April 2003 News

Kashmir Waits For PM Visit With High Hopes

15 April 2003
The Asian Age

Srinagar: Will Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Kashmir visit later this week be open-handed politically and otherwise, or will he once again disappoint the people of the troubled state by embarking on the beaten track. Chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and his coalition partners are expecting the Prime Minister to announce a comprehensive economic package during his two-day visit starting this Friday. The state government has already outlined its economic needs during a series of discussions with the Centre. He would also wish him to appreciate his (Mufti's) so-called healing touch policy in dealing with the situation in the state. On the other hand, those among the separatists who want to call it a day for varied reasons are hoping that Mr Vajpayee would create a political space for them to step in by announcing a political package. Even an offer of unconditional talks by the Prime Minister can suffice. But the hardliners will not accept anything but his publicly acknowledging the fact that Kashmir is a disputed territory and promise the Centre is willing to hold talks with the principal party, a frequently stated reference to the people of the state, and will also involve Pakistan. If one goes by the Prime Minister's assertions made during a press conference at Gangtok on Monday, he has ruled out any dialogue with Pakistan till Islamabad puts an end to the continuing cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. At best, he may reiterate at his Srinagar rally on Friday afternoon that the Centre is willing to talk to militants if they shun violence. But in order to respect the Kashmiri sentiment and keeping in view the local sensitivities involved and changing scenario in the aftermath of the Iraq war, he would try to be less harsh on Pakistan. He may even extend a hand of friendship to the neighbouring country but would expect it to build a conducive atmosphere for talks to resolve disputes between the two sides before Islamabad could grab it. As far the states economic hardships, the Prime Minister is unlikely to be as generous as his hosts expect. But most pleasant surprise from Mr Vajpayee in all probability will be his declaring Srinagar as an international airport. He is also likely to give his nod to linking state's all district headquarters with the computerised railway reservation network and also announce certain concessions towards improving power situation and to help the ailing industry particularly tourism. Official sources said that the Prime Minister would hold informal discussions with the state governor, the chief minister and senior officers of the security forces and local administration on the prevailing law and order situation. But contrary to reports in the media he will not attend the Unified (Command) Headquarters meeting to review the security scenario in the troubled state. Such an activity would have sent wrong signal about the purpose of his visit, which both he and his hosts wanted to link with the effort aimed at dressing the wounds inflicted on the people of Kashmir all these years. All said and done, Mr Vajpayee will become the first Prime Minister to address a public rally in Srinagar after the advent of militancy in 1989. The venue of the much-talked- about rally is city's Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium where Congress President Sonia Gandhi had, on the eve of the September-October 2002 Assembly, elections chose to win their hearts by mentioning about their miseries and promising to comfort them.


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