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Hizb chief sets terms for talks
- Border militancy won’t halt: Salahuddin

Srinagar, Jan. 14: Hizb-ul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin has said his group is ready for talks with New Delhi provided it acknowledges the right of Kashmiris to resolve the issue according to their aspirations.

“If there is a sincere offer for talks from New Delhi for finding a solution to the Kashmir issue according to the wishes and aspirations of its people, we are ready to accept it,” Salahuddin told a local news agency in a phone interview.

The Hizb has earlier, too, made similar utterances about talks but the fresh statement assumes significance as it has come after the months-long agitation last year that left 112 people dead and hundreds injured.

Salahuddin — he also heads the United Jehad Council (UJC), a group of 14 militant outfits based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — usually prefers to follow Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s stance on talks.

Geelani has set pre-conditions for participating in any such process, including acceptance by New Delhi that Kashmir is a disputed territory.

The Hizb chief is silent about such pre-conditions but has said that the UJC can come into the picture only if it is highly necessary.

“Otherwise, there is already a leadership present in Kashmir which can work for bringing all the three parties — India, Pakistan and Kashmiris — to the table to find the solution,” he said.

At the peak of last year’s agitation, Salahuddin had called for a review of hartal politics and urged Hurriyat hardliners to devise a strategy in a way that it does not harm the education of students. But he was forced to retract his statement after Hurriyat hawks made their intentions clear that they would continue with the strikes.

With the agitation petering out, the UJC chief again criticised hartal politics.

“The five-month-long agitation has faded to some extent. I had cautioned about it but some friends did not heed it,” he said.

While Salahuddin has again shown his willingness for talks, he has made it clear that the armed activities of militants would continue, though in border areas.

“Thousands of militants are present in Jammu and Kashmir. The issue cannot be resolved only by political means. Armed struggle will continue and militants will carry on their activities in the border areas,” he said.

Salahuddin’s peace overtures have come as the army top commander in Kashmir, Lt Gen Syed Atta Hasnain, yesterday said he does not consider local militants as enemies.

“Only those who are sponsored by our adversaries and carry poison in their hearts against the nation, I consider them enemies,” he said, in an apparent reference to Pakistani militants. “Local boys who have been misguided are not our enemies.”

Lt Gen Hasnain, who is the second Muslim commander after M.A. Zaki to head the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, also said he was more than ready to meet local militants anytime.

“I want to reach out to all local brethren who have picked up weapons. I am ready to meet them always and you can see we can do things differently,” he said.

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