Fifteen years after they held talks with the Centre first, there are indications that Hurriyat leaders are readying for another round of dialogue with the Centre over the future of Jammu and Kashmir. The first message came from Satya Pal Malik, the Jammu and Kashmir governor, when he said on Saturday that the Hurriyat leaders were ready for talks.
There is change in everyone, said Malik while referring to the 2016 incident when Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan had to return from the home of Syed Ahmed Shah Geelani, who refused to open the doors for him.
But what has changed in nearly three years?
Pressure on Pakistan
There is immense pressure on Pakistan from agencies like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for taking visible action against terror groups and ending support to all kinds of terrorism including cross-border terror in Kashmir Valley. Pakistan’s support to cross-border terror is intertwined with separatism in the Kashmir Valley.
India has led a sustained campaign against Pakistan over cross-border terror leading to international opinion silently backing India’s stand that “terror and talks can’t go together”. The Modi government has stopped engaging with Pakistan at diplomatic level following Pathankot terror attack on January 2. India has succeeded in isolating Pakistan on the fight against terror.
Pressure seems to be working as recent developments in Pakistan suggest – the military has taken a cut in budget, action against terror groups has gained pace and curbs were placed on 26/11 Mumbai terror attack accused Hafiz Saeed.
It is in this background that the Hurriyat leaders have agreed for talks with the Modi government. This is also a signal that Pakistan considers it suitable if Hurriyat holds talks with the Centre. In 2004, when the Hurriyat held talks for the first time with the Centre under Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the engagement had happened after Pervez Musharraf had given its nod to the separatists in the Kashmir Valley.
Crackdown by Centre
The Narendra Modi government has pursued a “muscular policy” in Kashmir to deal with separatism and terrorism. It was this muscular policy of the Centre that was the bone of contention between the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party of Mehbooba Mufti and the final reason for the fall of the BJP-PDP coalition in 2018.
The fact that more than 100 terrorists have been killed in the Kashmir Valley this year shows that the Jammu and Kashmir administration first under the Governor’s Rule and now the President’s Rule has followed the same muscular policy of the Modi government.
The central agencies such as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have launched a crackdown on separatists probing their links with multiple cases related to terror funding and money laundering.
The action by the NIA and the ED is understood to have constricted the flow of fund to separatist leaders forcing them to rethink their strategy. Talks are the way forward for the Hurriyat leaders as the Centre is not giving signals of relent against separatists and terrorists.
Satya Pal Malik, while stating that Hurriyat leaders are ready for talks, also said, “If they (terrorists) fire bullets, there won’t be bouquets for them from the other sideThere will be a bullet for a bullet.”
Assembly election in the offing
The Election Commission has said the assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir could be held by year-end. Assembly election was not held in Jammu and Kashmir along with the Lok Sabha election for security reasons. Now the poll panel says it is ready.
On the other hand, the government is also gearing up for the assembly election. Union Home Minister Amit Shah is keen on carrying out delimitation of constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir before the poll panel announces election schedule.
Once election is held in Jammu and Kashmir and a new government takes over, the Hurriyat knows, talks would be more layered and their voice would weigh less. A state government, on the back of popular mandate, would erode the credibility of Hurriyat. Having dialogue with the Centre directly offers the Hurriyat its best chance of getting heard and set a process rolling for resolution of Kashmir issue.