August 2002 News

Hurriyat prepared for talks if Pak involved

13 August 2002
The Asian Age

Srinagar: Faced with stiff opposition from within, the Hurriyat Conference leadership has decided not to enter into a dialogue with the Centre unless it agrees to involve Pakistan in it. Hence, the reiteration of old rhetoric by Kashmir’s main alliance of separatist parties has virtually sealed the chance of a breakthrough in the troubled state prior to the September-October Assembly elections. However, the conglomerate will discuss issues related to the Kashmir problem with the members of the Kashmir Committee formed by former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani. ''We refused to talk to Mr K.C. Pant because he was the government’s nominee whereas the Kashmir Committee has been formed by the people of India,'' Prof. Abdul Gani Butt, Hurriyat Conference chairman, said here on Monday. Deputy prime minister L.K. Advani had, through Mr Jethmalani, conveyed to the Hurriyat Conference and other separatist groups last Friday the Centre’s willingness to hold talks with anyone from the state who had any relevant issue to discuss with it. Thinking the issue was very sensitive, the Hurriyat leadership decided to discuss it with the members of its general council before taking a final decision. The 21- member general council met here on Monday, but many speakers firmly believed the talks offer and the Kashmir Committee formed by Mr Jethmalani were ''two faces of same coin'' and could be a ''trap,'' the alliance sources said. On the other hand, those in favour of holding discussions with Mr Jethmalani’s Kashmir Committee were of the view that ''we should not shy away from holding talks with anybody outside the government.'' They were, however, strongly opposed to any discussion that is overtly or covertly linked to the Centre’s effort to seek participation of the separatists in the elections, sources said. Prof. Butt assured the participants that elections were not an issue at all and that he and his colleagues in the Hurriyat Conference’s central executive had already made it clear to the concerned quarters. He was, however, of the view that exchanging views with Mr Jethmalani and other members of his Kashmir Committee would not mean holding talks with the government. ''The two are separate,'' he said to pacify an angry member. Later, while briefing reporters on the outcome of the general council and working committee meetings, Prof. Butt said, ''As far as elections are concerned, the chapter is over for us.'' He added, ''We are not going to participate and the people know what that means.'' He said the two bodies had advised the executive, the highest decision-making body of the Hurriyat Conference, ''to start talks on a principle and for a principle.'' Elaborating, he said that the principle was that the talks must be tripartite involving India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri representatives with a view to resolve the core issue of Kashmir and not to participate in any election and that these must be result- oriented. He said that the participants strongly felt that ''we should work towards the betterment of the people of India and Pakistan and try to bright about peace and tranquillity in the region.'' Replying to questions, he said no formal invitation had been received from Mr Jethmalani so far.


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