India could conceivably lose the Kashmir valley in the next 10 years unless a serious effort is made to resolve the situation, Radha Kumar, a former interlocutor on Jammu & Kashmir for the Indian government, warned at the Times LitFest, Delhi on Sunday.
Kumar, who now heads a think-tank, Delhi Policy Group, made the remark while speaking at the opening session — ‘Kashmir Today: Towards an Indian Future?’ — of the second day of the Times LitFest, presented by Rajnigandha. Other members of the panel included Rakesh Sood, former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, France and Nepal, and A S Dulat, former RAW chief and Kashmir advisor in A B Vajpayee’s administration.
Kumar said the situation in Kashmir had progressively deteriorated. “It hasn’t been as bad as this in a long time,” she maintained. “The government doesn’t seem to be working, and little of the common minimum program has been implemented.”
Dulat said Kashmiris had not been made to feel a part of the country. He described the coming together of the BJP and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP as “imaginative”, and hoped it would bring Jammu and Kashmir together. “The election threw up a result that satisfied no one, and the coalition was the best option. But the partners have drifted apart.”
Kumar said the only time there has been any forward movement in Kashmir is when both Pakistan and the Kashmiris have been involved in negotiations. This was the case when General Musharraf was in office in Pakistan. “There were civil society discussions between Indian and Kashmiris, through the back channel, and this put pressure on Gen. Musharraf.” Dulat too felt that no forward movement is possible without the involvement of Pakistan.
Sood queried whether normalizing the situation in Kashmir should be linked to normalizing relations between India and Pakistan. “Should one depend on the other? If they are linked, then dialogue between India and Pakistan assumes criticality. If normalizing Kashmir is going to be dependent on normalizing Indo-Pak relations, then we’re giving Pakistan a veto over how we manage Kashmir,” said Sood. He added that the two issues need to be separated, which would necessitate a change of thinking.”To take that veto away, we have to have a well-crafted and well-thought out policy towards Kashmir.”
Delhi, Kumar lamented, has tended to take two steps back after taking a step forward. And there has been little effort to keep the process going, even when a breakthrough has appeared imminent. She also pronounced Delhi’s Kashmir strategy as too “fragmented”, and too concentrated on the Valley. “We have tended to focus too much on the Valley, often to the detriment of the Valley,” she said.
SSood agreed, saying that this “exclusive” focus on the Valley has meant less attention given to Jammu or Ladakh. Add to that the central government’s proclivity to step in only to douse the flames but not to do so when real progress is visible, and no wonder little headway has been made.
All panelists felt that engagement with Pakistan and with the Kashmiris must not grind to a halt. “The Kashmiri understands his future is with India. We need to give him a chance,” remarked Dulat.
Sood said that while militancy and separatist tendencies might have come down, there still remains plenty of alienation and resentment, and growing radicalization. “We need to address all this with greater urgency.”