Yes, I can talk to the Hurriyat. I will talk to everyone: Govt's new interlocutor for Kashmir
Dineshwar Sharma has, arguably, the toughest job in the country.
With the situation in the Valley stuck in a stalemate, the fomer IB (Intelligence Bureau) chief has been named the government's interlocutor for Kashmir.
Sharma tells WION that he has been allowed to talk to anybody and everybody -- including the Hurriyat; that Prime Minister Narendra Modi "is very much emotionally attached to Kashmir and wants to see a doable solution to the problem", and that he (Sharma) will be guided by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's philosophy of insaniyat (humanity), Kashmiriyat (the composite, secular Kashmiri culture), and jamhooriyat (democracy).
It should help that Sharma already has valuable experience at this type of job.
He has before this also been an interlocutor with insurgent groups in Assam and Manipur.
What is the problem in Kashmir?
Pakistan has contributed to the problem of Kashmir from the very beginning. Right from 1987, it has provided logistics, supplied arms and funds. and fuelled the insurgency in every possible manner. The problem continues till today.
How difficult is your job, keeping in mind that Pakistan continues to interfere?
It is very difficult and I realise that, but I'm sure the people of Kashmir realise real harm is being caused to them by outside forces.
Have you been given a brief by the government on whom to talk to and whom not to talk to?
I have been given complete freedom by the government.
Can you talk to the Hurriyat, to any leader you wish to?
Yes I can talk to the Hurriyat. I will talk to everyone.
It is now known that some Hurriyat members have been involved in cross-border funds transfers, while on the other hand they are stakeholders. Your response?
Stakeholders does not mean a few, select faces. It means all the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Some of them might be doing something wrong. What do I have to do with that? I don't have to look into that aspect. That is a separate investigation.
Who are these stakeholders?
I have already said that the citizens of India living in Jammu and Kashmir are the stakeholders.
How do people meet you?
It is being worked out. I'm sure that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will come forward because I feel they are fed up with the current situation and with what Pakistan has done to them. I'm sure they will respond to the overture.
How serious is the Kashmir problem?
We have seen that radicalisation has taken place in Kashmir and it needs to be addressed very seriously. It is the responsibility of all of us, which includes the people of J&K and this country, to see that radicalisation is curbed.
How did the radicalisation take place?
A lot of material is pouring in from across the border via the internet. That has added to the problem.
How is today different from when you served in Kashmir?
There was no radicalisation in the 90's. It was different. The sentiment was about azadi. It was only a fight for azadi. Things have changed today.
What has changed?
Radicalisation gained pace after the ISIS gained a footprint in Iraq and Syria. From that point in time, radicalisation picked up, which was then further fanned from across the border via the internet.
Doesn't it -- radicalisation -- pose a national security risk?
Radicalisation is a major threat all over the world. It is not only about India or J&K. But J&K being more sensitive, we have to be more careful about it.
Does the breakup of the ISIS and the coming back of recruits pose a challenge?
Many factors are involved, which are then complicated by outside forces who would like to see more unrest in the state. They will try to make the radicalisation more acute so that Kashmir remains disturbed all the time.
What explains the participation of students in street protests in such large numbers?
They were pushed to come out onto the streets to protest. Vested elements motivated and organised these students. They are a weapon to be used by interested parties. Any action by security forces would get them maximum international attention... That was the purpose.
Then how does the state deal with them?
My job is to make them realise that this (stone pelting) is not the right thing.
When you talk to people in Kashmir, you get the sense that Pakistan needs to be involved... but then we will end up talking to an entity that is fanning the fire
That issue is not part of my charter. People of Kashmir need to realise that Pakistan is creating problems; it needs to be understood.
Before you, there was a committee and nothing came of it? Are their reports still secret?
Let me go and meet the people. I'm sure I will be able to make some difference.
Do you have access to the earlier report?
Yes I'm reading the report. It is a good beginning for me to carry forward.
Tell us about the report?
They have done a great job.
How is the problem of Kashmir different from Punjab and Assam?
I will answer the question in one line. Outside forces are not so much involved in Assam as they are in Kashmir. That makes the job in Kashmir tough.
Outside forces were also involved in Punjab?
Punjab has been sorted out. Punjab also took a long time. It cost the nation a lot. It took time. Kashmir will also take time but eventually it will be sorted out. I have no doubt about it.
Talks take place but there is no outcome? What's your philosophy, talks with an outcome or talks even if no outcome is visible?
I think through talks many problems can be addressed. We should try to ensure that the genuine problems of the people of Kashmir are addressed by the state and central government.
You have arrived in the midst of a deadlock. Doesn't that tell us the muscular approach does not work in Kashmir?
I don't want to comment on that at this stage for it will get misinterpreted.
Do you think the national vs anti-national narrative has impacted the average Kashmiri, especially through social media?
Yes. In the early 90's there was no social media. There were no cellular phones. Now the youth is connected and has access to each and every development. All these factors have contributed. This is not the Kashmir of the early 90's.
Some issues still remain as they were... Human rights is still an issue...
Yes, some issues still remain.
In the Yashwant Sinha report, one word stuck to me. It said there was a crisis of acknowledgment. Is it correct that the mainland does not acknowledge that there is a problem in Kashmir?
I have said that it is a big personal challenge for me and it is a big problem for the country. There is no question of not acknowledging the problem.
You don't agree?
There is a crisis in Kashmir, I'm saying it. But to say people in the rest of the country don't understand this is not true.
Where do you fit the Kashmiri Pandits into your talks?
Let me go to Kashmir and talk to people. They can be brought onto the same boat.
Lots of Kashmiris are nostalgic about "insaniyat, Kashmiriyat, and jamhooriyat". How will you take those sentiments of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee forward?
I will try to follow the path shown by Mr Vajpayee.
His path was about continuity of engagement despite setbacks?
Let me go and see. I will try to ensure peace and look for doable solutions so that this does not keep happening again and again.
There has been a breakdown of ordinary life in Kashmir. How can that be restored?
I have to meet the people and I'm sure they will respond and together we will find a solution.
What mandate has Prime Minister Modi given you, and what is his message?
The prime minister is very much emotionally attached to Kashmir and wants to see a doable solution to the Kashmir problem. He has already announced, on August 15, that the problem of Kashmir should be solved by embracing the people of Kashmir.
Did he say this to you?
He said this to the nation.
But what did he tell you?
Prime Minister Modi told me to talk to the Kashmiris and embracing Kashmiris is the objective of this government.