Mirwaiz tries to take others on board dialogue bus

By F. Ahmed, IANS,

Srinagar : The contours of the proposed dialogue between New Delhi and Kashmiri separatist groups are yet to be made public, but moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq has begun efforts to take others on board so that he’s not seen as a “lone ranger”.

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Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had announced in Kashmir last week that the central government was working “on quiet diplomacy to arrive at a unique, acceptable and honourable solution to the problems in Kashmir”, raising expectations that talks would resume.

The Mirwaiz, chief of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, welcomed the statement and said it was a positive development.

“The home minister has for the first time accepted that there is a problem in Kashmir which needs to be addressed,” the Mirwaiz told a large Friday gathering here.

But he is keen to take into confidence other separatist leaders like Muhammad Yasin Malik, chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), and Syed Ali Geelani, who heads the hardline Hurriyat.

A two-member panel has been constituted to speak to the two leaders so that a coordinated strategy can be devised for engaging the central government in a dialogue process that had hit a road block in 2005.

“The Mirwaiz is conscious of the fact that every shade of opinion in the separatist camp had to be accommodated during those talks and he also would not like to be seen as a lone ranger pursuing the dialogue with India,” said political commentator Bashir Manzar.

Perhaps conscious of the fact that his detractors might exploit his eagerness to enter into the proposed dialogue with New Delhi, the Mirwaiz has been reiterating here that “dialogue is a part of the resistance movement and it should not be seen as a sign of weakness among the separatists”.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who has been advocating dialogue with all political parties, including the separatists, has also urged New Delhi to restart the dialogue with both Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership.

“Omar Abdullah wants permanent peace to return here and that is why he has been emphasising that development and progress would be best achieved once political security is guaranteed in the state,” said a senior leader of the ruling National Conference here who requested not to be named.

“Violence levels have definitely come down even though infiltration from across the borders had increased this year,” added an intelligence official.

As violence starts ebbing in the strife torn state, the need and importance of a negotiated settlement appears to be dawning fast on the separatist camp.

“The sharp difference in the separatist camp is that Geelani has put preconditions like demilitarisation, withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and release of prisoners from jails before he agrees to talk. Others are also raising these demands, but not as a precondition before the dialogue with the centre,” said Manzar.