The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Farooq peace plan for PM

New Delhi, April 25: The Prime Minister today got a proposal from an ally and an Opposition party to send an all-party team to Pakistan to prepare the ground for peace talks.

Seeking to lend momentum to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Srinagar peace proposal, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel, MP, met the Prime Minister for 35 minutes to discuss their proposal.

Both Pawar and Abdullah said Vajpayee’s response was “good”. “Obviously, he (Prime Minister) will be talking to some of his colleagues in the government before taking a decision,” Pawar said.

Abdullah, who till yesterday was unenthusiastic about Vajpayee’s offer of a “new beginning”, said the change could be attributed to “the youth of this country (who) want peace”.

“My people are dying every day. The army was at the border for 10 months but nothing happened. Now we have to look for peace,” the former chief minister said.

Abdullah and Patel also spelled out their views to a television network today. Both said they wanted Vajpayee to send a political mission to Islamabad to prepare the ground for talks. They were quick to add that the mission would be worthwhile only if the Prime Minister approved of the plan.

“We will give some time to them (the Centre) to think and I think we should expect an answer within a month’s time,” Pawar said after the meeting.

The trio is said to have suggested Congress’ Karan Singh — the son of the Kashmir maharaja who signed the Instrument of Accession to India — as the team leader. But when asked, Pawar said: “We have not decided about it as yet.”

The Prime Minister, however, may not let an NDA ally and the Opposition wrest from him the peace initiative he proposed in Srinagar last week.

In the run-up to next year’s general polls, Vajpayee wants to exact maximum mileage for himself and his party, the BJP, if India-Pakistan ties approach a breakthrough and, as a result, usher peace in Kashmir.

But it may be difficult for Vajpayee to completely reject the trio’s plan. The Prime Minister’s aides said he will, at best, lend these leaders an ear but remain non-committal.

The Kashmir Committee of former law minister Ram Jethmalani had made similar suggestions earlier, but failed to make headway after the Centre refused to play ball. He had also tried to get across to separatist groups in Kashmir.

While welcoming Vajpayee’s fresh peace overtures to Pakistan, Hurriyat Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat had said a Hurriyat team should be sent to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir first to create the “right atmosphere” for talks.

The Hurriyat, he had said, would like to persuade “Kashmiri boys on the other side” to give up guns and declare an unconditional ceasefire. “Pakistan cannot persuade the Kashmiri youth to give up their guns, only we can do so,” Bhat said in Srinagar last week.

Most people in the Valley believe the US will now turn its attention to India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

“The US cannot allow this dangerous situation to continue in South Asia. We are confident that both India and Pakistan will be wise and begin engaging each other,” Bhat had said.

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