Govt names J&K interlocutors, separatists say `futile`

The interlocutors will hold a renewed dialogue with separatist leaders in the Kashmir Valley.

New Delhi/Srinagar: The government Wednesday named three new interlocutors, including journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, to re-start the logjammed political dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir and help bring peace in the troubled state, but the move failed to cut any ice with separatist leaders.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters in Delhi that "we have appointed the group of interlocutors" that also includes Information Commissioner M.M. Ansari and noted academician Radha Kumar. He said a fourth person may be added later in the panel.
Calling the three "very credible people", the home minister said the government hoped they would "begin a process of sustained uninterrupted dialogue with all sections of people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially with youths and students and all shades of political opinion".

The move, which Chidambaram said was a "clear demonstration of the seriousness on the part of the government of India" to solve the problems that have been there "for many, many years", comes in the wake of renewed unrest in the Kashmir Valley in the last four months that has left at least 109 civilians dead, mostly in firing by security forces.

But it failed to break the ice in the Kashmir Valley that has been bristling with anger amid frequent shutdowns, street protests and curfews since June.

Geelani, who heads the hardline faction of the separatist amalgam Hurriyat Conference, said: "This is a futile exercise."

"By appointing the interlocutors, India only wants to delay addressing the real issue in Kashmir which is about the demand of freedom by the people," he said.

A supporter of the state`s merger with Pakistan, Geelani said any dialogue with New Delhi could be possible only if the government accepted his five-point proposal that includes accepting Kashmir as an "international dispute".

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, reacted by saying: "Interlocutors are appointed to know the point of view of the groups to be engaged in the dialogue process. The government of India knows our demand for freedom.

"What is the role of interlocutors selected from the civil society? We had proposed steps for creation of a conducive atmosphere for the dialogue process to begin and they have been totally ignored."
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik, who favours independence, added: "It is not the problem of schools and colleges that can be solved by appointing academicians and members of the civil society as interlocutors."

The decision to have a new group of interlocutors was part of the eight-point initiative announced by the government after the Sep 25 cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Chidambaram urged Jammu and Kashmir politicians to engage with the interlocutors "so that we can move forward on the path of finding a solution to the problem".

The group will cover the views of all the three regions -- Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir.

The government`s earlier move to engage separatist leaders in "quiet diplomacy" had failed in December last year. The process broke down when militants shot and severely injured Hurriyat leader Fazal Qureshi.

Qureshi is a senior leader of the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat faction that had agreed to secretly talk to the central government.

Two of the three new mediators were involved in the Kashmir peace process earlier at different times. Padgaonkar was a member of the Kashmir Committee led by eminent lawyer and now Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ram Jethmalani.

Noted educationist and economist Ansari, who was professor and director at the Hamdard University before becoming information commissioner, said the new role was "indeed a great challenge".

Ansari told a private TV channel that the interlocutors will "start and initiate the process of confidence building", as well as "address the grievances" through consultation and dialogue.

Radha Kumar, who heads the Nelson Mandela Institute of Peace in Jamia Millia Islamia, was engaged in back-channel discussions with the Mirwaiz and hardliner Geelani. She was in the valley recently and had visited Geelani at a Srinagar hospital.