The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi to walk extra mile on Kashmir

New Delhi, Nov. 12: In an indication that the Centre is serious about initiating the process of power devolution to Kashmir and Nagaland, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said greater political concessions could be made to these states.

Advani said the government was keen to devolve power to states and had followed the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations. But he added that the Centre was willing to do more for sensitive states like Kashmir and Nagaland.

“We would like to go beyond that in states like Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland, where a dialogue is already on,” PTI quoted the deputy Prime Minister as saying.

Delhi had earlier rejected an autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, but now Advani appears to be ready to offer more with the rider that the state cannot revert to the pre-1953 status where only defence and foreign policy remain in the Centre’s hands.

Devolution of power will obviously be conditional upon the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government continuing the fight against militancy. Advani signalled today that so long as this condition was fulfilled, Mufti would get Delhi’s full cooperation in his attempt to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris.

In the government’s first public reaction to the release of militant leader Yasin Malik yesterday, Advani — unlike his party, the BJP, which criticised the move — did not suggest his government’s opposition, but only struck a note of caution.

“Basically, I am more concerned that the state government and the Central government fully cooperate in dealing with cross-border terrorism which is a serious problem,” Advani said. “I am keen to see that no decision is taken that could weaken our resolve to fight cross-border terrorism.”

Advani suggested a committee could be formed to screen the cases of political prisoners to see if they could be released without compromising security concerns. His advice reflected the growing worry among security agencies that the Mufti government could inadvertently let off hardcore terrorists.

“If there are any charges against a person which the state government feels are not valid, it can be screened by a committee, duly empowered and qualified to decide on that issue,” the deputy Prime Minister said.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee also appears to hold the view that Mufti’s initiatives could pave the way for restoration of normality. Sources close to Vajpayee said the “peace” course being charted by the Mufti government would be an effective answer to Pakistan’s efforts to propagate the “azadi” theory.

“It will strengthen India’s case internationally and further expose Pakistan if it persists with cross-border terrorism,” the sources said.

Vajpayee, they said, also takes comfort in the Congress presence in the Mufti government. “The Congress’ Kashmir perspective is wholly nationalist and we are certain that the government will do nothing against national interest,” said sources.

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