| Police arrest a supporter of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in Srinagar on Wednesday. JKLF activists took to the streets to protest the arrest of the outfit’s chairman, Yasin Malik. (PTI)
New Delhi, Oct. 22: Taking a big leap forward in its Kashmir initiative, the Centre today nominated deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to begin talks with the Hurriyat Conference.
The Hurriyat has long been demanding talks with either Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Advani. Today’s decision is being seen as proof of the government’s seriousness to resolve the Kashmir problem.
The move also puts the stamp of legitimacy on the moderate Hurriyat faction led by Shia cleric, Maulana Abbas Ansari. At the same time, the Centre is hoping it will isolate the Hurriyat hardliners led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and send a message to militants backing them.
After a two-hour meeting meeting of the cabinet committee on security, home secretary . Gopalaswami announced the decision. “The deputy Prime Minister will meet Ansari in response to his statement of August 25 that they (Hurriyat) are interested in talks with the Centre.”
Hurriyat chairman Ansari, in the capital to visit an ailing nephew in hospital, welcomed the move as “a good decision though delayed”. He said Advani’s appointment “seems to signal the seriousness of the Government of India in resolving the Kashmir issue”.
Ansari has called a meeting of the Hurriyat executive in Srinagar tomorrow. Asked if he would invite Geelani, he said: “This is an internal affair of the Hurriyat Conference and Geelani is not a part of it…. If he wants to be included, he should give me an application for admitting his (newly floated) party into the amalgam.”
The chairman said the amalgam’s decision would be collective and “no dictatorial attitude will be allowed and no one can thrust decision on us”.
He said the Hurriyat had always favoured resolution of all issues by talks. “The agenda of the talks with the deputy Prime Minister will decide the future course of action of the Hurriyat. We hope the Government of India has realised the futility of appointing interlocutors like K.C.Pant and .. Vohra.”
But Vohra, the Centre’s pointman for Kashmir, insisted he was still firmly in the picture. After calling on Advani in North Block, Vohra said the agenda for the talks would be dictated by what the Hurriyat said.
“We will listen to what the Hurriyat has to say and respond to them,” he said, adding the Centre was not keen to reveal its hand before the talks begin.
Vohra said the dates for the talks had not been fixed yet. “The Hurriyat leaders will need time to prepare for the talks,” he said. Asked if he would continue to be involved, he replied: “I am still here.”
Home ministry sources indicated that Vohra would continue as interlocutor. Advani would set the parameters after talking to the Hurriyat, but it would be left to Vohra and senior bureaucrats to continue the dialogue after a format was fixed.
“Advani will listen carefully to what the Hurriyat leaders have to say. We will take it forward from there,” a senior official said.