Three interlocutors appointed by the Indian government on Jammu and Kashmir have set about their task. Both factions of the Hurriyat Conference have called for a boycott of their first visit to the Kashmir Valley.
Tension is high in Indian-administered Kashmir with dozens killed by security forces in the past four months
The decision to have a group of interlocutors was originally part of an eight-point initiative announced by the Indian government to engage with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and move forward to find a solution to the crisis.
The group, which has a one-year mandate and will report after monthly trips to the Valley, is supposed to cover views from all three regions of Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir.
The three-member team of Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari - a journalist, an academic and an educationist – was set up earlier this month in the wake of renewed unrest in the Kashmir Valley.
Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called on Delhi to accept his five-point proposal
"We will engage with every section of opinion," Dilip Padgaonkar explained. "Why do we have this dialogue? So that we can have a permanent comprehensive political settlement to the Kashmir dispute. That has to be tried out. It is a complex problem."
Separatists refuse to meet interlocutors
However, the interlocutors have got a somewhat hostile reception, with the separatists refusing to meet them.
An ardent supporter of the state's merger with Pakistan, hard-line Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said dialogue with New Delhi would only be possible if the government accepted his five-point proposal that includes accepting Kashmir as an international dispute.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads another faction of the Conference, described the appointment of the interlocutors as a mere wastage of time. He said that the lingering dispute should be resolved through tripartite talks between Pakistan, India and the "real" Kashmiri leadership.
Pessimism about group's success
Nonetheless, the team tried to get on with the task at hand, interacting with young people, visiting jails, calling on politicians, and also praying for the success of their mission at the holy Muslim shrine of Hazratbal.
The interlocutors want to talk with all sections of society including angry youths
Iqbal Nazir, a lecturer at the Amir Singh College in Srinagar, was not very optimistic: "This does not seem like a healthy initiative taken by India given that we have seen commissions and working groups being created before. Their recommendations did not reach any conclusion. And these interlocutors seem to be meeting the same fate."
For Sana Altaf, an educationist, the prospects seemed equally bleak: "The visit of the interlocutors at this time is not going to be beneficial. The central government should carve out a situation in which people can lead a normal life, after business, schools and education have been restored. The interlocutors may have long-term results but as of now they are not accessing the ground situation which is very important for the common man of Kashmir."
Last December, the government's move to engage separatist leaders in "quiet diplomacy" failed.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas