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The decision by the All Party Hurriyat Conference to accept the Central governmentís offer of talks will be widely welcomed. Although it is too early to expect a real breakthrough, a dialogue could eventually create the conditions for peace and stability in Jammu and Kashmir. The All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella alliance of separatist groups, has all along rejected proposals for talks with the Centreís interlocutors. Although the separatist leaders have been carrying out a discreet dialogue with several of New Delhiís emissaries, they had imposed three conditions for formal talks. First, the talks must be with the top political leadership in New Delhi. Second, the talks must be unconditional and not within the framework of the Indian constitution. And finally, the talks must include Pakistan as well. The decision by the Union cabinet to ask the deputy prime minister to initiate talks, and the signal that no conditions would be imposed have paved the way for the first ever direct interface between New Delhi and separatists. The APHC, in turn, seems to have given up the demand for the inclusion of Pakistan in the dialogue. These are welcome developments. The APHC may or may not be representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but it does articulate the sentiments of all those in the Kashmir valley alienated by the policies of the Central government. But, as is obvious, the acceptance of the offer of talks can by no means guarantee the success of a dialogue.

Indeed, there are several factors that could prevent the dialogue from gaining momentum. Most important, there are important separatist leaders who have not endorsed the APHCís decision. The breakaway faction led by the extremist leader, Mr Ali Shah Geelani, has rejected the proposal of talks without Pakistan. Similarly, the pro-independence leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Mr Yaseen Malik, stayed away from the meeting that endorsed the pro-talks proposal. It is also clear that Pakistan and its intelligence agencies will seek to subvert the dialogue. Indeed, in the past, Pakistanís Inter-Services Intelligence, through direct and indirect threats, was able to prevent the start of a Srinagar-New Delhi bilateral dialogue. What, however, is most critical is that both New Delhi and the separatist leaders do their homework before the first meeting. The stated positions of both sides are well known, but it is in the willingness to arrive at a compromise that politicians from New Delhi and Srinagar will demonstrate their true leadership qualities. Finally, it is essential to ensure that the dialogue does not break down even in the absence of an initial common meeting-ground.

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