Patil Shot His Mouth Off And Killed PM's J&K Visit
9 November 2004
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's much-awaited trip to Jammu & Kashmir, scheduled for November 17-18, has been postponed again with political temperatures rising in the Valley after Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's visit to Srinagar last Saturday. It is understood that the decision was taken on Monday after it became evident to the official Kashmir interlocutors that the Hurriyat separatists would stay away from the Prime Minister's visit after Patil issued a written statement accusing them of coming under pressure from Islamabad and staying away from talks. This is the second postponement of the PM's trip, the first last month because of the EC's code of conduct. Government sources indicate that Singh is now planning to visit the Valley after the trip of Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, as SAARC's outgoing chairman, to New Delhi on November 23-24. This is being done as the Hurriyat Conference-within which unity efforts are under way-will meet Aziz during his trip to Delhi and is expected to have a definitive position on reviving the peace dialogue with the Centre. The Kashmir issue will also figure in bilateral talks between Singh and Aziz. Kashmir interlocutors admit that Patil's statement has only made the Hurriyat and other separatists more rigid in their stand for a tripartite dialogue involving Pakistan. According to them, the groundwork done in Kashmir for the PM's trip by Textiles Secretary and veteran Kashmir hand Wajahat Habibullah, Special Advisor to PM M K Narayanan and former Kashmir Advisor A S Dulat has now been undermined. Habibullah and Dulat visited Kashmir last month in an effort to get the separatists to come out and meet the Prime Minister during his Kashmir visit. Both the interlocutors are said to have conveyed to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) the willingness of separatists to talk to Singh. However, Patil's unusual written statement on Hurriyat has queered the pitch as even moderate Hurriyat leaders, who had criticised Pakistan during the NDA regime, have now been potrayed as proxies of Islamabad. 'Patil should have made it clear that the Centre will only talk to the elected representatives and made Hurriyat irrelevant to the dialogue ... his statement is a half-way house that only makes things difficult for the Centre,' a Kashmir interlocutor told The Indian Express. What is critical is that the MEA had no knowledge of Patil's statement even though it had bilateral ramifications with Pakistan. Not helping matters has been the surge in violence and the angry protests over the rape of a woman and the sexual assault of her daughter allegedly by an Army Major.