The Indian government has announced it will commence talks in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir with all parties, including separatists who are calling for independence or a merger with Pakistan.
The move was seen as particularly significant coming from a government led by a staunch Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi, who has previously taken a tough line on the 30-year-old conflict in India’s only Muslim-majority state.
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The home minister, Rajnath Singh, announced on Monday that a former chief of the intelligence bureau, Dineshwar Sharma, would lead “a sustained interaction and dialogue to understand legitimate aspirations of people in Jammu and Kashmir”.
Singh told a press conference in Delhi that Sharma, who led the Indian intelligence agency for two years from 2014, had a mandate to speak with whoever he wanted, indicating that even separatist leaders would be consulted.
The Modi government had so far refused to include separatists in any dialogue, insisting it would talk only to those who recognised the entirety of Kashmir, including sections controlled by Pakistan and China, as part of India.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party, whose vision casts India as an inherently Hindu nation, has long campaigned for the special autonomous status granted to Jammu and Kashmir to be revoked.
The BJP’s ascendency in Delhi as well as renewed unrest in Kashmir in the past 18 months had been thought to make meaningful dialogue a remote prospect in the near future.
For decades, separatists have been calling for a referendum – ordered by the UN in 1949 but never implemented – to decide whether Kashmir remains part of India, joins Pakistan or becomes independent. An armed insurgency with similar goals, sponsored by Pakistan, has raged since 1989.
AS Dulat, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, an Indian security agency, said the announcement of talks was an accession to political reality in the troubled region, but one the government had spent months foreshadowing.
“The prime minister made an announcement from the Red Fort on independence day that the government needed to engage with Kashmiris,” he said. “So I think [Monday’s announcement] is in consonance with their approach.”
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Members of a key separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, have become increasingly open to dialogue in their statements in recent months, hinting at the possible announcement of talks.
Omar Adullah, a former chief minister of the state, welcomed the lack of preconditions and said the announcement of talks was a “resounding defeat of those who could only see use of force as a solution”.
Any progress towards peace could be complicated by fissures inside the separatist movement, including between an older generation of leaders who favour dialogue and a small but influential crop of younger fighters with links to jihadi groups such as al-Qaida.
Pakistan would also need to be included in longer-term negotiations over the future of the region.
Additional reporting by Azhar Farooq in Srinagar.
Online Source The Guardian