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Advani plans Kashmir recce on terrorism

New Delhi, Dec. 3: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani will visit Kashmir later this month to review the security situation and preside over a meeting of the unified command.

Advani today held talks with Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, discussing in detail the problem of cross border terrorism, including the strike on the Raghunath temple in Jammu.

“We have been assured all support in our efforts to fight terrorism and win the hearts and minds of people,” a senior aide of Mufti said.

“The Central leaders are behind us hundred per cent, both Prime Minister Vajpayee and his deputy have categorically said so,” he added.

“They have also explained that political compulsions may occasionally demand hardline rhetoric from New Delhi, but so long as the state and the Centre understand each other, there will be no hard feelings.”

Mufti and his administration are aware of these compulsions as they face the same problems. “We cannot be seen to be stooges of New Delhi, and we too must from time to time make certain statements the Centre may not like,” the aide said.

This is why the Mufti government has taken the Centre’s criticism on the release of political prisoners in its stride. “We know that the harsh charges made against us by Advani were because of the Gujarat elections. The state government kept a discreet silence all through the controversy,” he said.

This is also why Mufti was not upset when Vajpayee and Advani did not turn up at the iftar he hosted. The NDA government was represented by junior defence minister Chamman Lal Sharma, who is from Jammu.

“After all, our aim is to defeat terrorism by a combination of tough action against militants and economic development which will end poverty and unemployment... the breeding ground for disaffection and terrorism,” the official explained.

The state agrees with the Centre that terror strikes are mainly the work of foreign (read Pakistan-backed) groups. Mufti has ordered the army and police to weed out infiltrators. “They need to be killed. But he (Mufti) wants local militants to be handled with care and efforts made to bring them into the mainstream,” the official said.

All senior Delhi ministers have promised to do their bit, realising the importance of drawing youths away from the gun. Mufti has requested defence minister George Fernandes to recruit more people in to the defence services.

Fernandes expressed enthusiasm, realising the importance of breaking the current mind-set and having young Kashmiris serve in the Indian Army.

For the Mufti administration, economic development will be the weapon to draw alienated Kashmiris back into the mainstream. Vajpayee has already promised to bridge the Rs 100 crore credit deficit in the state budget.

Mufti has asked the Centre to begin work in Uri for the ambitious Kashmir to Kanyakumari National Highway project. “The idea is to start the railway and road projects at various points so that employment is generated immediately,” Mufti’s aide said.

The Katra to Kazikone railway project was also reviewed. The railway ministry has promised that it will be completed by 2007.

The Jammu Udhampur railways will be ready by April 2004.

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