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#2292, 16 May 2007
Third Round Table Conference on Kashmir: Is there a Consensus?
Mridusmita Borah
Research Associate
Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation (CS-3)
United Service Institution of India (USI)
e-mail: mridusmitaborah@rediffmail.com

On 24 April 2007, the third Round Table Conference (RTC) took place in Delhi along with the four Working Groups. The aim was to develop an agreed vision for Jammu and Kashmir's (J&K) future. The Groups presented their respective recommendations to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his consideration. The chief aim was to seek a consensus for peace in Kashmir through the process of development and good governance. This gives rise to a number of queries: What are the implications of their recommendations? Is there a full consensus among the politicians and other groups on the best method to move forward and serve the interests of the people of the state? Do the reports 'contain the seeds' of a forward movement?

The heads of the four Working Groups include Mohammed Hamid Ansari, Chairman, National Minorities Commission, M.K. Rasgotra, former Foreign Secretary, N.C. Saxena, member of the Planning Commission, and C. Rangarajan, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. They came out with their respective recommendations, which require immediate attention.

Ansari's working group talked about Confidence Building Measures (CBM's) and demanded a review of laws made operational to fight militancy, like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) or the Disturbed Areas Act, but that have had an adverse effect on the public by impinging on their fundamental rights. Accordingly, it asserted that general amnesty be given to those under trial for minor offences and those who are innocent. Rasgotra's group, on strengthening cross-Line of Control (LOC) relationships, laid out possible contours for cooperation between the two parts of J&K. It suggested that a joint working group/ committee, of 10 members each from the legislatures of both sides, be constituted to exchange views periodically on social, economic, cultural, and trade-related matters of mutual interest. Saxena's working group on good governance noted that the State Human Rights Commission requires strengthening, and also called for the creation of a high-powered committee, including political representatives and civil society members, for enforcing human rights. While Rangarajan's working group, on economic issues focused on the reconstruction of the existing infrastructure, and offered pragmatic suggestions for a bottom-up revival of the State's economy.

However, on a more pessimistic note, some groups are not ready to seek a mutual consensus. For instance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is refusing to join hands with the major political parties and groups to draw out a mutually agreed outcome. It is to be noted that the Hizbul Mujahidden, the hardline leader Syed Ali Shah's Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and also Mirwaiz Farooq have called for the repeal of special laws and respect for human rights on several occasions. In this light, it is mystifying that the APHC is refusing to strengthen those in the State asking for the same things by participating in a multi-party dialogue involving all major groups. In a more staid statement, Syed Ali Shah Gilani said, "nations decide their future by consensus, not by bits and pieces". All these bring us to an understanding that the working groups' recommendations on some key issues do not match the demands of the secessionist groups like the APHC.

It is crucial to note that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also disassociated itself from the working groups on the ground that the recommendations of the working group have been imposed upon them. They also believe that the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the Congress and the National Conference (NC) have a close nexus and their decisions will take J&K further away from peace than bring it near.

It is clear that if the parties are not able to leave behind their squabble and arrive at an unanimous agreement on the basic principles of the State's political future, the whole design of such an exercise will loose its credibility. The chief aim should, therefore, be to 'blend together the missing pieces' and not only to solve the 'peace puzzle'.

Whatsoever be the final outcome, the most defining feature of this RTC is that these proposals have given rise to an inquisitive coalition among the leaders of the conference including Islamists and Hindu nationalists, and has provided them an opportunity to consider their respective positions. It is to be hoped, then, that these working groups will sow the seeds for a forward movement in J&K.

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