M A I N   N E W S

Troop cut: PM, Mufti to keep talking
T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 22
The People's Democratic Party (PDP) patron and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed appears to have bought time for now on the party’s demand for immediate and phased withdrawal of troops from the valley and agreed to continue the talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

While maintaining yesterday that he will not agree to any window dressing on the PDP’s demand for troop withdrawal, repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, the Mufti sidestepped questions if the coalition arrangement with the Congress in J and K was on its last legs and retorted "don't put the cart before the horse."

Sayeed, who met the Prime Minister at the latter's request here today having arrived in the Capital yesterday, told mediapersons after the discussions with Singh that he had put on the table the demands of the PDP.

Amid ample indications that the party might not precipate matters for now, the Mufti finds himself in a delicate situation after the bluster of the recent past. At the same time, he insisted that time was of essence and the PDP had only echoed the people's sentiments in J and K.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti observed that the talks between Dr Singh and the Mufti were part of the "healing touch policy" started by Mr Sayeed during his reign as the Chief Minister. "There is no stalemate and the meeting can be seen as a movement forward. We can wait a while if the union government seeks queries or wants a feedback but the troop withdrawal cannot wait till summer."

The Centre and J and K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had rejected the PDP's demand for troop reduction in the sensitive border state and suggested it could be considered before the onset of the summer. Mr Azad made it clear to the Congress leadership that he was opposed to any troop reduction at this juncture as the fight against militancy was at a crucial stage. The Mufti insisted that the PDP could not wait till the summer and desired that some modalities be worked out immediately.

Mr Sayeed disclosed that he also held detailed discussions with National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan yesterday.

After the discussions, Prime Minister's media adviser Sanjaya Baru said the two leaders had agreed to continue the talks.He claimed the discussions were of a routine nature and the Prime Minister had been having with the constituents of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. In this context, he recalled that a few days ago, Dr Singh had a meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

Meanwhile, union water resources minister Saifuddin Soz, who also met the Mufti hoped that the Prime Minister would give a serious thought to the PDP patron's views. "The Prime Minister wants the coalition government to continue in J and K. The problem can be solved if we sit together and discuss them”.

Mr Sayeed is staying put in the capital for another day . PDP sources were harbouring hopes of the Centre making some announcement in the next few days.

The PDP's political affairs committee is meeting in Srinagar on Sunday to decide its next course of action.



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