Kashmir interlocutors submit report, focus on ‘meaningful autonomy’

New Delhi/Jammu/Srinagar: Advocating “meaningful autonomy” and speedy development, the three interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir Wednesday submitted their report to Home Minister P. Chidambaram that outlines a roadmap for the government to address various sensitive issues linked to the state.

A year after they were appointed, the interlocutors — journalist Dileep Padgoankar, academic Radha Kumar and former civil servant M.M. Ansari — are learnt to have also recommended the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act from the state that has seen a murderous insurgency for over two decades.

“The minister has told us he would now take the report forward,” Padgaonkar told media persons after presenting the report.

While avoiding the “pre-1952 status” phraseology, the report speaks about ensuring “meaningful autonomy” for the state, while preserving its distinct regional and ethnic diversities, said sources.

The report, sources said, has recommended developmental councils for all the three regions – Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh – and devolution of powers to the sub-regions.

It also recommends a massive economic package to tackle the huge unemployment in the state and major infrastructure development to provide connectivity and boost tourism, officials in the know said.

Flanked by his team members, Padgaonkar stressed that the document would have been “far more worthwhile” if the separatists had engaged in a dialogue, and rued the fact that they “missed the bus”.

“Indeed, our prime focus in the report is the welfare of people of Jammu and Kashmir and it is along this key concept that we have made out recommendations,” Padgaonkar said.

“We have taken into account the stated public position of various separatist groups. These have been reflected in our report. The fact of the matter is that we have tried again and again to engage them and again and again they refused. I believe they have missed the bus,” he said.

Although Padgaonkar declined to divulge the recommendations in the report, he mentioned that people’s views on “questions related to Armed Forces Special Powers Act to the Disturbed Areas Act to various other legislations that are in force,” have been incorporated.

“We have also had regular consultations with the heads of the police, para-military forces, the army, and we have got their side of story. All this has been reflected in our report.”

The report elicited diverse reactions, with separatists predictably dismissive of it and the people in the state a shade cynical, saying they don’t really believe it will offer any solutions to their problems.

While those in the Jammu region fear the recommendations could be one-sided, focussing attention on Kashmir, the common man and separatists in the valley feel the impressions of the interlocutors would matter little in resolving larger political issues.

While avoiding the “pre-1952 status” phraseology, the report speaks about ensuring “meaningful autonomy” for the state, while preserving its distinct regional and ethnic diversities, said sources.

The report is based on the interlocutors’ meeting with nearly 700 delegations and three round table conferences they attended. It factors in various shades of opinion, including various inputs from both Hurriyat factions.

The trio was appointed Oct 13 last year, when the Kashmir situation had turned grim following street protests and the killing of more than 100 youth.

A year on, there was apprehension in Jammu, one of the three main regions of Jammu and Kashmir. Residents in the region felt the report could be “one-sided and against the interests of Jammu”.

“In their last press conference in Srinagar, the interlocutors said clearly they would be addressing the aspirations of the people within the framework of the country’s constitution,” said Professor Muzaffar Ahmad, a college teacher in Srinagar.

Jammu’s main demand is for an increase in the number of legislative assembly seats. The region has 37 seats in the house of 87, the Valley has 46, while Ladakh has four seats.

The separatists say the interlocutors’ report is immaterial and what really matters is a permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Abdul Gani Bhat, spokesperson and former chairman of the moderate Hurriyat group, told in Srinagar that what mattered was the permanent settlement of the dispute on Kashmir.

Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani called the appointment of the interlocutors another gimmick by New Delhi to push the dispute under the carpet.


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