Centre, Hizbul commanders hold talks
3 August 2000
Srinagar: In a major breakthrough, the talks between the Hizbul Mujahideen commanders and a Central Government team began here on a positive note today. Both sides agreed to go ahead with the process and nominated two committees for the purpose. It was for the first time that four commanders of the militant organisation had direct talks with the Centre's representatives along with three mediators. The Union Home Secretary, Mr. Kamal Pandey, assisted by special secretaries in the Ministry - Mr. M. B. Kaushal and Mr. Tilak Raj Kakkar - and the Joint Secretary, Mr. Verma, met the four Hizbul commanders - Mr. Riyaz Rasool, Mr. Masood, Mr. Farooq Riyaz and Mr. Zaffar. The People's Political Front chief and Hizbul-nominated mediator, Mr. Fazal-haq-Qureshi, and his two associates - Mr. Musadiq Aadil and Mr. G. M. Naikoo- were also present. The four Hizbul men, two of whom were masked, drove to the highly-guarded Nehru Guest House - venue of the meeting- from an unknown destination. Later, Mr. Masood, spokesman for the outfit, said they would not discuss anything political but only work out the modalities for the ceasefire. 'We are here to make the atmosphere conducive to address the core issue,' he told waiting reporters. The mediator, Mr. Qureshi, denied any threat to his life. On the criticism by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference for accepting the responsibility, he said, 'we will talk to them also.' Mr. Pandey said the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere. 'Today, it was agreed that the modalities for preparing the ground for restoration of peace should be pursued seriously so that elements opposed to this process could be identified and isolated.' Further talks would be continued by the two committees nominated for the purpose by the two sides. The Centre would be represented by Mr. B. Kaushal, Special Secretary (Home), the State Principal Secretary (Home), Mr. C. Phonsoung, and representatives of Army and other security forces as members. The Hizbul committee would be headed by Mr. Saifullah Khalid, a top- ranking commander. 'The committees will meet shortly in Srinagar', Mr. Pandey said adding that Pakistan was not involved in the talks. Expressing the Government's desire to continue the process, Mr. Pandey said, 'the Centre is keen on taking the process to its logical conclusion and appeals to the people to support its efforts.' 'On behalf of the Government, I congratulate the Hizbul for taking the bold initiative of (declaring a ceasefire) particularly, because people of Kashmir earnestly want peace to be restored.' The Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister had welcomed the ceasefire offer made by the Hizbul leader, Mr. Majeed Dar, on July 24, and gave the go-ahead for the dialogue process to be initiated, Mr. Pandey said. It appears that today's meeting has pushed the deadline of August 8, fixed by the Hizbul for tripartite talks on the Kashmir dispute, to the background. Before the meeting, Mr. Pandey held a discussion with the Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. J. R. Mukherjee.