Monday, April 16, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Pant begins dialogue on Kashmir
20-odd political groups invited formally
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 15
Mr K.C. Pant, who has been nominated by the Centre to initiate a political dialogue which could lead to permanent peace in Jammu and Kashmir, today began the process by formally inviting representative groups from the violence-hit state, including the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, for unconditional talks.

While issuing formal letters for the talks to 20-odd representative groups in Kashmir, including the state’s representative in Parliament, leaders of political parties in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and Council and leaders of various Kashmiri groups like the APHC, the Shabir Shah group, two groups from Kargil and the Chief Executive of the Ladakh Autonomous Council, Mr Pant kickstarted the first round of talks by holding discussions with senior Kashmir leader and former Chief Minister, Mr Mir Qasim.

Though the APHC has not responded positively to the government initiative so far, Mr Pant hoped that the Hurriyat would participate in the talks. He felt they would take a decision in their forthcoming executive meeting.

The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission said the people of the valley were desirous of peace as the continuing violence had disrupted the social and economic development of the state. In this respect they would be keenly watching the reaction of the Hurriyat leaders to the government’s offer for peace talks.

Mr Pant said while the government had not set any conditions for the talks, it was for the APHC to desist from setting pre-conditions for the dialogue. “The doors are open for them to join the talks”, he said while quoting the government statement on the initiative.

He also made it clear that the doors were also not closed for Kashmiri organisations which were currently engaged in militancy in the state but were desirous of peace.

Asked if the government would talk to groups from Pakistan, Mr Pant said the Centre’s stand was well known. This possibility would depend on Pakistan curbing cross-border terrorism and putting an end to the vicious anti-India propaganda. Bilateral talks with Pakistan, too, would depend on that country acting according to the Simla Agreement and the spirit of the Lahore Declaration.

Hoping that the parties concerned from Kashmir would participate in the political dialogue, Mr Pant said the government expected that all right-thinking people in the state would join hands with the government and march purposefully in quest of the peace which has eluded them for the past 12 years.

Asked about the APHC’s contention that such talks had been held with the people of Kashmir for the past 50 years and they would continue for the next 50 years, Mr Pant said, “This is a serious effort. Don’t trivialise it”.

He said he had extended the invitation of talks to the representative groups as their leaders were elected by the people.

Though Mr Pant did not disclose what he was talking with Mr Mir Qasim, he said the agenda for the dialogue was “peace and how it may be attained in the troubled state”.

Asked if there was any deadline for completing the process, especially in the backdrop of the ceasefire ending on May 31, Mr Pant said he had not set any time limit. It would depend on how the talks progress, he added.

On the initiative taken by the Nationalist Congress Party leader, Mr Sharad Pawar, in talking to various Kashmiri leaders, Mr Pant said the former Maharashtra Chief Minister was not assisting him and he was very much his own person.

He, however, acknowledged that Mr Pawar had briefed him on the nature of talks held by him and whom all he had talked.

Meanwhile, Mr Qasim said all political parties would be willing to come forward to restore peace in the state.

“A majority of people in the state, who want peace, are silent today and there is a need to restore their confidence before moving towards strengthening the peace process and all parties will come forward in this,” Mr Qasim told reporters here.

Stating that he was “no mediator” in the present peace initiative, Mr Qasim said “but I have a partisan role to play as I am in the know-how almost every single thought prevailing in the state.”


Only Centre can hold talks on Kashmir, says Advani
S. Satyanaryanan
Tribune News Service

On Board a BSF Aircraft, April 15
The Union Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, today categorically said that only the Central Government could hold a broad discussion with various groups and parties to iron out a solution to the Kashmir issue, even as he expressed happiness over the recent “positive” developments on the Kashmir front.

Rejecting the demands from some quarters for holding of negotiations with militant and other related groups in Kashmir by a Joint Parliamentary Committee or an all-party committee, Mr Advani said: “Centre will try to build a consensus on the issue.”

“Only the Central Government can hold talks. How can a Joint Parliamentary Committee hold talks on such a sensitive issue concerning the country,” the Home Minister said.

“Any discussion on the Kashmir issue will include the Opposition, the Jammu and Kashmir Government, the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, Kashmiri Pandits and most importantly those who have been elected in the recently concluded panchayat polls,” he said.

Asked whether the APHC, which had criticised the government’s peace initiative, would also be invited for talks, the Home Minister said: “All groups will be invited...but it would be up to the APHC whether to participate in the dialogue or not.”

Mr Advani pointed out that ever since the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, announced peace initiatives in Kashmir, three major “positive” developments had taken place on the Kashmir front.

“The positive developments are the appointment of Mr K.C. Pant as principal interlocutor, UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan’s statement that the UN resolution on Kashmir is now irrelevant, and the beginning of electric fencing in the international border from Jammu to Kathua despite Pakistan’s repeated protests,” he said.

Mr Advani said the fencing of 200 km international border between Jammu and Kathua would help a great deal in checking infiltration and smuggling from across the border.

“The fencing of borders in Rajasthan and Punjab have helped curb infiltration and smuggling in a big way and we expect the same in Jammu and Kashmir once the fencing is completed,” he said.

On the smooth functioning of Parliament which would begin tomorrow after a break, Mr Advani said: “We hope that the Opposition will cooperate.”

He further said that there were only 15 sittings left during the current Budget session and that there were several important issues, like the impact of WTO agreement on the farmers, terrorism and demands of grant of various ministries lying pending for discussion as well as the passage of the Finance Bill.

As far as the Tehelka expose was concerned, the Home Minister said the Prime Minister had repeatedly stated that the government was ready for a thorough discussion on the issue in the House and that the government had taken prompt action by ordering a judicial inquiry.

Asked why the Tehelka case was not referred to the CBI, Mr Advani said that since the case involved not only the crime aspect but also the conspiracy angle, the government had ordered a judicial inquiry after the Opposition did not allow the session to function for over a week.

“Now that a judicial inquiry has been ordered, the case cannot be handed over to the CBI... Moreover, had it been given for probe to the CBI, the Opposition would have doubted the outcome saying that the investigating agency was under the government’s control,” he said.

On the BJP’s prospects in the ensuing Assembly polls in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry, Mr Advani said: “Our stake is not much in these elections as we do not have any presence there. But we would like to open our account there.”

He expressed confidence that one of the BJP’s major alliance partners, the DMK, would regain power in Tamil Nadu.Back

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