New Delhi, Nov. 21: The Centre today took its Kashmir peace initiative a step forward, assuring the Hurriyat Conference that it is ready for unconditional talks.
“We are ready for an unconditional dialogue with the Hurriyat. In fact, we have been making it clear umpteen number of times that we have only one condition — that the opposite side should abjure violence, which the Hurriyat has done,” junior home minister I.D. Swamy, who is in charge of Kashmir, said.
Swamy’s assurance came a few hours after Hurriyat chairman Abbas Ansari announced in Srinagar that the separatists would talk to the Centre, provided there were no conditions and the discussions were on the Kashmir dispute.
As Swamy said, the Centre had not attached any conditions when the talks offer was made and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was tasked to lead the talks with the Hurriyat.
But an element of uncertainty had crept in following a statement by Advani soon after that the negotiations would be held within the parameters of the Constitution and would focus on “decentralisation”.
This had tied the hands of the moderates, led by Ansari. However, after a meeting yesterday, former Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said the conglomerate was ready for talks.
The initiative gathered steam in Delhi this morning with Advani taking time off the Assembly election campaign and squeezing in a meeting with the Centre’s Kashmir emissary, .. Vohra.
The retired bureaucrat briefed Advani for about 45 minutes on the Hurriyat’s Thursday meeting. Vohra did not say what transpired at the meeting but he hinted at the possibility of a breakthrough. “The position will become clear after the Friday prayers today when the Hurriyat will make a public statement,” Vohra told reporters when he came out.
Once the prayers on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramazan were over, Ansari spelt out his stand in Srinagar: “The talks should be aimed at resolving the Kashmir issue.”
Advani’s deputy Swamy reciprocated in Delhi: “The talks will be Kashmir-centric.”
Swamy said the Centre appreciated that the Hurriyat had not insisted on including Pakistan in the negotiations.
The Hurriyat had so far been proceeding cautiously. Immediately after the Centre made the proposal, the pro-Pakistan faction, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, had turned it down. It had also warned the moderates not to consider the offer.
By taking the peace initiative further, the Centre wants to strengthen the hands of the moderates and isolate the Geelani faction, which has sabotaged Delhi’s moves many times by insisting on including Pakistan in talks.