Dineshwar Sharma set to begin Kashmir peace talks

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New Delhi: Disregarding a snub from separatists, Dineshwar Sharma, the centre’s interlocutor in Jammu and Kashmir, is set to proceed to the state to begin talks to explore a peaceful resolution in the insurgency-racked valley.

Ahead of his departure, the Hurriyat Conference in a joint statement by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, rejected overtures for a dialogue with Sharma.

“I will be going to Kashmir soon. But we have not ruled out the possibility of talks with any of the parties. It is still too premature to comment on what the dialogue process will hold,” Sharma told Mint.

The appointment of Sharma, a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief, is a signal from the Union government of its willingness to push for a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue.

In an interview to The Hindu published on 1 November, Sharma said as much. “Whether it’s a Naxal-affected area or the insurgency-hit North-East, we have seen that the action of security forces has limitations. They are there to counter the actions of terrorists or armed groups. Permanent solution and peace can only be brought about by dialogue,” he said.

Analysts believe that if indeed Sharma is able to engage most stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir in an extended dialogue, then the separatists risk being sidelined with their hardline stance.

“The government needs to prepare a solid base with the people through consistent dialogue and action to ease the popular discontent among the people. The Hurriyat are pro-Pakistan and reject everything done by the centre. But once this base is established by Sharma, the separatists will be sidelined. At the moment, they have a tight grip over the masses,” said Gaurav Arya, a former Indian Army officer and defence expert.

With interlocutors in the past —K.C. Pant in 2002, N.N. Vohra in 2003 and a panel of three in 2010—having proved ineffective, Sharma stated that it was unrealistic to expect an overnight change in the situation.

According to the Union home ministry’s statistics, while 2017 (till 30 September) recorded 564 cases of stone-pelting, 2016 recorded 1,742 such incidents.

With Kashmir having turned into a tinderbox towards the end of Sharma’s term as the IB chief in 2016, he said that the strategy of eventually bringing peace to the valley would have to be explored carefully.

“The government has trusted me with an important assignment. We will chalk out an effective strategy after we visit Kashmir, but it is not right to expect a change to come in overnight because Kashmir has to be handled sensitively. We will do things the right way,” Sharma added.

Last week, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti met Union home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi. Sharma too met Mufti, but declined to share details.