Thursday, May 3, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Pant aides prepare ground for talks
Shabir’s men in Delhi to hand over letter
Binoo Joshi

Srinagar, May 2
Emissaries of Mr K. C. Pant are working overtime here to prepare for his visit to Jammu and Kashmir to meet top separatist leaders.

Mr Pant had decided to visit the Himalayan state soon after he was named the government interlocutor for talks with Kashmiri groups. But his advisers prevented him from landing in haste here because of the reaction from separatist leaders to New Delhi’s offer for peace talks.

A two-member team of Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party (JKDFP) arrived in Delhi this evening to hand over a letter of party president Shabir Shah to Centre’s negotiator K. C. Pant seeking four clarifications on the talks offer.

“We are here to hand over the letter to Mr Pant seeking clarifications from him over four issues which includes the status of Pakistan vis-a-vis talks on the Kashmir issue,” Saleem Geelani, chief organiser of the JKDFP, told PTI on his arrival here at the airport.

Asked about the other clarifications, Mr Geelani, who is accompanied by secretary general of the JKDFP Mualana Abdullah Tari, said: “The Centre has also to clarify whether the entire process is aimed at resolving the dispute or a mere debate.”

The separatist leaders can be unpredictable despite the Kashmir valley’s reputation for hospitality. Many here have not forgotten how separatist leader Shabir Shah was expelled from the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) after he met US ambassador Frank Wisner and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh here in 1996.

Sources said Mr Pant’s emissaries are already in the city, talking to separatist leaders and trying to create conditions for his visit to Kashmir.

Almost all APHC leaders who have been approached by Mr Pant’s emissaries have voiced their reservations in meeting him. They say the Hurriyat has made it clear that it would talk to the government only after its leaders are allowed to visit Pakistan.

The APHC, an umbrella organisation of 23 separatist groups, is also not happy with the way in which New Delhi has equated it with other groups in the state while offering negotiations.

“How can we sit with counter-insurgents like Kukka Parray and Javed Shah? We’re political men with political ideologies. You can’t equate us with every Tom, Dick and Harry,” said Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone. “There should be some distinction,” he said.

“Why shouldn’t the government follow the conventional and internationally acknowledged way of holding talks with people who are in disagreement? In 1975, the government held talks with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah; in Mizoram, it spoke to (former insurgent leader) Laldenga. Why are double standards being applied here?” Lone said. Hurriyat leaders say meetings such as the one with Mr Pant would lead nowhere. Their logic is that a meeting with him would mean talking to the government and that they are not willing to do unless their conditions are met.

“If Mr Pant is coming to visit Kashmir and discuss the weather with us, he is welcome, but not for any political discussions unless we visit Pakistan first,” said a senior Hurriyat leader.

But there are several other separatist leaders, like former Chief Minister Ghulam Mohammad Shah and Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) chief Shabir Shah, who feel it would be better if Mr Pant came to Kashmir and clarified what he intends to do. Ghulam Mohammed Shah’s Awami National Conference Party has already agreed to talk to Pant. IANS

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