All-party team in Kashmir, gets cold shoulder from separatists (Afternoon Lead)

Monday, September 20, 2010

SRINAGAR - Curfew and a separatist boycott - that was the scene that met the all-party delegation headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram which arrived here Monday to take stock of the situation in the volatile Kashmir Valley before deciding how to defuse tensions.

The 39-member team landed at the Srinagar airport in a special plane amid tight security and drove through deserted streets to the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Complex (SKICC) on the edge of the Dal Lake to meet political leaders from mainstream parties and prominent citizens from the valley.

Though Chidambaram said the team, which visits Jammu Tuesday, had arrived here with an “open mind”, separatist leaders in the valley where 102 people have died in as many days gave it the cold shoulder.

While Syed Ali Geelani, chief of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference, had earlier refused to meet the visitors, moderate leaders Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik Monday said they too would not meet the delegation, saying it was “a façade”.

Besides Chidambaram, the delegation also comprises Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal, who represents the Congress, as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, Communist Party of India’s Gurudas Dasgupta, National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah as well as Ramvilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

Chidambaram addressed the gathering and said the team had come with an “open mind” and the main purpose was to interact with people, listen to them patiently, and “carve out a path for taking Kashmir out of this present cycle of violence”.

However, the efforts cut little ice with the separatist leaders.

The Mirwaiz, who heads moderate wing of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, said the visit was “a facade and a joke”, while Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Malik said it has no utility.

Instead, the JKLF sent a memorandum listing two separate Kashmir committees in India and Pakistan as amongst the conditions for engaging in a dialogue process.

The signed memorandum to the delegation started by stating: “In unequivocal condemnation of the killings of our children and youth, we choose not to meet with your delegation.”

The memorandum then listed out the conditions for a dialogue process to resolve the Kashmir dispute. These included forming two separate Kashmir Committees in India and Pakistan.

The statement stressed the “need to create a process in which all views and options - most of all Kashmiri aspirations” are considered before arriving at an acceptable solution.

They suggested setting up an all-party “Kashmir Committee” for this purpose.

“Let the government of India facilitate to establish and empower an official body, a Kashmir Committee, consisting of senior representatives of all major Indian political parties to develop and enter into a process of engagement with the representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” it said.

“We believe that a similar Kashmir Committee, bringing together all political forces, should also be established in Pakistan. We will advocate to the political parties in Pakistan that this be done. This will ensure that all major political forces in India and Pakistan are on board with the peace process…”

People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti told IANS that the party had decided to send its delegation led by senior leader Muhammad Dilawar Mir to interact with the team.

“The visit has been hijacked by the ruling party,” she said, referring to the ruling National Conference.

The valley has been rocked by a cycle of violence with retaliatory firing by the security forces on stone-pelting mobs resulting in the death of 102 civilians, mostly teenagers and youth, in 102 days since June 11.

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