SRINAGAR: India appointed Monday a special government representative to pursue talks in Kashmir aimed at easing a decades-long conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
It is the first such initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an ardent nationalist, to address tensions in the restive territory since his right-wing party took power in 2014.
Dineshwar Sharma, a former intelligence chief with experience of insurgencies in India’s northeast, has been named special envoy to open talks with Kashmir’s various factions.
“As a representative of government of India, Sharma will initiate a sustained interaction and dialogue to understand legitimate aspirations of the people of Kashmir,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
Similar efforts in the past to resolve the intractable conflict have failed.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, but both claim the territory in full.
For decades, rebel groups have fought soldiers deployed in India’s only Muslim-majority state in a bloody insurgency, demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan.
There is no suggestion Pakistan will be involved in this latest effort at peace in Kashmir.
Critics have accused India – which maintains a standing force of half a million soldiers in Kashmir – of extending an olive branch while refusing to loosen its grip on the Himalayan territory.
The army this year launched “Operation All-out” to hunt insurgents fighting against Indian rule in the restive state. At least 166 militants and 59 security personnel have died so far this year.
Modi – whose government has not engaged with separatists since 2014 – struck a conciliatory note in August, saying the restive state needed a healing touch “not bullets and abuses”.
Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and an outspoken government critic, welcomed the initiative but reserved judgement until talks had begun.
“One can’t get everything, so for now we’ll take what we can get,” he said.__The Nation