What is the Kashmir conflict about? Is autonomy a feasible solution? How would an expert describe the current government’s approach to Kashmir? With the release of her new book ‘Paradise At War’, Dr Radha Kumar, one of the three interlocutors appointed by the Centre to Kashmir in 2010, answers the questions we’ve all thought had about the Kashmir conflict.

Is there a solution to the Kashmir conflict?

For me, the solution was always that you take autonomy as your baseline. But time changes. What you could have done in the 60s, 70s or the 80s, you can’t now, because the situation has changed, the people have changed, and your government itself has changed. An example to think about this is, “When I have made people hate me so much, how do I say that we can find a solution between us?” That’s the real question, and I wish I had the answer, but I don’t.

Is autonomy for Kashmir an option?

When we say feasibility, the truth of the matter is that for the last 70 years, Kashmir has been between a rock and a hard place. Kashmir’s geopolitical situation is such that independence would never last; they would end up always having to be with India or with Pakistan. Obviously, as an Indian, I would prefer that Kashmir stays with India. But I keep coming back to that one moral question; if our government and our people feel that Kashmiris are not part of India — and that is the approach that we have seen in the past few years — then with what standing can they say that the future is only with us?

How would you view this government’s approach to Kashmir?

I think they have driven Kashmiris away from us in a way that hasn’t happened for the last 30 years. And what has happened in the last few years is such a departure from an earlier situation. One is at a loss, I don’t understand why an approach of saying that these people are terrorists, they are anti-nationals, irrationals. What do you think you can achieve when you have that approach?

So, what should the government be doing?

I think the steps are fairly well-known. You rein in your counter-insurgency alone approach. You start to put some security and safety measures on the ground. It sounds banal to say this, but you do have to have that healing touch and you have to adopt a series of measures to show that you have an intention to reform.

What is the lesson on Kashmir that you wish subsequent governments would take?

One, learn from the past 15 years, which is the period in which we have had some of the most sustained peacemaking initiatives. Learn from that, take the lessons from what former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee did and then learn what the successor government, the UPA, did. The problem is that if you discard everything that has been done, I don’t see where you start, then.

What’s India’s biggest asset when it comes to Kashmir?

When I went in 2010, 120 people had died. There was huge anger in the streets and among the people of Kashmir and yet within two months, they began to come to us, and to think about how could they engage themselves in the peace process. That should be regarded by our government as an enormous asset. I don’t think I could ever have been that forgiving. But they won’t forget, but they would say, ‘I will take that extra step’. And to me, that extraordinary response, when you have been punished so much, to still be able to say, ‘I am coming back to the table, I am looking for a way out’. This should be taken by any government of ours as an enormous asset, and yet it isn’t.