PM Opening Hurriyat Door: Mufti
20 August 2003
The Indian Express
Srinagar: The Prime Minister's Independence Day announcement that he will be in Srinagar later this month acquires a new significance with Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed saying that the Centre will soon initiate a serious dialogue process at the 'highest political level' with Kashmiri separatists. In fact, such channels have already opened, he said in an exclusive interview with The Indian Express: 'The channels of communication at the highest political level in the Centre have already been opened up with the Hurriyat Conference and soon we will have a serious internal dialogue.' 'I convinced the Prime Minister and even the Deputy Prime Minister,' Mufti said. 'And I have no doubt that a serious dialogue (with separatists) is going to start very soon. And it will be done properly.' As for the ongoing initiative by former Home Secretary N N Vohra, Mufti said. 'I told them (Vajpayee and Advani) that Vohra is there. He is the emissary but open other channels as well. I told them the Centre has a stated position and so have the separatists. What's the harm in talking?' Asked if talks had begun, he said: 'You must see the silver linning. Moulvi Ansari (Hurriyat chairman) welcomed the Prime Minister's (Independence day) speech. He even welcomed my speech. Then Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that all the people should come forward for a dialogue process.' Mufti reinforced what he called the Centre's 'seriousness,' this time. 'They (the Government of India) is seeing it as an opportunity. They are very positive about it. But they would like to take the bull by its horns.' Will the BJP-led coalition take such a bold and controversial step given that elections are near? 'I don't think elections (Lok Sabha polls) are so close,' Mufti said, 'And I don't believe elections will deter the Centre.' Mufti said he strongly advocates the inclusion of the Hizbul Mujahideen in the talks along with the separatist leadership here. 'They are locals and thus are an important party.' When asked whether he proposes a dialogue with the militants in a third country as was done in the case of Nagas, he said: 'I don't know how it will it happen ultimately. It can be decided later. I don't think Naga pattern is comparable with our issue.' Defending his decision to release top Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, he said: 'I sincerly believe in democracy. If we go out and talk to people, let Geelani or any other separatist leader do the same...Let Yasin Malik carry on with his signature campaign. If he wants Kashmiris to play a role in resolving the dispute, we also favour that.' Arguing that there was a need for a momentum in the political process, the Chief Minister said: 'Once people are allowed to vent their anger-when they are allowed to talk and protest, it helps to lower the significance of gun...I want people to come out on the streets to air their grievances. It's part of the political process.' He said that his government's demand to open up the Srinagar-Rawalpindi road in Kashmir and the Suchitgarh road in Jammu- allowing residents on either side of the LoC to meet-is the first step towards creating an atmosphere of reconciliation. 'I tell them (the Centre), while you take steps like freeing Muneer or treating Noor, allow us to create a similar environment here,' he said. 'Let Kashmiris travel to Islamabad. They can sit in a bus in the morning and will be there by evening and let the people from Pakistan come and stay for a few days in Gulmarg. Let the people meet, it will creat an atmosphere for peace.'