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Kashmir connects as Mufti’s mobile beeps

New Delhi, Aug. 20: Kashmir was connected to the rest of the country’s mobile network this morning with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed inaugurating the new system by speaking to each other on the chief minister’s mobile.

Mufti thanked the Prime Minister for his gift to the people of the state and termed it a “good first step”.

That both the army and the home ministry finally gave the green signal for mobile phones to operate in Kashmir is a testimony to the government’s growing confidence that the situation has improved a lot in the state.

Earlier demands for the extension of mobile connections to Kashmir was turned down by the military, which believed it could help militants to easily get in touch with their accomplices outside the country. In fact, the Centre had for sometime disconnected all STD lines in Kashmir for the same reason. However, since “free and fair” elections brought the new Mufti coalition to power, the mood in the state has visibly changed.

The Centre and the state are working hand in hand to turn people’s minds away from violence and militancy to everyday bread and butter problems. In an effort to boost tourism, once the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy, efforts are on to hold conferences and meetings in Kashmir.

The Congress chief ministers’ meeting was held in Srinagar recently. Members of a parliamentary consultative committee also held their meeting in the state. And now, at Mufti’s request, the inter-state council will meet in Srinagar on August 27 and 28.

The Prime Minister will deliver the opening address, while deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani will preside over the two-day deliberations of all chief ministers of the country. It will be Vajpayee’s second trip to the Valley this year.

During his previous visit, he had broken the ice with Pakistan by once again extending a hand of friendship to Islamabad. But this time, the Prime Minister’s visit is expected to be more routine.

The frequent visits by Vajpayee and his senior colleagues is again an indication that the situation has improved and the state security apparatus is willing to host a huge conference with not just Vajpayee and Advani but also chief ministers of all the states gathered together.

The council meets regularly to work at building a truly federal structure in the country with special attention to devolving power to the states. The Srinagar session is likely to consider the clauses relating to emergency provisions as well as deployment of Union armed forces in a state without permission — in certain specific cases — of the state government. None of the chief ministers is likely to agree to this.

The states argue that deployment should not take place without their “concurrence”. This, in effect, means that before sending in the armed forces, the Centre needs the approval of state governments, something the Union government is not willing to do.

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