The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani Valley visit in violence backdrop

New Delhi, Dec. 26: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani will be the first Central leader to visit Jammu and Kashmir after the new state government, led by PDP’s Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, took office.

Advani will fly to Jammu tomorrow morning. After an expected touchdown at 10.30, he will inaugurate a new terminal at Jammu airport.

Later, he will attend a meeting of the Unified Command to take stock of the security in the state. Defence Minister George Fernandes and Governor Girish Chandra Saxena will join Advani for the security meeting, to be chaired by Mufti.

Both the state and the Centre are worried about the stepped-up violence in Jammu and Kashmir and the recent attack on children in Poonch district. North Block wants to make sure that Mufti’s “healing touch” does not loosen up security.

The state administration, though worried about the renewed violence, believes that the best way to tackle it is to continue with Mufti’s move to reach out to the people while coming down hard on terrorists.

“No sympathy can be shown to terrorists. The forces have strict instructions to deal with militants, most of whom are no longer local Kashmiris,” an aide to Sayeed said.

As a former Union home minister and a Kashmiri, Mufti is not new to administration and probably understands the problem better than many others.

The Mufti government’s setting free the first batch of political prisoners in Kashmir had created a stir in New Delhi. Advani had publicly expressed his displeasure with the state for not consulting the Centre first.

Later, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee backed Advani’s suggestion that a screening committee be formed to monitor the releases.

The Mufti government kept out of the slanging match between the Centre and the Congress, an ally in the state’s ruling coalition with PDP, over the releases. Senior Mufti aides brushed off the Centre’s charges as political posturing before the Gujarat polls and an attempt to embarrass the Congress.

While maintaining that the Centre was all along kept informed about the releases, the state has agreed to form a screening committee comprising officials who are already a part of the Unified Command. This includes the Intelligence Bureau, North Block, senior police officers and state officials as well as representatives of paramilitary and security forces.

Home secretary N. Gopalaswamy will discuss the issue with state officials. Gopalaswamy, the special secretary, the joint secretary in charge of Kashmir and other senior officers would accompany Advani on his tour.

The last time senior ministers from New Delhi attended a security meeting was soon after the Kaluchak attack, when terrorists had targeted the families of security personnel. Vajpayee, Advani and Fernandes were present at that meeting.

During the current tour, Advani will meet Mufti, when the chief minister is expected to talk about holding discussions with Kashmiri separatists. Mufti feels that once the Centre initiates discussions with separatists, the pressure on him will ease.

According to Mufti aides, unless the Centre gives the chief minister a helping hand, the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of Kashmiris would be lost for ever.

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