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Autonomy push next

New Delhi, Nov. 18: The Kashmir initiative of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unfolded over the last two days will now be taken forward by initiating a political process that results in 'maximum autonomy' to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

India expects Pakistan to match its initiatives in the parts of Kashmir under its control so that there is eventually a 'borderless' Kashmir.

New Delhi is set to begin discussions on increased autonomy. However, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference will not be the only group with which this would be discussed, government sources said.

Underlining the Prime Minister's stand of no pre-conditions for talks from either side, these sources said of the Hurriyat leaders: 'They are small men thrown into big chairs.'

Claiming that the Hurriyat leaders were falling prey to Pakistan's designs, the sources said: 'They have been conditioned by terrorism in the past and now Pakistan wants to achieve politically what it could not do through terrorism by pressuring the moderates to unite with the hardliners. If they are scared of Pakistan, then they don't deserve to be leaders.'

The autonomy issue is likely to be discussed by New Delhi with those within the political system ' whether in power or in the Opposition in Jammu and Kashmir ' as well as those outside it.

'India believes that there should be a free flow of ideas, people and trade between the two parts of Kashmir. In this increasingly borderless world, a day may also come in Kashmir when borders would not matter. It would be immaterial then where the Kashmiris live,' the sources said.

The political discussion on the subject could begin with the autonomy commission report submitted by the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah and adopted by the Assembly or even with the proposal to restore the pre-1953 status of the state, these sources claimed.

'We don't have to agree with everything in the report but it can be a point of departure to start a process of political discussion,' the sources said.

'Even Farooq Abdullah agrees that a number of positive things have happened since 'like the extension of the authority of the central Election Commission to the state, the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of protecting civil liberties and human rights and that of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India,' they added.

'We will have no problems in engaging the Kashmiris in a meaningful discussion on all issues that concern them,' the sources said.

The Prime Minister apparently sees the political dialogue in Kashmir as 'a process'. Its outcome is, therefore, not easy to envisage before the process has begun.

While moving towards a peaceful solution in Kashmir, these sources said, India could not agree to a communal partition as it had to keep in mind the welfare of all Muslims in India.

The Prime Minister had apparently told General Pervez Musharraf when he met him in New York that 'the future of the Muslims of the subcontinent had to be kept in mind' while seeking a Kashmir solution.

'We cannot jeopardise their lives. The social equilibrium in India can easily be disturbed by the right-wing forces and we have to worry about that,' the sources said.

Singh had apparently told the Pakistan President that he had no mandate to negotiate a transfer of territory or for a 'second Partition' of India based on religion.

Pakistan, the Prime Minister apparently told Musharraf, had to be realistic. 'He was told that no Prime Minister of India could surrender Indian territory,' the sources claimed.

According to them, Musharraf had apparently reciprocated by saying that these were difficult issues and Pakistan also could not think in terms of any transfer of territory.

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