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Let us build a new J&K: PM
Says need to evolve common understanding on autonomy
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

Leaders from Kashmir at a roundtable conference called by the Prime Minister to discuss ways to find a solution to the vexed issue in New Delhi on Saturday
Leaders from Kashmir at a roundtable conference called by the Prime Minister to discuss ways to find a solution to the vexed issue in New Delhi on Saturday.  — Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal

New Delhi, February 25
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said there was a need to evolve a common understanding on autonomy and self-rule for the state of Jammu and Kashmir and an arrangement can be found within the vast flexibilities provided by the Constitution which provides real empowerment and comprehensive security to the people of the state.

The Prime Minister, who chaired the first round table conference of political parties, NGOs, community and regional groups from the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir, said the Home Ministry would form a high level group of officials before the end of March to examine all current cases of detention in Jammu and Kashmir and see whether it was possible to release all detenues against whom there were no serious cases.

Sharing concern of participants over the incidents like the one in Handwara in which four persons were killed allegedly by the Army during an encounter with militants, the Prime Minister said he had asked the Army to take remedial measures so that such incidents do not occur in future. He said the armed forces had been trying their best to improve the situation in the state and there had been an overall improvement.

Referring to the organisations who had stayed away from the conference, the Prime Minister hoped that they would eventually join on seeing the “obvious merits in sharing ideas and working together.” Affirming the government’s commitment to the process that began today, Dr Singh announced that the next roundtable conference would be held in the second half of May in Srinagar.

He said a variety of views had been expressed on autonomy and self-rule. “I recognise that there are many differing views and perceptions on the issue. There is a need to evolve a common understanding on autonomy and self-rule for Jammu and Kashmir and I am confident that working together with all groups, both within and outside the mainstream, we can arrive at arrangements within the vast flexibilities provided by the Constitution,” he said.

The issue of autonomy was raised by National Conference leaders at the conference while the PDP, which considers Article 370 to be a model of self-rule, favoured an objective discussion on the suggestion when furnished in detail. The suggestion of self-rule has been floated by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Terming the conference as “extremely useful,” the Prime Minister said it was the beginning of a larger process which would look at evolving a consensus among different groups and sections of society on issues related to Jammu and Kashmir.

He said the common view that emerged from the conference was the absolute necessity to maintain the unity of the state while at the same time providing adequate space for full blossoming of regional and sub-regional identities. He said concrete measures needed to be taken to realise the vision of regional federalism.

The Prime Minister, who addressed the participants at the beginning and conclusion of the conference, said there was a broad consensus that the peace process with Pakistan should be carried forward laying particular emphasis on people to people contacts and opening up trade between the two parts of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state.

Dr Singh said a conducive atmosphere should be created for return of Kashmiri Pandits to the state and the onus for it was on all participants at the conference. He said problems of 1947 refugees should also be addressed.

Later, talking to mediapersons, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan said efforts will be made to persuade those who did not come for the conference to come for the next meeting. Answering a query, he said the participants felt that the so called secessionist elements were in miniscule in numbers.

The Centre’s interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir, Mr N.N. Vohra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister T K A Nair, and Home Secretary V K Duggal were present during the interaction with the media.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister for Water Resources Saif-ud-din Soz, Dr Karan Singh, National Conference chief Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, CPI(M) leader Yusuf Tarigami, state BJP chief Nirmal Singh, Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh, organisations representing Kashmiri Pandits, leaders from Gujjar, Pahari and Sikh and other religious communities, NGOs and some journalists and academicians from the state were among the 52 persons who participated in the conference. The separatist organisations, including the Hurriyat Conference, stayed away.


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