The central government has started an apolitical initiative, involving civil society members, mostly prominent non-Kashmiri Muslim personalities, to help bring peace in Kashmir and a delegation is likely to visit the valley soon.
The initiative comes after two meetings of civil society activists with Home Minister Rajnath Singh here. Some of the activists who met the Home Minister said possible solutions to the present Kashmir situation were discussed at length in a "very open environment".
However, the day of the proposed visit has not been decided as yet. Neither is the composition of the delegation.
The last meeting with Rajnath Singh, held on Sunday, lasted more than two-and-a-half hours, and was attended by over a dozen people, including former Rajya Sabha MP Shahid Siddiqui, former Jammu and Kashmir interlocutor M.M. Ansari, defence analyst Qamar Agha, and Milli Gazette editor Zafarul Islam Khan.
The first meeting was held on August 18 and was attended by some 10 people, some of whom also attended Sunday’s meeting. Delhi-based social activist MJ Khan is said to have coordinated the meetings with the home minister.
"It was a long and comprehensive discussion and a lot of things were discussed. We have to take forward Atal (Bihari Vajpayee) ji’s doctrine (of Insaniyat, Jamhooriat and Kashmiriyat). The government needs to restore confidence of Kashmiris and be sensitive to their needs and sentiments," Siddiqui told IANS.
The Kashmir Valley has been on the boil for over six weeks now after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The cycle of violence in Kashmir has claimed at least 68 lives and left thousands injured in clashes with security forces.
Hundreds of the injured have partially or fully been blinded after being hit by pellets fired by police and paramilitary forces.
One of the participants, who didn’t wish to be named, blamed the situation in Kashmir on "a chain of broken promises by the centre".
But Agha argued that the first priority must be to somehow break the logjam and provide humanitarian relief to the people of the valley.
"We are asking the government to stop pellet guns and lift the curfew. But they say that if curfew is lifted the youth would resort to stone-pelting and arson. This is a Catch 22 situation. We have to come out of it," Agha told IANS.
"Our foremost concern is to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the injured and others. The violence has to be stopped somehow."
However, civil society is faced with a unique problem — who should it speak to in the valley?
"It is a leaderless and faceless agitation. The (separatist) Hurriyat has been left behind and the angry youth are just doing it spontaneously and on their own. The situation is far worse than 2010," Ansari, who was one of the three interlocutors appointed by the previous government after the 2010 Kashmir unrest, told IANS.
He argued that all stakeholders, including Pakistan, should be included in any peace talks on Kashmir.
Another point the civil society activists raised was that not all Kashmiris should be dubbed as anti-India or pro-Pakistan, or that the Indian state is at war with Kashmiris.
"The perception being created by a section of the media that all Kashmiris are pro-Pakistan or asking for freedom must stop. A perception is created that it is the Indian state versus the Kashmiris. This perception should be ended," said Siddiqui.
A few of the participants in the meetings with the Home Minister, however, pitched for a long-term solution instead of just a respond-when-there-is-violence approach.
"There is no long-term plan in the government’s mind. It is just a fire-fighting attempt," said Zafarul Islam Khan, who edits the English fortnightly Milli Gazette in Delhi.
Activist MJ Khan said the government should find a solution that works on the ground rather than taking populist measures in Kashmir.
"We feel that in the last 25 years at least, the government is doing what would sell in India rather than what would actually work on the ground in Kashmir. This approach should change if we want normalcy to return," he said.