On December 4 2009, Fazal Haq Qureshi, 65 year old separatist leader from the moderate separatist alliance of Hurriyat was attacked by unknown assailants. Perceived as an ‘honest peace broker and negotiator’ between the government and separatist clan, he had almost four decades ago laid the foundation of a secessionist movement in Jammu and Kashmir. The attack on him was seen as a stern warning to all those who were ‘selling out on Kashmir’.
It was on October 14 2009 while addressing media at All India Editors' Conference on Social and Infrastructure in Srinagar that Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram said that the government will hold talks with every section of political opinion in the state through "quiet dialogue, quiet diplomacy", in order to find a political solution to the Kashmir problem that may be "unique". He added, “We cannot hold the dialogue in the glare of the media”.
However the media made sure that there was lot of focus and noise about the dialogue. They have watched and reported 'quiet meetings' between the government and separatist leaders. The government’s 'fresh bids' for an 'inclusive dialogue' and quiet meetings with the separatist leaders was seen by many as a conspiracy and 'betrayal of the cause'.
Almost a week after Home Minster announced the quiet dialogue path, we in the women's network Athwaas had a meeting in New Delhi to expand our circle and constituency to include women from Ladakh and Jammu in the core group. For us the Home Minister’s statement about inclusive dialogue was not acceptable whilst women continue to be excluded from the political process. It was to press this point Athwaas submitted a memorandum to Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India when he visited Kashmir soon after on 28th October 2009. In the open letter, we wrote:
"We deeply appreciate and welcome your step towards including all stakeholders for exploring inclusive solutions for sustainable peace in Jammu and Kashmir. However the desired dialogue process will not result in any creative outcomes if voices of women, fifty percent of the population, are not included in the process... Women have been directly and indirectly impacted by the violent conflict. Their experiences have given them a deep understanding and insight of the causes and hence their inclusion will deliver the holistic approach needed for sustainable peace."
(For the full text of the letter, click here)
Despite our misgivings over absence of women from the process, for Athwaas the dialogue process of the government holds significant meaning. The absence of dialogue has only resulted in institutionalized, divisive politics. We realize that if the larger political situation in the region remains hostage to divisive politics, it in some way or other always adversely influences the peacebuilding spaces we are trying to open at the grassroots and civil society level.
For this reason, we had hoped that the talks would be fruitful. However, the attack on Fazal Haq has not only generated unease and concern amongst us, but brought to fore the chilling hard truth about how murky, complicated and dangerous the path to peace in Kashmir remains.
However what came as a genuine shock was Hurriyat separatist leader Bilal Lone’s interview in a local channel Take One, which can be viewed here:
For background on the interview, it is important to know that it was conducted by Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, a senior journalist based in Kashmir Valley. The interview was held in at the the context of the Indian government's attempts at quiet dialogue and the attack on Fazal Haq.The interview was picked up by Jammu- based Pradeep Dutta, Bureau Chief of Times Now, a national TV Channel, gaining it wider attention.
In the interview Bilal Lone confesses to taking money from Pakistan: “There are no holy cows in Kashmir”. For many, the fact that separatists in Kashmir had been accepting money from Pakistan was an open secret, and the general levels of corruption, nepotism and unaccountability are also well know. This interview was notable for being the first time that it was openly admitted on TV. (Bilal Lone has since undertaken a rather uncomfortable follow-up interview.)
Bilal Lone's admissions might bring more openness about the levels of corruption and secret dealings which exist in Kashmir. These severe defects in the political system nurture violence, extremism and separatist politics. Yet for the most part there has been a deep silence. Bilal Lone’s outburst gives context to not only to the government's negotiations, but also to the environment in which local peacebuilding organizations have to work.