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Mid-week meet on troop pullback

New Delhi, Oct. 13: The government will take a decision on whether to withdraw troops from the border at a joint meeting of the National Security Advisory Board and the Cabinet Committee on Security on October 16, said deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

The decision to convene this meeting was taken at a CCS sitting held a day before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee left for Europe, Advani said at a press conference today. “The NSAB meeting will make an in-depth study of the situation” before taking a decision on whether to withdraw the troops massed on the border for 10 months, he said.

The CCS could not take a decision as the elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan were not over before Vajpayee left. The government had maintained that the troops would remain in place till the Jammu and Kashmir elections were over because this would help assess Pakistan’s “behaviour” and prevent it from sabotaging the exercise.

Even if Pakistan had wanted to disrupt the polls, its efforts have been thwarted, implied Advani. “The biggest winner (in the Jammu and Kashmir polls) was democracy and the biggest loser the ISI. If anyone has lost, it is the ISI and its concierges.”

However, the deputy Prime Minister reiterated the government’s position that talks with Pakistan would resume only if it stopped indulging in cross-border terrorism and would not depend on the security board’s decision. “We are willing to have a dialogue with Pakistan on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, but dialogue and cross-border terrorism cannot go together,” he asserted.

Advani expressed doubts on whether the outcome of the Pakistan elections would facilitate this process. “The Pakistan elections have heightened our worries. Despite the assurances to the international community that it would stop cross-border terrorism, Pakistan has not fulfilled its commitment. The elections have only strengthened the army and not democracy.”

Within Jammu and Kashmir, however, the Centre was ready to talk to elected representatives as well as others, provided the new government was also willing, said the deputy Prime Minister. “We have earlier said let the people of Jammu and Kashmir elect their representatives, we will talk to them primarily. But we will also ask the new government who else to talk to or not talk to,” he said. If the state’s militants were ready to shun violence, the government could consider talking to them, Advani said.

The parameters of the talks would be “how much power should be devolved”, he said. “But this will take into account the relationships between Srinagar and New Delhi” and between Srinagar and Jammu and Leh and Ladakh, too, he added. Before the elections, the home ministry had appointed BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley as an interlocutor to discuss greater devolution of powers with the National Conference.

The deputy Prime Minister said People’s Democratic Party president Mufti Mohammad Sayeed called on him today. “He told me the people of Jammu and Kashmir experienced fair and free polls after a long time.”

Expressing his keenness to see a new government in place soon, Advani said he had advised Governor Girish Saxena to proceed according to the Constitution and invite at the earliest whichever party or combination looked viable.

On whether the Centre would take steps to ensure the return of Hindu refugees to the Valley, Advani said: “Anyone who thinks in terms of restoring normality in Jammu and Kashmir would identify the return of Kashmiri Pandits as the touchstone.” This was a major election plank of the BJP, but its inability to deliver cost it the Pandit votes.

Advani admitted that the BJP was “nursing its wounds” after the rout in Jammu. He, however, put up a brave face and declared: “If there is one development which simultaneously showcases our commitment to national security, national unity and integrity, and democracy, it is the successful completion of elections in Jammu and Kashmir.”

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