by Dhananjay Sahai

With the imposition of Governor’s rule after the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition, the political conversation in Kashmir has undergone a sea change. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who went on a two-day visit to the valley and spoke of the importance of development and good governance in the state, made no mention of his earlier offer to hold talks with anyone “who wants to talk”.

The imposition of Governor’s rule has also created uncertainty about the role of the interlocutor, who was appointed for a “sustained dialogue” in Kashmir.

Another major blow to the dialogue process was the killing of prominent journalist Shujaat Bukhari. As the police accused the Lashkar e Taiba (LeT), it became evident that his killing pointed towards the growing criticism of Bukhari in Pakistani mainstream media and social media circles. He had drawn the ire of the LeT and the Hizbul Mujahideen, particularly after he participated in a Track II dialogue in Dubai.

The poor response towards any offer of talks and the resultant cynicism of the government comes in the backdrop of a larger pattern where any dialogue between the government of India and the people of Kashmir is systemically sabotaged.

Separatist leader Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq’s murder in 1990 is one such example . As terrorist organisations and security forces pointed fingers at each other, attention was drawn to his attempt at dialogue with the Government of India.

Twenty one years later, former Chairman of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Ghani Bhat, in a seminar, exonerated the security forces and admitted that Maulvi Farooq was killed by their “very own people”.

Bhat also blamed the same people for killing another prominent separatist leader Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002. Even as the Pakistan government blamed the Indian security forces, many believed that Lone was killed by Pakistan-sponsored militants.

Lone had been issued threats for his openness to dialogue with the Government of India and for considering contesting elections in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The state’s then-chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, stated that “whoever wants a peaceful solution in Kashmir is killed by Pakistan”.

Abdullah’s words would end up resembling the earlier comment made by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who took up the separatist mantle after his father’s killing. He held that his uncle, assassinated in 2004, was killed by those who “don't want things to be resolved through dialogue, through peaceful means”.

The Mirwaiz, who continues to lead the moderate faction within the Hurriyat, has also been a target of similar attempts on his life.

Another effort towards a peaceable resolution was attempted by the then HM “operational commander” Abdul Majeed Dar, who along with four “divisional commanders” announced a unilateral ceasefire in July 2000 from the outskirts of Srinagar.

Despite initially endorsing it, the ceasefire was withdrawn by Syed Salahuddin through a declaration issued from Pakistan, as efforts were being made to hold talks. Dar was subsequently expelled from the HM in 2002 and killed in 2003.

Similarly, the head of the religious organisation Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadeeth in Jammu and Kashmir was killed in 2011 in an IED blast. Various theories were put forward to explain the reasons for his death and identity of the killers. The LeT only months later admitted that he was ostensibly killed by rebels within their ranks.

Assaults on the dialogue process have also been witnessed at an international level. The Kargil War in 1999 immediately sabotaged the progress made by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, when they signed the historic Lahore Declaration. Initially denying any involvement, it was only eleven years later that the Army admitted to its role in instigating the war; without informing their own Prime Minister.

Following a similar pattern, the attack on the Indian parliament by Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups came quickly after the Agra Summit of 2001. Furthermore, meetings between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in 2015 in Ufa and then Lahore were followed by terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur in India and on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, respectively.

This deliberate and systematic targeting of any pro-dialogue element in Kashmir has strengthened hardliner separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The besieged moderates in Kashmir are now facing a new threat with the emergence of elements like Qayoom Najar and, after his death, Zakir Musa, who are openly against any political reconciliation in Kashmir.

In this context, Bukhari’s death demonstrates again that any attempt at a compromise between the Government of India and the people of Kashmir will be attacked by the same elements who have been sabotaging such endeavours for decades.

If the Government of India hopes to make meaningful progress in any dialogue with the Kashmiris, it must protect those who are amenable to a political settlement.

Physical security is important, but it should also encourage platforms from where they can voice their opinion and gain public support. This will not only encourage fearful but reconciliatory voices to speak up, but may also allow hardliners to soften their position.

The public anger against militants and Pakistan after Qazi Nisar’s killing in 1994 shows that the Kashmiri people will not accept bullying from Islamabad.

Without the scope for dialogue, the Kashmiris can get trapped. By integrating the occupied Gilgit-Baltistan region and building the China Pakistan Economic Corridor through that region, Pakistan has yet again demonstrated its lack of intent to respect the will of the Kashmiri people.