Some analysts believe that Modi took this step more because of geopolitical considerations in India’s neighbourhood, rather than domestic concerns

The much-awaited meeting between Jammu and Kashmir politicians and a high-powered team from the centre headed Union Home Minister Amit Shah as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi also interacting with the attendees, has finally taken place. This meeting, which aims to set on course the political process in the region, was attended by 14 leaders (including four former chief ministers) belonging to eight political parties of J&K participating. Pessimists who had maintained that this meeting would be given a pass by most J&K politicians were thus proved wrong.

Since the main political parties of J&K had come together and jointly taken a tough stand against Article 370 abrogation, the apprehensions that they may not be very keen to discuss anything with the center unless Article 370 was restored weren’t unfounded. In addition, since most of the top-ranking politicians had been placed under detention for varying periods after Article 370 had been abrogated to prevent protests and disruption in normal public routine, many were of the opinion that the incarcerated leaders may have a personal grudge against the centre and thus avoid this meeting as a sign of protest.

In the three-and-a-half-hour-long marathon meeting with J&K political leaders, the Prime Minister spoke about removing “Dilli ki Doori” as well as “Dil Ki Doori” and assured his government’s firm commitment to restore full statehood to J&K at the appropriate time. At the meeting, it was also decided that the J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha would set up a committee to review cases of political prisoners still under confinement and identify those to be released.

Kashmiri leaders have long demanded a restoration of their semi-autonomy and called for elections to be held, but New Delhi has been working on re-adjustment of some assembly and parliamentary constituencies there under a process known as “delimitation”. So, the centre needs to work overtime on the delimitation exercise so that the genuine demand of almost all the mainstream parties to expedite elections is met, since ultimately, it’s an elected Government that can give full strength to J&K’s development trajectory.

However, while the attendance was impressive, unfortunately, the all-party meeting has turned out to be much ado about nothing, because rather than take up issues for improving the quality of life of the people, these politicians are more concerned about increasing their vote banks by playing to the gallery. For example, rather than talk about developmental issues and employment creating ventures, Ms Mehbooba has gone completely off the mark by saying that when the US can talk to the Taliban, why can’t India talk to the separatists and Pakistan? When Islamabad has categorically ruled out any dialogue with New Delhi, it’s obvious that the PDP chief has raised this unrelated and impractical issue for regaining her popularity amongst those in South Kashmir who support pro-separatist ideology

So, while it’s clear that J&K politicians had the compulsion to attend this meeting in order to remain relevant in Valley politics, was New Delhi too under any compulsions to call for this meeting? Could the Biden administration’s request earlier this month urging New Delhi to take steps for restoring normalcy and the centre's desire to send out a message across to the world community that all was well in Jammu and Kashmir be the catalyst for this meeting? Some experts say that China’s bonhomie with Islamabad, the military stand-off with Beijing and pressure from Washington may all be considerations for New Delhi to hold this crucial meeting.

“Since India has a live threat in China on the Line of Actual Control, the disputed border between the two countries, such an engagement with Kashmiri political parties might be an attempt to close ranks between all the political players and present a united front against the Chinese threat.”

Some analysts believe that Modi took this step more because of geopolitical considerations in India’s neighbourhood, rather than domestic concerns. If that is the case, then New Delhi has met its objectives- fairly and squarely, whereas Pakistan on other hand which was once championing ‘self-determination’ is now struggling for restoration of Article 370- something that will never happen. Islamabad has thus missed the bus!

Restoration of normalcy will also be important because there is another looming challenge for New Delhi in J&K – the Taliban’s expected rise in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the United States military, which is scheduled to be completed by September this year. India desires normal relations with all our neighbours, including Pakistan and its willingness to observe ceasefire along LoC proves this point.

So, though it may say that the onus of normalising Indo-Pak relations rests with New Delhi, the reality is that it’s Islamabad that needs to work towards creating a conducive atmosphere by taking credible, verifiable and irreversible actions ensure that any territory under its control is not used for cross-border militancy against India in any manner. However, since ending proxy war in J&K doesn’t suit the Pakistan army, it will never allow peace to prevail in the Valley. Senior separatist leader and former secretary of Hurriyat Conference Dr Ghlum Mohmmad Hubbi, who was close aide to late Abdul Ghani Lone told the author that the political system and army of Pakistan are never serious to resolve the thorny Kashmir issue.

What needs to be understood is that by announcing in parliament that full statehood to J&K would be “restored at an appropriate time” Union Home Minister Amit Shah, has given a commitment that the Government of India would have to honour. In addition, since he has also said during the meeting that the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir and “We are committed to ensure all round development of J&K, there is no reason for the people of Kashmir to give up hope.

Having talked to many Kashmiris belonging to all sections of society, the author has gathered that majority of those contacted were of the firm belief that even though no major decisions were taken, this meeting in itself is a very significant move. Therefore, New Delhi needs to take both appropriate and timely actions to ensure that the faith that the public of J&K have reposed on the centre isn’t betrayed.