Unexpected things are happening in Kashmir — the Centre announced a suspension of military operations popularly being referred to as the ‘Ramzan Ceasefire’; there are strong rumours of the Centre holding talks with the Hurriyat leadership and the central government appointed interlocutor to Kashmir – Dineshwar Sharma – visited Makhdoom Sahib, a popular Sufi shrine, to pray for peace in the Valley.
Sharma’s visit to Kashmir, his first since suspension of military operations were announced, was meant to review the situation in the Valley and build upon goodwill earned through this move.
His visit to Makhdoom Sahib holds an unmistakable symbolic value. It will signify a softening of the Centre’s position towards Kashmir.
In a video of him at the shrine, wearing a skull cap and holding the hands of an elderly person, Sharma can be heard saying, “That’s why I’ve come… to pray for peace in Kashmir.”
Since his appointment as the interlocutor, back in October last year, this will be Sharma’s most important visit to Kashmir.
At least three factors have worked against Sharma since he assumed his new assignment, following his retirement as the Director of Intelligence Bureau.
— Confusion regarding his mandate, its timeline and scope did not help Sharma’s dialogues in the Valley.
— Adverse political statements, such as those made by the MoS PMO Jitendra Singh, who said that the appointment took place “so that nobody can say a dialogue is not happening”.
— Constant violence, stone-pelting, killings of civilians, no let-up in terror operations and calls for bandh given by the Hurriyat. Around 150 people, including civilians, security forces and militants, have died in the first five months of this year alone.
The fact that conditions have not been favourable for Sharma have recently been voiced by two people with a close understanding of Kashmir.
Former chief of R&AW and the advisor on Kashmir to former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, AS Dulat, in a recent interview said, “The main purpose he was appointed for has not taken off.”
On Wednesday, senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who has off-late made several trips to Kashmir, also said that conditions in the Valley have been so adverse that Sharma has not been allowed to do the sort of work that he was appointed to do.
But the “Ramzan ceasefire” has finally laid a solid ground for Sharma to build upon. MHA’s own data shows that stone-pelting has come down, as has the incidents of armed combat between security forces and militants. This has happened despite the outright rejection of the Centre’s overture by the umbrella body of Kashmir-aimed militant outfits, United Jehad Council, and through adverse statements made by some of the Hurriyat leaders.
Rumours that the Centre could extend the “Ramzan Ceasefire” if favourable conditions persist and of holding dialogue with the separatists have been gaining foothold in the Valley, not just from the MHA but also from within the Hurriyat.
In a function held in North Kashmir on Tuesday senior Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Bhat hinted that the Centre would soon initiate dialogue with the separatists.
In principle, BJP’s general secretary Ram Madhav has not put holding dialogue with the Hurriyat beyond Sharma’s purview.
How soon can Sharma capitalise on the current spell of peace in the valley, despite constant shelling from Pakistan at the border areas, will now have to be seen.