March 2002 News

Centre working on new Kashmir strategy

20 March 2002
The Times of India

NEW DELHI: With the Prime Minister’s announcement of his visit to Kashmir along with the home and defence ministers, the stage is being set for a series of new initiatives on Kashmir.The first steps to be announced, perhaps, will be a major socio-economic package, which will provide the setting for the elections to the state assembly, possibly in October, official sources say. While details of the government’s strategy on Kashmir remains hazy, officials say they would work towards the new benchmark set by Vajpayee’s declaration in his August 15 speech last year that the elections would be ‘‘free and fair’’. The Prime Minister reiterated this assurance again in the Rajya Sabha this week. Almost coinciding with the PM’s Kashmir visit, Planning Commission deputy chairman K C pant, who has been the Centre’s principal interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir affairs, will be travelling to Islamabad, leading an official delegation to the SAARC ministerial meeting for preparing a poverty profile of member countries. The meeting is slated for April 7-9.Pant has been tasked to informally explore how the stalled bilateral dialogue could once again be resumed with Pakistan, highly placed sources told The Times of India. The Prime Minister’s visit to Kashmir, expected towards the month-end, with the home and defence ministers in tow, is clearly high-profile and intended to signal the high priority the Centre would be according to the state. While Prime Ministers have visited the trouble-torn state in the past, Vajpayee’s planned visit is unprecedented in its high profile.The PM and his delegation will meet a cross-section of the people, including, leaders, political activists and representatives of various groups. They will also take stock of the Centre-sponsored socio-economic measures which were set in motion over a year ago when K C Pant visited the state to find ways to address the Kashmir unrest.Sources on Wednesday said the delegation may announce some new schemes as welfare measures — partly to assuage chief minister Farooq Abdullah, a crucial partner in the NDA alliance, who has been quite critical and vocal about the Central allocations to the state in the budget and annual plan.The 23-party All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which claims to be the true representative of the peoples’ aspirations in Kashmir, has increasingly come under pressure to join the poll fray and prove their claim. Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat, now camping in the Capital with other senior APHC leaders, this time around has failed to garner support from diplomatic circles for their ‘‘cause’’.European diplomats and the US are learnt to have bluntly told them to face the polls. Bhat, despite repeated questions, declined to say anything on this.


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