks offer.

 While JRL demanded more clarity on the nature of discussions that New Delhi was hinting at, it at the same time didn’t completely reject what many interpreted as an offer of talks. To be sure, the JRL said they were ready to join the process if New Delhi “talks clearly what it wants to talk about” and “speaks in one language”. The leader who didn’t want to be named said:  “The onus lies on them (New Delhi) to make things explicit.”Kashmir interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma, who is believed to have played a key role in some of the Kashmir-centric decision taken by the government of India ever since his appointment last year said, refused to comment on the dialogue offer. “Nothing on this,” he said and hung up. The state government spokespersons Naeem Akhter gave it a more positive spin, saying the media was “accepted mode” (of communication). “It (the statements in the media) is a standing invitation, the home minister talked about it and the chief minister talked about it,” Akhter said.

He feels there are “interlocutors available” who can work out the details; he didn’t name them. “The stand is clear that we are open for talks without any condition. You enter into a negotiation with your own stated position and you don’t give up the position. If you (separatists) don’t want to do that you can’t expect government to do so,” said Akhter.

Another separatist leader feels that Pakistan must be part of any discussion on Kashmir, making it clear that unless it was roped in, there was no hope for such talks.  “We don’t know their (New Delhi) agenda as of now. What we would like to see is that all principal parties are involved in any process aimed at the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The stakeholders to this dispute are defined and that is important. When the talks happened last time these stakeholders talked to each other,” the separatist said, referring to the talks between the separatist and the government of India in 2003 and 2005.

In January 2004, when the BJP-led NDA was in power, Hurriyat leaders, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Bilal Gani Lone, Abdul Gani Bhat, Moulana Abas Ansari and Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi, for the first time, met the then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in New Delhi for official talks. That time Hurriyat leaders also met the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

When the Congress-led UPA took over, the Hurriyat leaders held another round of talks with the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Later on September 16, 2005 Mirwaiz met Musharraf in New York and briefed him about his talks with Singh.

“Last time when talks happened there was an understanding that all parties involved in the dispute will be talking to each other. …that is why Vajpayee used the term Kashmir can be resolved within the ambit of humanity and not within the ambit of constitution. That paved the way for talks. Today they are speaking in different tones. If people say Kashmir and Kashmiri people are our then what is there to talk about,” said the separatist leader.

Political analyst Happymon Jacob wasn’t much hopeful for the talks to move forward, saying the BJP was talking in different languages. “The BJP is talking in different languages as far as the dialogue offer goes. Yesterday one of their spokesperson said the talks offer wasn’t for separatists. By their definition separatists are anti-nationals. So whom will they talk to if not separatists?” asked Jacob who teaches at JNU in New Delhi.

Going by the contradicting statements of BJP leaders, Jacob said the party doesn’t seem to have made its mind to spell modalities for talks and what it wants to achieve through them. So, he said the Hurriyat was right when it says there was no clarity.

“Also, the ceasefire, both at the external and internal levels seems to be breaking down, particularly at the external level given what is happening on borders. So in such a scenario will the center go for talks with Pakistan and if not will talks at internal level materialize. I don’t think so,” said Jacob. “The atmosphere doesn’t seem to be right for the talks.”

Amid this “lack of clarity” about the talks offer all eyes would be now on Rajnath Singh’s scheduled visit to Kashmir on Eid.

In the power corridors of New Delhi Singh is described as a minister who has been pushing for some kind of breakthrough on Kashmir ever since the BJP-led NDA government came to power. The state government has also pinned hopes on Singh seen as one among few politicians in BJP, for pleading their case for dialogue at both external and internal levels.

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