Dialogue offer too late: Hurriyat
6 April 2001
The Hindustan Times
Jammu: There are no takers for New Delhi's offer of peace talks among Kashmiri separatists - the major players without whose consent the peace process threatens to end up as yet another meaningless ritual. That it took Centre 138 days after announcing a ceasefire to outline its next step of holding talks with "all sections of peace-loving people of the State including those who are currently outside it", is in itself amazing. The naming of K.C. Pant, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, is equally surprising. Pant has political experience, but his capability as a negotiator in conflict situations is open to question. This offer would have been more valid and carried both moral and political weight had it come along with announcement of unilateral ceasefire in November last year. It could have exerted pressure on the Hurriyat Conference that sees roadmap to peace in Kashmir coming only via Islamabad. "Things would have been different had this announcement come close on heels of the ceasefire announcement", said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, former APHC Chairman. "At this point of time, the whole statement is vague", he said. His senior colleague APHC Chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat wants the Govt to be more specific. "We should be allowed to visit Pakistan. What is the point in talking to India alone?" Bhat says. Kashmir watchers feel that deteriorating situation in the past over four months of ceasefire has made the Govt to make this offer. Nearly 400 civilians and 170 security forces personnel have been killed since the November 28, 2000 ceasefire came into effect. Apart from a rise in killings, a more worrying scenario is the acceptability of foreign militant outfits, particularly that of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. These "Jehadi groups" are now seen as liberators and not as "outsiders spoiling Kashmir". Yet another tragic fallout from the ceasefire has been the rise of fundamentalism in which leaders such as former Hurriyat chairman and Jamait-i-Islami ideologue Syed Ali Shah Geelani have become much more relevant than ever before. All these factors have apparently led the Government to come out with fresh initiative. How fruitful it would be in the given backdrop of reluctance of the militants to accept in its present form is open to question.