The special representative to initiate dialogue in Kashmir on what led to unrest in the Valley and the way forward
On October 23, Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced the appointment of former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Dineshwar Sharma as a special representative to “initiate” and “carry forward a dialogue” with elected representatives and various individuals in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Sharma is a 1979 Indian Police Service officer of the Kerala cadre. He served as Director of the IB from 2014 to 2016. After his retirement, the Centre was keen to give him an extension but he turned down the offer. He was later appointed as an interlocutor for talks with Assam-based insurgent groups and heads a committee to restructure the Home Ministry. Excerpts from an interview in Delhi:
What is the Centre’s intention behind the talks? The government would have informed you about your mandate.
The government didn’t tell me about its intentions. It is obvious that the government and everyone else wants peace in Kashmir. It (peace) should be durable. It cannot prevail for a few months and be disrupted by violence three years later. The focus is on bringing permanent peace in the Kashmir Valley.
What about ongoing security operations? As many as 248 operations by security forces have been conducted this year, which is the highest in the past seven years. It was said that this would also contribute to peace.
Whether it’s a Naxal-affected area or the insurgency-hit Northeast, we have seen that the action of security forces has limitations. They are there to counter the actions of terrorists or armed groups. Permanent solution and peace can only be brought about by dialogue.
Do you think people in Jammu and Kashmir will be confident enough to speak to you when security forces are training guns at people in Kashmir on the one hand and there is an announcement of a dialogue on the other?
Bullets are fired at specific people. They are for terrorists, not for the common people. Their (people’s) problems will have to be addressed. My job is to deliver and I will see to it that I rise to the expectations.
There have been such initiatives earlier too, but they did not lead to any conclusion.
I am hopeful that this time we will find a solution. We are groomed for addressing problems and not for writing lengthy reports.
During your tenure as IB chief, was Kashmir the biggest internal security challenge?
When I became the IB chief in December 2014, Kashmir was not the problem. Naxal attacks and insurgency in the Northeast were the major security challenges. And to some extent, threats from Islamic State-inspired groups. Kashmir became a problem during the latter part of my tenure. Though there were problems initially, we did not expect the kind of unrest that happened in 2016.
What escalated the unrest?
Radicalisation played a major role, though its impact was felt in other parts of the country as well, as several men were arrested for being inspired by the Islamic State. Brainwashing via the Internet played a key role. It was a concerted effort by some to radicalise the youth to spread violence. We were watching it closely and took several steps to ensure that the youth don’t fall for such propaganda.
Wasn’t the gunning down of Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani and two others by security forces in July 8, 2016 the reason behind the unrest?
Radicalisation was already at its peak and an icon like Burhan Wani was created by vested interests. The youth fell for it and came out on the streets.
Was Burhan Wani an icon?
He was projected as an icon. He was a terrorist. He gave interviews that he wanted to establish a Caliphate in Kashmir. It indicated the line of thought and ideology he followed. In some of the videos available on social media, he was advocating for a Caliphate. He had links to Hafiz Saeed (Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief) and other terrorist organisations. But the fear of guns has to go. There can be no solution under the shadow of the gun.
Does this mean that security forces should also reduce the number of operations?
First, the guns of terrorists should fall silent. Security forces should not harass ordinary Kashmiris. They should not be targeting innocent people. They should have the confidence of the people living in the State.
Will you talk to the members of the Hurriyat Conference?
It will not be possible for me to answer this at the moment. I will go to Kashmir first and then decide.
But what will be the road map? You cannot land one day in Kashmir and expect people to come and speak to you. Will you invite them?
The media is there for advertising my visit. We will finalise the modalities soon. It will not be proper to discuss the details. I will go as early as possible. No date has been finalised yet. If there is a need, we will advertise in newspapers.
Have you read the reports of previous interlocutors — of former Union Minister K.C. Pant who was appointed in 2002, the report by N.N. Vohra, and the three-member committee appointed in 2010?
I am going through them in detail. I’ve read them in bits and pieces before.
Do you plan to improvise on them?
It has to be seen.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the special representative would emphasise on addressing the aspirations of the youth. Have you identified such groups?
Youth doesn’t mean any particular group. I don’t want to give any definition of the youth. College students, those who have recently graduated… Unemployment is a major problem and we will need the help of the government in addressing this. I cannot do this alone; I am not an employment-generating agency.
The Centre announced a ₹80,000 crore financial package for Jammu and Kashmir a couple of years ago. Do you think such promises will help you in connecting with the masses in the Valley?
The announcement of a development package is not only for Kashmir; it has been done for other States also. It naturally addresses the sentiments of the people that the Centre is serious about their development, employment opportunities, and growth.
What kind of jobs does the Centre intend to offer?
Let’s see the scope… how far the State government can address this issue.
You met Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Can you share details of the meeting?
It was a courtesy call. I will also meet leaders of the Opposition. They were not in Delhi, so when I go there I will meet them.
Will you factor in Pakistan in your dialogue?
Pakistan does not feature in the present scheme of things. It’s only the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We have to talk to them first.
Why is the government referring to you as a special representative and not as an interlocutor? What is the difference between the two?
I don’t think there is any difference. These are trivial issues.
The government hasn’t defined the terms of reference yet?
The Home Minister has already announced that I will talk to everyone. I think those are the terms of reference. I have been given a free hand to speak to anyone I want.
As soon as the announcement was made, two divergent statements were issued. One was by Army chief Bipin Rawat who said operations won’t stop and the other was by Union Minister Jitendra Singh.
We will see. The people of Jammu and Ladakh will also be included in the dialogue process. The problem is more in the Valley though.
Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had suggested a four-point formula to solve the Kashmir issue. It included demilitarisation or phased withdrawal of troops. Are you considering these options?
These issues are not in my charter. Whether security forces should be withdrawn from Siachen or not, I will not be delving into such issues. These are security-related matters. I will only speak to the people of Kashmir.
You met Prime Minister Narendra Modi shortly before your name was announced. Did he assign anything specific? Was the appointment his initiative?
He wants peace (in Kashmir) fast. There should be no more delay. Yes, it was the Prime Minister’s initiative to appoint a special representative.
The Hurriyat has not shown much interest. Investigations by the National Investigation Agency are being conducted in parallel. Will it affect your job?
Investigation is a different issue; I have a different job to do. I cannot interfere in the work of any investigating agency.
How will you handle the anger of the Kashmiris?
They are like our family members. We will try to calm them down by talking to them. Even within a family, there are some members who speak in different tunes. It is our job to convince them.
Is there a time limit for you to complete the dialogue process? When were you approached by the Centre?
I was approached two days before the formal announcement was made on October 23. It is a huge responsibility. I will see whether I can rise to their expectations. There is no time limit. There cannot be any deadline for such dialogues. I will carry forward the dialogue gradually.