The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hurriyat terms for poll role

Srinagar, Aug. 27: A day after a visiting US diplomat urged Hurriyat leaders to contest elections, the separatist umbrella organisation backed away from its earlier opposition, but with strings attached.

After a meeting of the Hurriyat Conference in Srinagar today, chairman Abdul Gani Bhat indicated that despite its firm belief that elections were not the answer, it would be willing to take part on condition that the specific aim was to choose representatives for negotiating the Kashmir issue.

The guarantee that the polls were only a step towards the resolution of the dispute must come from the highest quarters in the Indian establishment as well as from the international community, Bhat said.

Another leader, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, clarified that the assurance must come from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Prime Minister had earlier said the Centre would hold talks with representatives of the people after the Jammu and Kashmir elections.

Today’s statement represents a shift. Unlike in the past, when the Hurriyat has harped on Pakistan’s role in negotiations on the Kashmir dispute, it made no mention of Islamabad, but spoke of the international community.

This is not to say the Hurriyat no longer wants Islamabad’s involvement. Rather, it is a tactical omission to put Delhi on the defensive. It would be much easier for the Prime Minister to turn down the Hurriyat’s offer if Pakistan is brought into the picture.

In Srinagar, the Hurriyat’s offer is being seen as the direct result of American efforts. Lisa Curtis, a US diplomat, was in town yesterday and met the Hurriyat leaders individually. Curtis emphasised the need to contest the elections, which she described as the first step to peace.

The Hurriyat leaders are confident Delhi will not consider the offer. Bhat said: “The Indian government will never agree to our terms.’’


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