The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal takes Kashmir bull by horn

New Delhi, March 25: Atal Bihari Vajpayee has decided to keep his date with the people of Kashmir on April 18 despite the sudden spurt in violence in the Valley.

He is also expected to deliver the main convocation address at the university in Srinagar where several students and staff are hostile to New Delhi.

The Prime Minister’s decision to go ahead with his visit is aimed at sending out a message to militants and their backers in Pakistan that they will not be able to derail the Centre’s carefully crafted peace plans through mindless violence.

On Sunday night, militants in army fatigue had lined up 24 Pundits outside their homes in Nadimarg village and shot them dead. The same afternoon, Abdul Majid Dar, former operations chief of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, was gunned down.

Vajpayee will be the first Indian Prime Minister to attend a convocation in Srinagar since separatist violence took a new shape in the eighties. He remains the most acceptable political figure in the university though there are pro-Pakistan elements and a large section that wants to be free of Delhi and Islamabad.

Many regard Vajpayee as a man of peace, well attuned to the mood of the Valley. They remember he had tried to make a mark two years ago, asking the army to cease fire. Besides, he was the architect of the Lahore peace process and the Agra declaration. Above all, he had kept his promise that he would ensure “free and fair” polls in Kashmir.

When Dar had declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2000, Vajpayee had sent then home secretary Kamal Pande to Srinagar for talks. Although the effort fizzled out, most Kashmiris remember Vajpayee had been keen to follow up the peace initiative.

Vajpayee has also backed the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government to the hilt. Both he and his deputy L.K. Advani believe Mufti’s “healing touch” policy should be given a chance.

During his visit to Nadimarg today, Advani told grieving villagers they should not contemplate leaving the Valley. But he assured them all help should they decide to move to safer places. “If they leave the Valley, that would amount to playing to the tune of the enemy. Every single terrorist act which takes place in Jammu and Kashmir or elsewhere, our neighbour has a hand,” Advani said.

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