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Question mark on interlocutor role in J&K

Dineshwar Sharma

New Delhi: The Union home ministry has voiced doubts over the utility of persisting with Dineshwar Sharma as the government's interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir in a situation where separatists have been refusing to meet him since the state came under governor's rule last month.

Even civil rights groups and common people are reluctant to engage with the former Intelligence Bureau chief.

Sources said Sharma had in a report to the home ministry expressed anguish over the political fallout in the state and its impact on his efforts to carry forward the dialogue process with all stakeholders.

"The role of Sharma is now in a limbo. In the absence of a government in the state, people who had earlier engaged with Sharma have now refused to hold any dialogue with him," a ministry official said.

"He was in touch with some of the separatist leaders and was looking forward to a meeting with them but things have now become difficult for him."

Senior officials said Sharma's role could soon become redundant under governor's rule, with the Centre perceived to be following an iron-hand policy since the BJP's withdrawal of support led to the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government.

"In his report to the Centre, Sharma flagged the trust deficit among Kashmiris and how the recent developments had put a brake on his attempt to engage with shades of opinion, including separatists," the ministry official said.

Security forces have told the Centre the situation in the state has gone from bad to worse in the wake of escalating violence, growing terror activities and radicalisation of youths by militant groups operating in the Valley.

Sharma was appointed in October last year to start a "sustained dialogue" with all stakeholders and understand the "legitimate aspirations" of the people in the state.

Known as a dove, the former IB chief had earned credibility following his confidence-building measures and a healing touch policy that included withdrawal of criminal cases against 4,000 first-time stone-throwers.

"The Centre's unambiguous policy in Kashmir has now posed a big challenge for him. It's not clear how long he will continue to work, given that local people see him as an agent of the Centre," the official said.

There is also speculation that the BJP is trying to split its former ally PDP to form a government with the help of rebel MLAs and install a Hindu chief minister in the country's only Muslim-majority state.

Sajjad Lone's People's Conference Party is also said to be in touch with the BJP. Lone, however, is said to be nursing ambitions of becoming the new chief minister.

Some officials were sceptical about the role of an interlocutor in solving the Kashmir problem. "Kashmir is a political problem and it has to be resolved politically. Unless there is serious political will, things will not work," said an official with the home ministry's Jammu and Kashmir division.

He recalled that in 2010, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA had appointed a three-member group of interlocutors led by journalist Dilip Padgaonkar to design a political roadmap for the state.

The committee had a year later submitted a report that recommended a review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and laws pertaining to detention of people for years on suspicion.

"Neither the UPA nor the current dispensation has implemented the recommendations," the official said. "The report is still gathering dust."

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