Peace in Kashmir important for dialogue process: PM
24 April 2007
Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi: Amid a boycott by major separatist groups of the third Kashmir roundtable, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Tuesday that peace in Jammu and Kashmir was essential for progress in talks with Pakistan and eventual reconciliation between the two countries.'There are two dimensions to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir. One is an internal one and the other, an external one, involving Indo-Pakistan relations. It is our intention and sincere desire to advance on both fronts towards resolving the problems through a process of dialogue,' Manmohan Singh said while opening the third edition of the roundtable.Holding out hope that relations with Pakistan were improving and efforts were on to address pending issues, the prime minister was quick to add that the exercise would be futile unless a peaceful environment was created by curbing terrorist activities.'I had said a year ago in Amritsar that the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir can, with the active encouragement of the governments of India and Pakistan, work out cooperative, consultative mechanisms so as to maximize the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region,' he said.Representatives of all major political parties, including regional and ethnic groups, prominent citizens and intellectuals, were part of the conference, which is taking place exactly a year after the last one in Srinagar.Asserting that a 'new Jammu and Kashmir' must be created on the basis of a shared vision, Manmohan Singh made a strong pitch for tolerance, understanding and accommodation to build a better future for a region battered by 17 years of separatist violence that has claimed over 45,000 lives.The first roundtable on Jammu and Kashmir held in February last year, minus the separatist brigade, was exploratory in nature. The prime minister had then admitted there were differences among the Kashmiri people over the future of the region.In the second roundtable that concluded in Srinagar - also without the separatists - Manmohan Singh built on the real political momentum for change within Jammu and Kashmir itself. Following successful by-elections and a drop in violence levels, the prime minister had announced the setting up of five crucial working groups on several burning issues that affect Kashmir's citizenry.The roundtable discussion that will run through the day will focus on the recommendations of the four working groups to establish a credible mechanism to take the dialogue forward with all disaffected groups.The four working groups set up to work on confidence building measures across segments of society, strengthening of relations across the Line of Control (LoC), economic development and good governance submitted their recommendations.However, the fifth crucial working group, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmad, which was to have prepared a roadmap for future deliberations on centre-state relations, reached a deadlock.Manmohan Singh pointed out that a harmonious neighbourhood and reconciliation with Pakistan were important to realise the vision of an India and South Asia free from the fear of war, want and exploitation. 'For this, it is essential to resolve our differences and overcome the trust deficit that has cast a shadow on our relations,' he said.Sources in the Prime Minister's Office hinted that concessions to the kin of those affected by militant violence would be announced and transport link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad was likely to be opened up for residents and tourists. Though a majority of the separatist groups, including both moderate and hardline Hurriyat Conference factions, have decided to boycott the meet, Hashim Qureshi, one of the founders of JKLF, who now heads Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party, attended the meeting. He had attended the first roundtable, but boycotted the second.The Bharatiya Janata Party said it would ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the roundtable to disclose all that is happening over Kashmir following Pakistan's reported assertion that both countries were moving towards a settlement of the issue. 'If Islamabad says the Kashmir issue is near settlement, the prime minister must tell the country and parliament where we have reached in these talks,' senior BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra said.