All party team meets wounded, anguished Kashmiris (Afternoon Lead)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SRINAGAR/JAMMU - Indian political leaders Tuesday spoke to some of those wounded in firing by security forces to understand the agony of the still curfew-bound Kashmir Valley before flying to Jammu region for more interactions with people.

The streets of Srinagar remained deserted yet another day because of curfew even as some residents felt that the delegation from New Delhi made a good beginning by reaching out to separatist leaders Monday.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram and other delegation members visited Tangmarg town in the valley where six people were killed Sep 13.

Some delegation members visited hospitals here to meet young and not-so-young men injured during clashes with the security forces, who have gunned down more than 100 civilian protestors across the valley since June 11.

With the unrest showing no signs of abating, the central government had despatched the delegation drawn from all political parties to the state. The group is attempting to get a sense of the ground situation in the state before deciding on steps to defuse the tension.

But Chief Minister Omar Abdullah warned that while the delegation’s meetings were a step forward, the central government should come out with “something substantial” to overcome the anger on the streets.

“I don’t think anybody expected them to reach out,” Abdullah said, referring to the meetings political leaders from New Delhi had in Srinagar Monday with Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik.

Small groups from the delegation set aside protocol to call on Hurriyat leaders Gilani and Farooq as well as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Malik after the three refused to meet the visitors.

Abdullah said: “It is only the first step. Unless something concrete follows, this will just be a symbolic interaction. I am hoping something substantial will come out of these meetings.”

Like in the Kashmir Valley, the delegation met a cross-section of people in Jammu too.

Among others, they met traders and Kashmiri Hindus who fled the valley after the separatist campaign broke out in 1989. The movement has left thousands dead.

The Jammu-based Panthers Party boycotted the delegation.

Earlier in the day, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (MIM) Asaduddin Owaisi and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Sushma Swaraj were among the political leaders who visited the Hazratbal in Srinagar. It houses the holy relic of the Prophet and is the holiest Muslim shrine in Jammu and Kashmir.

But Sushma Swaraj made it clear that there was no unanimity in the delegation over Monday’s meetings with separatist leaders.

She said the decision to meet the separatist leaders in groups was not a collective one. She said some delegates had expressed a desire to meet the separatists.

“That was their personal decision. If some people want to go, we cannot stop them. But we decided not to go,” she said.

An official said that the curfew was continuing in the valley because of intelligence reports that “miscreants” had planned to incite violence when the delegation toured Srinagar.

On Monday, the delegation met representatives of trade, industry, tour groups, transport, apple growers, NGOs, students, vice-chancellors as well as some prominent writers and journalists.

Representatives of Sikhs also called on the delegation Monday evening. So did groups of Gujjar and Bakerwala communities.

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