The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani vows to begin Valley talks

Jammu, Dec. 27: Spotting a “new opportunity” to restore peace in Kashmir riding the triumph of democracy, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today promised that the Centre would soon start talks with elected representatives in the state.

The announcement — minus actual details of the proposed negotiations — brought a broad smile on the face of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, but Advani cautioned that in the final analysis peace could not reign unless Pakistan “changes its attitudes and transforms its intentions”.

Speaking at a news conference after discussing the security situation with the Unified Command, he said: “The people of the state have experienced real democracy this time. So I feel a new opportunity has been presented to us for restoration of normalcy.”

But he made it clear that there was no question of involving Pakistan in the talks process. As promised by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, dialogue would “start first with elected representatives and then with other sections who did not participate in the polls or did not get elected”, he said.

Advani — the first Union leader to visit Jammu and Kashmir after the People’s Democratic Party government took charge — assured Mufti the Centre would do everything in its power to help him provide good governance and justice to his people. But this would entail “constant interaction” between the Centre, the state and the security forces, he said.

Not only that, the talks would have to continue despite Pakistan’s attempts to derail the process, he cautioned. He expressed faith that this was possible as the people had earlier scuttled that country’s efforts to sabotage elections.

“This election, which has been universally acclaimed, has instilled confidence among the people that through their vote, they can vote anyone in and vote anyone out. While the rest of the country was enjoying the fruits of democracy earlier, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have tasted the same this time,” he said.

Advani, however, conceded that Pakistan was a tough foe to harness. Already, it had stepped up “demonstrative and sharply focused” violence in the state, targeting innocent women and children, gunning down MLAs — he cited the recent killing of PDP legislator Abdul Aziz Mir —and attacking the Raghunath temple.

Besides, Pakistan had also “reactivated” terrorist training camps on its soil and increased cross-border infiltration “since the third week of November”. “Under international pressure, Pakistan had for a brief period wound up or shifted terrorist camps from the border. But these have now been reactivated,” Advani said.

Immediately after touching down here, the deputy Prime Minister inaugurated a new terminal of the Jammu airport. He also held separate meetings with Governor G.C. Saxena and the chief minister.

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