The Right To Know Vohra's Brief
22 February 2003
The Indian Express
Romeet K. Watt
New Delhi: New Delhi has appointed the long-awaited interlocutor to commence talks with the elected representatives of J&K and the separatist bandwagon, including the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). N.N. Vohra, former home secretary, is the Centre's choice. The other names that were doing the rounds were that of K.C. Pant, former negotiator; A.S. Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW); Wajahat Habibullah and Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley. There was also speculation that New Delhi might appoint two different interlocutors: one for initiating talks with elected representatives, the other to talk to separatists. Arun Jaitley was tipped to be appointed as chief negotiator for talks with the elected representatives given his expertise in legal and constitutional matters. But some senior BJP leaders disparaged the idea of the BJP directly involving itself in the peace process, which could, given its complexity, put it in a spot vis a vis other sangh parivar outfits, especially the VHP. In fact, the BJP was not very keen on initiating the peace process at this juncture and wanted more time to put pressure on the separatist bandwagon to further weaken its position before holding talks. But, given that the promise of holding a dialogue was made by the prime minister himself, the BJP had very little choice but to give in to Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed's insistence to start the peace process. A seasoned bureaucrat, Vohra has served as principal secretary to the then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and in his capacity as defence secretary headed a committee that investigated the politician-criminal nexus in 1995. He has dealt with the Kashmir problem as home secretary and is not new to the convolutions of the issue. His other high-profile assignment was the chairmanship of the committee on internal security that was set up as a follow-up of the Subramaniyam Committee report on the conditions that led to the Kargil war. He has also been a firm advocate of 'stringent laws to meet the challenge posed by rising militancy.' Speaking at a seminar in January 2000, he argued that TADA had failed to effectively address the situation and those who talk of human rights should acknowledge the ground reality in J&K where terrorists have killed thousands 'and our existing legal system has failed to combat terrorism...' The focus must now shift to what in diplomatic parlance is called 'the terms of reference' for the proposed talks which would be set by New Delhi, or more specifically North Block. One of the reasons K.C. Pant was unable to break the ice with the separatists was because his 'brief' was a 'limited' one, denying him enough leeway perhaps to take the initiative to a logical conclusion. The APHC has been predictably guarded in its opinion on the development. However, it is reliably learnt that the APHC has agreed in principle to commence negotiations with the new interlocutor. The initial official reaction of the grouping that is available with the writer said that the amalgam hoped that a dialogue process would be set in motion to find a 'permanent and lasting solution' to the issue as per the wishes of the people of the state. This is in line with the official stand of the party, except that there is no involvement of Islamabad in the whole process here - a definite climb-down on part of the APHC. It is pertinent to point out that the Pakistan Chapter of the APHC has termed the appointment of a fresh negotiator by New Delhi a futile exercise, and has again parroted the old refrain: that any fruitful negotiations on Kashmir would require the involvement of all three parties - New Delhi, Islamabad, and the people of Kashmir. Previous peace initiatives in Kashmir have not yielded the desired results, which makes one view the fresh initiative with scepticism. What happened to the earlier interlocutors? Did they achieve any success at all in untangling the issue? Why hasn't the government made public the outcome of these past initiatives? The people of India deserve to know the 'terms of reference' for the proposed talks. Is North Block listening?