Srinagar, April 20: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has turned around the incurable sce ptic in Kashmir with his promise of a “new beginning”, but risks grave consequences of failing to meet the rush of expectations.
“The Prime Minister’s statements, the way he dressed up his ideas show a definite change in tenor and mood, let us hope no impediments are placed in his march towards peace,” Abdul Gani Bhat, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, said.
Bhat had low expectations from Vajpayee’s trip.
Although Vajpayee took care to emphasis that India was extending the hand of friendship to Pakistan if it stopped cross-border terrorism, the rider has been overlooked in the general euphoria.
Immediately after his statement on Friday, the Hurriyat called off its general strike.
Bhat is so optimistic that he went on to say: “Talks will begin by July at the latest.” He refused to explain the July deadline.
Vajpayee had invited Pakistani response, which came without delay. Foreign minister Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said: “We are serious about stopping cross-border activity as much as we can, but for it to completely stop, we have to give hope to people who have become so hopeless that they are prepared to give up their lives and I am talking about the people of Kashmir.”
Everyone in the Valley keeps quoting US secretary of state Colin Powel who is believed to have said that Kashmir is on top of the American agenda. “After Iraq, the US has to deal with Kashmir,” said Maqbool Haq, a Srinagar lawyer.
The feel-good factor the Prime Minister’s visit has created may not, however, smooth the path for the Centre’s interlocutor on Kashmir, N.N. Vohra, who begins his visit to the state tomorrow. His brief is to hold talks with all sections of people.
The Hurriyat has not bothered to contact Vohra’s office. “The Kashmir problem cannot be solved by Vohra. He can talk to the state representatives and to Mufti about development and other things but what can he have for us' We want final settlement of an age-old problem. At his level he can give us nothing,” said Bhat.
Hurriyat leaders believe that before talks between India and Pakistan begin, they should be allowed to visit Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. “We can appeal to them and ask them to give up their guns and prepare the ground by calling a ceasefire. Pakistan can’t do this, it will have to be us and on our part we are willing to work for peace,” he added.
At Muzaffarbad, the PoK capital, Lashkar-e-Toiba announced today it would continue to wage a jihad in Kashmir, Reuters said.
Hafiz Saeed, the former chief of the outlawed Lashkar, said: “Jihadi (holy warrior) forces do not believe in talks… the jihad will not stop, the suicide attacks will continue.”