Justice S Saghir Ahmad’s recommendation of “autonomy to the extent possible” may be the format of the Indian solution to the vexed Kashmir issue and “Quiet Dialogue”, the strategy by getting moderate separatists on board and marginalizing hard liners as well as the United Jehad Council (UJC) based in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). This was apparent as the Fifth Working Group on Centre-State Relationship headed by Justice S Saghir Ahmad, former Chief Justice of J&K High Court and former Judge of the Supreme Court submitted its recommendations to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, this in turn were handed over the Prime Minister by Omar.
Dr Manmohan Singh had set up five working groups on confidence building in Jammu and Kashmir on May 25, 2006, after the end of the second multi-party round table conference in Srinagar. The first and third conferences were convened in New Delhi on February 25, 2006 and in Jammu on April 25, 2007.
The other four working groups — on Strengthening Relations Across LoC (Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan), Confidence Building Measures Across Segments of Society in the state, Economic Development of Jammu and Kashmir and Ensuring Good Governance — submitted their recommendations to the prime minister in the third round table conference in Jammu.
The Fifth group dealing with the highly sensitive issue of centre state relations was expected to take time for reconciliation. It last met on September 3, 2007 but failed to come up with recommendations. Now the recommendations call for, ‘Autonomy’ to the extent possible’, which would be the basis for an Indian solution to the long outstanding Kashmir issue. The key recommendations are as follows:
It is for the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to decide how long to continue Article 370 in its present form and when to make it permanent or abrogate. The matter being 60 years old, be settled once for all.
The question of ‘Autonomy’ and its demand can be examined in the light of the ‘Kashmir Accord’ or in some other manner or on the basis of some other formula as the Prime Minister may deem fit and appropriate so as to restore the ‘Autonomy’ to the extent possible. The question of appointment of the Governor and dismissal of the popular Government by the Governor may be considered and resolved.
M H Beg on behalf of PDP explained orally the concept of “Self Rule” but the ‘Self Rule’ as proposed by the PDP could not be considered in all its detail as the document containing various aspects of the ‘Self Rule’ were not provided to the Working Group. [Excerpts of recommendations are based on Greater Kashmir Report].
These being the main recommendations, they were instantly rejected by the opposition the BJP and the PDP, however to what extent this is political posturing remains to be seen. Given that the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress and the National Conference both favor autonomy “to the extent possible”, this is likely to be the Indian solution to the Kashmir problem in the days ahead and efforts are likely to be made to bring this plan to fruition.
The pointsman for consummation of this strategy is likely to be the redoubtable, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and the strategy that he has announced a few months ago, that of, “Quiet dialogue”, “to workout a solution of the problem.” “If everything goes as per the plan, the Home Minister would formally begin talks with various shades of the political opinion in Jammu and Kashmir by January 2010,” sources were reported by Greater Kashmir. Chidambaram’s quiet dialogue would involve talks with the pro-freedom groups, with National Conference and the PDP in the loop.
The major hurdles to the Quiet Dialogue were immediately evident with an assault on the pro talks senior Hurriyat Conference (M) leader, Fazal Haq Qureshi. The assault was ascribed to militant groups opposed to the talks which the Hurriyat Conference Moderates have alleged is being instigated by hard line faction leaders as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and their provocative statements. This is also evident from the statement of the chairman of United Jihad Council, Syed Salahuddin, who had rejected quiet talks. “Quiet talks are nothing but a farce. Separatist leaders should sit together and agree upon holding dialogue only to seek the right to self-determination. They need to follow the 1993 constitution of Hurriyat and then move ahead,” said Salahuddin, who is also the supreme commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. There is thus disquiet in the groups supporting Pakistani goals on Kashmir and their interventions are happening through violent attacks as on Mr Qureshi. There would be more to come unless the Hurriyat and the government do not go for an increase in security of all the pro talks leaders.
The UJC plays the role generally of the spoiler by calibrating separatists on holding parleys with the Indian government. The groups influence in Kashmir is limited and the linkages are deep only in the separatist lobby as based on the dictates of the UJC the separatist moderates had boycotted elections in Kashmir in Nov Dec 2008 after having initially asked the people to participate in the same.
However there are hopes that quiet dialogue as proposed by Mr P Chidambaram may bear fruit as the Hurriyat Moderates despite attack on one of its key leaders has supported dialogue. While there is turmoil in Pakistan and it is not expected that the leadership would be in any position to come to terms with a vexatious issue as Kashmir at present, there is also hope that internal hammering out of an agreement would be possible in India if the Hurriyat Moderates continue to play ball and are drawn into a political settlement. Then the next step would be acceptance of the same by the Pakistani Establishment as a fait accomplii, if the Kashmiri separatists strongly support an agreement of compromise then it would be difficult for the Pakistani authorities to reject the same out rightly, thus internal opinion building approach adopted by the government appears to be the right one provided the same is supported by the Hurriyat Moderates.