Mir Qasim the mediator?
30 April 2000
Srinagar: A ''behind-the-scenes'' process of dialogue with the separatist camp has begun with the former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Syed Mir Qasim, emerging as a key player. Though the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) as also the Central Government has been crossing swords over the issue, the developments in the last few days are seen as positive. Highly-placed sources told The Hindu, that a serious exercise had begun at the Prime Minister''s Office (PMO) to involve all ''disillusioned sections'' in a process which would help to create confidence among the rival parties. Notwithstanding his denial having any specific role in the process, the veteran Kashmir politician has suddenly emerged as a key player. An ageing politician, who resigned as Chief Minister in 1974 to pave way for Sheikh Abdullah coming to power, Mr. Qasim reached here on Wednesday last after a prolonged stay in Delhi. Sources said he was specially flown here by a BSF plane. Though he denied that he had been given any role Mr. Qasim admitted that an initiative had been taken in Delhi. ''Yes, there is an initiative at the Government level to have a dialogue with different sections of people'' Mr. Qasim told The Hindu. He was ready to play a role to find an everlasting solution to the Kashmir crisis. Sources said the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser, Mr. Brajesh Mishra, called on Mr. Qasim in Delhi and had a marathon meeting. Though it is not known what transpired, reports suggest that the Centre had decided to involve him in the process of initiating a dialogue with different leaders. Sources said Mr. Qasim had started establishing contact with the Hurriyat leaders here. A Kashmir cell has also been set up in the Home Ministry to monitor the process and the former Union Home Secretary, Mr. K. Padmanabiah, has been asked to be in-charge of the cell. Mr. P.N. Dhar, former Principal Secretary to Indira Gandhi, is also assisting Mr. Qasim, the sources added. Before making a formal offer to the separatist camp particularly the Hurriyat Conference, the Centre wanted to establish a ''credible'' link which would not jeopardise the game in the long run. The Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdus Sattar''s recent statement has also been encouraging. He supported talks with separatists to create an atmosphere in which the Kashmir issue could be negotiated. Soon after Mr Qasim''s arrival here, a meeting of the Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, and the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, has also assumed significance. Mr. Fernandes alongwith Dr. Abdullah called on Mr. Qasim at his residence. Mr. Qasim himself said the meeting was not arranged terming it a routine one but it has set tongues wagging. However, analysts attribute it to Dr. Abdullah''s apprehensions about having a direct dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference. Since Mr. Fernandes takes care of Dr. Abdullah''s interests in Delhi, he has tried to keep him in the picture by meeting Mr Qasim. Dr. Abdullah''s National Conference in the past few weeks has completely changed its stand on various issues, trying to be pro-Kashmiri by criticising the security forces for their ''atrocities'' and vehemently pursuing the ''dead issue'' of greater autonomy to the State.