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Mufti cosies up to Centre

New Delhi, Feb. 10: Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed used his first news conference in the capital to lavish praise on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and send out a clear signal that there were no differences between him and the Centre on handling militancy.

“Prime Minister Vajpayee had promised free and fair elections in Kashmir and kept his word. This has opened an opportunity to start afresh in the state and the central leaders all understand it. I have had complete co-operation from New Delhi,” Mufti said here this afternoon.

The chief minister said the people of Kashmir had high hopes that Vajpayee will do his best for the state. He recalled the Prime Minister’s words during his speech on August 15 last year where he admitted that “we have made mistakes in Kashmir”. This, Mufti said, has kindled the hope that the Prime Minister wants to seriously tackle the problem in Kashmir.

“Vajpayee had taken a number of initiatives, first when he went to Lahore, then when he invited (President) Musharraf to Agra. Again when he sent K.C. Pant to Srinagar to begin a dialogue,” Mufti said. The chief minister is keen that New Delhi takes advantage of the change in mood to begin a fresh initiative in Kashmir.

Mufti has been asking for negotiation since he came to power, but so far New Delhi has shown no inclination to take up the offer right now. “We will start talking when the time is right,” said senior officials. Indications are that some move may begin around April.

Close aides of Mufti, however, think the right time for negotiations is now. “The mood is optimistic in Kashmir but who knows how long this continues. In two months time things may take a totally unexpected turn,” said a close aide of the chief minister.

“Delhi should strike when the iron is hot and not link Kashmir with any political agenda. Kashmir has too long been used as a pawn by both India and Pakistan,” added the aide.

Mufti refuted all suggestions that there were differences between him and the Centre over the release of jailed militants soon after taking over as chief minister.

Mufti spoke passionately about his government’s efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people and said development could go a long way in diverting a weary people from militancy. “To fight the enemy within we have to give back people their dignity and establish the rule of law once again in Kashmir.”

The armed forces, as well as state police, have been given strict instructions to deal ruthlessly with militants but to avoid human rights violations. The forces have now become more accountable, claimed the chief minister.

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