Why a meeting between Kashmir separatists and Norway’s former prime minister is an important development, finds out RIYAZ WANI

On November 23, the ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik landed in Srinagar and headed directly to the top separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s residence at Hyderpora where he was also joined by the Hurriyat M chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The meeting lasted half an hour after which Bondevik held brief meetings with the Kashmir Bar Association, a business alliance and some pro-government activists.

This was the first meeting of a foreign dignitary with the separatist leaders in six years which surprised many in Valley. More so, when this dignitary was none other than a former Prime Minister. Bondevik served as Prime Minister of Norway from 1997 to 2000, and from 2001 to 2005, making him the country’s longest serving non-Labour Party Prime Minister since World War II. He is now head of Oslo centre for peace and human rights.

Bondevik was in Srinagar for just around three hours and met Hurriyat and a few other groups.

“We held a productive meeting with Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik, As Norway is known to play a constructive role in conflict resolution across the globe we urged Mr Bondevik to help in ending the daily killings and in the urgent resolution of the festering Kashmir dispute,” Mirwaiz said. “We also told Mr Bondevik that New Delhi has kept the Kashmir issue lingering over the past seven decades, which has resulted in enormous suffering for the people including killing of civilians, and worst-ever human rights violations”.

Mirwaiz admitted that they were also surprised by Bondevik’s arrival. “We were informed a day earlier about Mr Bondevik’s arrival and that he was going to meet us,” Mirwaiz said adding Bondevik is the first foreign dignitary to meet them in years. “However, we are happy about the meeting and hope it leads to a positive outcome”.

The Hurriyat leader said that Bondevik told them he will be holding meetings in New Delhi and will fly to Islamabad and later to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to meet people there.

“We want that the situation changes for the better and the dialogue resumes between India and Pakistan for the resolution of Kashmir,” Mirwaiz said. “Bondevik told us he will make efforts towards this end. And we welcome it”.

The development is seen as significant considering it has coincided with the opening of the corridor to Kartarpur Sahib and attendant positive political discourse about it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even invoked Berlin wall in relation to the opening of the corridor. Is something finally changing between India, Pak and on Kashmir?

“Bondevik‘s visit to Kashmir and his meeting with the separatists is a significant development. More so, when Bondevik is the head of the Oslo centre for peace and human rights,” said the political commentator Gowhar Geelani. “It is like New Delhi is allowing a third party some room on Kashmir. However, it is still premature to conclude anything. We have to wait and watch what this visit leads to”.

Incidentally, the meeting between Bondevik and the separatists was facilitated by the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living. In recent years, Sri Sri has been actively involved in Kashmir and making efforts for the promotion of peace in the state. During 2016 unrest, he had held talks with the father of the slain militant commander Burhan Wani.

Bondevik is also known for negotiating peace between the LTTE rebels and the Sri Lankan government. And Norway was also behind the 1993 Oslo Accord between Palestine and Israel. The Oslo Accords were signed in the White House, but named after Norway’s capital city, where the secret negotiations took place. Is Norway involved in a similar process on Kashmir? Who knows?