| A BSF jawan keeps vigil on a Srinagar street. (AFP)
New Delhi, July 2: The home ministry has cleared the use of mobile phones in Jammu and Kashmir, though it could be a while before they are activated as the defence ministry’s clearance has not yet come in.
Kashmir had been left out of the country’s mobile network because the army and paramilitary forces in the militancy-racked state had objected on grounds of security.
MPs cutting across party lines welcomed the home ministry’s decision, which was conveyed this morning to members at a meeting of the parliamentary consultative committee attached to the ministry. Several members had earlier asked the Centre to allow better access to the people of Kashmir.
CPM member Somnath Chatterjee, who has returned from a visit to Kashmir, said this was an opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the people in the troubled state.
“People are clamouring for jobs, education and better communication. They did not want to be discriminated against and spoke with feeling about mobile phone facilities not being extended to Kashmir,” he told the meeting chaired by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.
Advani noted Chatterjee’s point and told him that his ministry had no objection to allowing cell phones, but the final decision will be taken only after the armed forces clear the proposal.
Chatterjee also spoke of the dramatic change in the situation in Kashmir and said chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s “healing touch policy” had paid rich dividends. He told members that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative with Pakistan and the meeting of Congress chief ministers in Srinagar have helped to bring back tourists to the state.
Today’s meeting focused on terrorism and how the country was dealing with the menace. The meeting began with a power-point presentation on terrorism in Kashmir, militancy in the Northeast and Left extremism in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
“The government will combat terrorism through intensified and concerted efforts to pre-empt, apprehend and prosecute terrorists while at the same time ensuring integrated development of the affected areas to remove alienation of people and take steps to general public support and cooperation to deal with terrorists,” Advani was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the home ministry.
The Centre’s interlocutor for Kashmir, .. Vohra, today met Advani and briefed him on his talks with different political parties in the Valley. Vohra spent over an hour with Advani.
Vohra is expected to visit Ladakh and Kargil later this month to complete his task of assessing the views and suggestions of different religious and ethnic groups for a final solution of the Kashmir problem. Although Vohra did not give a time frame of when his work will be completed, he said: “We don’t want the process to linger indefinitely.”