J&K Interlocutors Queer The Pitch For Peace21 April 2011
Times of India
Srinagar: On Wednesday, Hurriyat ex-chairman Maulana Abbas Ansari was expelled from the amalgam after the Central team of interlocutors in Kashmir told reporters that they held talks with him. This wasn't the first time such a thing the Central team talking to the media and queering the pitch had happened. In fact, last year, when one of the interlocutors said the team was in touch with militants, Union home minister P Chidambaram docked them: 'The three shouldn't give ball-by-ball commentary. This is not a cricket match.' It was hoped Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M M Ansari were chastised. But were they? Since October 2010 when they were appointed, the Central team has scored many self-goals. Tasked with a roadmap for the settlement of the Kashmir problem, the team got off to a controversial start when Dileep Padgaonkar called Kashmir a 'dispute', going against the grain of Central policy of treating it as an 'issue'. Barely had the dust settled when Radha Kumar said that the Indian constitution could be further amended to solve the Kashmir tangle. This was seen by many as contradicting the Central tenet: any solution to Kashmir had to be 'within the bounds of the Indian Constitution'. In November came the statement that the team was in touch with militant groups in the Valley, which was ridiculed by the separatists and chided by Chidambaram. The interlocutors have also faced barely disguised contempt of both factions of the Hurriyat, with Syed Ali Shah Geelani calling them 'non-serious and a farce'. What really didn't help matters was the statement by the team that it would not go uninvited to meet the Hurriyat. 'It was a needlessly provocative statement. It showed arrogance, strange in a team whose mandate was to calm things down,' says a local journalist. Meanwhile, even with the mainstream political parties, the Central team hasn't fared well. Apart from brokering peace between the sulking scions of the Valley, the PDP's Mehbooba Mufti and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the impact on the ground is zilch. Their recommendation that the jailed stone pelters be freed initially got good response. The Central team regularly held press conferences giving out lists of the number of released prisoners. But just two months later, alarmed by intelligence reports that hinted at an ISI-backed conspiracy to fuel unrest in the Valley again, Omar ordered a crackdown on pelters. The number of arrests zoomed. All this has put a question mark on the weight the Central team carries. The separatist camp, grappling with its own internal divides and pressures, just doesn't have the confidence in the ability of the team to deliver. 'The team should have had major political representatives. This is just window dressing. They meet Maulvi Showkat and he gets assassinated. That's the ground reality. This is what we are facing. Who would take a chance talking to them for a few paragraphs in their report? A piece of paper that will sit in a file in the home ministry!' said a top Hurriyat source.