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Shah goes back & forth on polls

New Delhi, Aug. 30: Kashmiri separatist leader Shabir Shah today made a volte-face in double-quick time, announcing first that he will contest the Assembly elections and hours later proclaiming that the question does not arise.

This afternoon, emerging from a second round of “Track-II” talks with Ram Jethmalani and his “Kashmir Committee”, Shah said his Democratic Freedom Party had agreed in principle to contest the elections, provided seven conditions were met.

Later, leaving after a meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Shah said: “Let me make it clear that we are not participating in the forthcoming Assembly elections.”

“We are not afraid of a democratic exercise but these polls are aimed only at giving an extension to the Farooq Abdullah regime in the state,” Shah said outside 10 Janpath.

Earlier, after a second round of meetings with Jethmalani and his committee members —among them journalists Dileep Padgaonkar and M.J. Akbar — Shah said his party will participate in the elections if these conditions were met:

n Release of persons who have been “unfairly” jailed

n Return of migrants

n Special Operations Group and other anti-insurgency groups to be made more accountable

n End to custodial killings

n Speedy trial of those jailed for petty offences

n A probe into custodial killings and disappearance of persons

n Facilitation of intra-Kashmir dialogue.

Shah was accompanied by the convener of the committee, Ashok Bhan, when he went to meet the Congress chief. Neither of them took questions on the volte-face.

PTI adds: Asked whether he demanded postponement of polls, Shah said “this question should be asked to the government. I have now made my stand crystal clear.”

After the second round of talks with the committee, the Democratic Freedom party chief had said he “whole-heartedly agrees with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that elections alone can identify true representatives of the people of the state for a peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue”.

“We are not asking for anything that cannot be done and we hope that doves in the central leadership will emerge victorious,” he said.

To a question whether the committee was still hopeful of postponement of elections, Jethmalani said “there is a Supreme Court guideline which stated that elections could be reviewed till the polls actually do not take place”.

Asked whether his contention that Kashmir was an international issue was the reason for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani refusing to meet him, Shah said “that is their problem. We were here on an invitation of the Kashmir Committee. It is not a rebuff to us but to the committee.”

“If Kashmir was not an international issue, then why did Vajpayee go to Lahore or call Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to Agra'” Shah asked.

Asked whether he would be meeting other political parties, including the BJP, Shah said: “Yes, I will be meeting Mulayam Singh Yadav and other leaders with secular credentials. But BJP, may be not, because this party has shown its real face. I thought there was a ray of hope in the party by the presence of Vajpayee but that too seems to be dwindling now.”

“My party and even the Hurriyat Conference had expressed clearly our intentions of meeting the Prime Minister but it is the Centre which was now retracting from its earlier stand,” Shah said.

Asked about his meeting with Sonia, he said: “We discussed all issues thread-bare and I apprised her of the situation and the role of the Centre.”

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