Pawar to hold talks with Kashmir leaders
10 April 2001
The Asian Age
Srinagar: Former Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar, who arrived here on Tuesday, will hold discussions on Kashmir with several local politicians, ranging from chief minister Farooq Abdullah to secessionist leader Shabir Ahmed Shah, during his four-day stay in the Valley. Mr Pawar, accompanied by his wife and daughter, flew into Srinagar with noted Kashmiri businessman Vijay Dhar, who served as an aide to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They are staying at Mr Dhar’s Gupkar Road bungalow here. Sources said that despite stiff opposition from within the government, particularly from Union home minister L.K. Advani, the Prime Minister does not foresee any harm in clearing the Pakistan visit by the Hurriyat Conference leaders. In fact, efforts are underway to clear the decks for the visit of all five central executive members of the amalgam to the neighbouring country. The secessionist leaders say that if permitted to travel to Pakistan they could hold discussions with relevant politicians, both in the government and Opposition, besides Kashmiri expatriates and commanders of various militant outfits in the neighbouring country before actually entering into a dialogue with New Delhi. Their visit, they hope, would also work as a psychological catalyst back home in Kashmir. “If we start talking to the Indians rightaway the move might be seen as a sellout by people here and we don’t want to be called renegades,” said a Hurriyat leader. According to him, the Hurriyat Conference delegation will plead before the Pakistan-based militant leaders and their overground supporting leadership to reciprocate Mr Vajpayee’s peace efforts by declaring ceasefire for a couple of months. The present term of the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Prime Minister in November lasts until May 26. The idea behind the Hurriyat Conference move is to seize this opportunity for embarking on the otherwise vexed issue of Kashmir by holding peace talks not necessarily by involving Pakistan into these initially. The military junta in Islamabad is not averse to the idea, sources added. Mr Pawar, sources said, has sought a meeting with Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Mr Geelani flew back home on the same Jet Airlines flight which brought Mr Pawar here from New Delhi on Tuesday. The other coincidence was Mr Shabir Shah was on the same flight. Mr Pawar will also try to meet some other secessionist leaders from the Hurriyat and other outfits, particularly Maulvi Omar Farooq. Dr Farooq Abdullah will fly here from Jammu later this week to meet Mr Pawar. The two will hold detailed discussions on the imbroglio and the latest developments on the ground before Mr Pawar flies back to New Delhi on Friday afternoon. Last week, the Centre offered unconditional talks with Kashmiri political and militant groups and appointed deputy chairman of the Planning Commission K.C. Pant as its new pointman on Kashmir. While the militant outfits, including Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, rejected the offer, the Hurriyat said it would not meet Mr Pant or any other government representative before its Pakistan delegation is allowed to travel to the neighbouring country. It also objected to the Centre’s idea of involving everybody in the state on the proposed dialogue, insisting that talking to a crowd would only consume years without tangible results. Mr Shah on Tuesday endorsed the Hurriyat viewpoint: “Don’t speak to a crowd as that would only be wasting time.” He referred to Pakistani military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf’s, recent statements on Kashmir and said that “a window of opportunity has been thrown on India and it must seize it.” He added that there was no logic in talking to mainstream political or other groups active in Kashmir but the need was to discuss issues with “freedom-loving” people.