Separatist Turned MLA Pleads PM For Ceasefire
14 April 2003
The Indian Express
Srinagar: A separatist leader who made headlines for advocating polls and azadi in the same breath and led a massive pro-election wave in north Kashmir last year wants Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to announce a ceasefire in the Valley, invite separatists for broad-based talks and hold dialogue with Pakistan. Vajpayee is scheduled to visit Kashmir on April 18. Ghulam Mohideen Sofi - who fought and won the recent assembly polls from Handwara - was a proxy candidate of the People's Conference, a Hurriyat constituent. He later formed the People's Democratic Forum - an amalgam of seven legislators - and is part of the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led government as Forest Minister. 'This is the first time Vajpayee is visiting Kashmir after last year's Assembly polls. I hope the Centre takes an initiative, announces a ceasefire and invites everybody to join a broad-based dialogue process,' Sofi told The Indian Express. He said that Vajpayee had himself got the process going when he underscored his commitment for resolving Kashmir problem through dialogue while addressing the nation from the Red Fort last year. 'I am sure he will keep his word,' he said. Showing discontent over the Centre's latest Kashmir pointman N.N. Vohra's mission, Sofi said the Centre's priority in any talks should be those who dispute Kashmir to be part of India. 'Those who accept Kashmir to be a part of India are no party at all,' he said. According to the J-K leader, for a permanent solution of the Kashmir issue, dialogue with Pakistan was essential. 'There is only one way out and that is possible through a dialogue where ultimately all the three parties, including Pakistan, need to be engaged,' he said. 'And even if two parties start talking first, it will also be useful as it will help to push forward the process'. His observations assume significance since he was the first separatist leader to join the electoral process without abandoning separatism and sought votes on a plank that he will push for a dialogue process to solve the Kashmir issue. 'I will be there on April 18 to welcome the prime minister. I am hopeful that he knows the ground situation well and announces serious and concrete steps to push forward the peace process here,' Sofi said.