New Delhi, Jan. 22: Leaders of Kashmir’s separatist conglomerate today described as a “breakthrough” their meeting with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who promised them a rapid review of cases against political detainees.
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference can now return to the Valley with something to show for the risk they have taken in coming forward to talk to the Indian leadership. As a bonus, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will meet the leaders tomorrow.
“It was agreed that today’s meeting was the first significant step in the dialogue process initiated by the government of India and that a step-by-step approach would lead to the resolution of all outstanding issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir,” a statement of the synopsis of the meeting released at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour discussions said.
It gives the Hurriyat the legitimacy to be part of a tripartite talk at a later date when India and Pakistan sit down to discuss Kashmir.
“We have been accused by the hardliners of selling out on the Kashmir cause. But now they will have to eat their words,” Hurriyat chairman Maulana Abbas Ansari, who led the team to the talks, said, calling today’s meeting a “breakthrough”.
“Gradually, we will inch closer towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue,” he said.
The second round of talks with the Hurriyat leaders will be held in March. “I must say that the meeting proved a good beginning in a dialogue initiated in respect of Jammu and Kashmir in so far as elements of the political process are concerned,” the deputy Prime Minister said.
Advani arrived late for the news conference mainly because he was on the phone to the Prime Minister, who was away in Pune, to put in the request for a meeting with the Hurriyat.
“There is a perceptible change in New Delhi’s mood. The deputy Prime Minister was willing to hear our side of the story and promised a rapid review of prisoners held under detention,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, a former Hurriyat chief, said.
He said Advani had also promised to look into cases of human rights violations and make sure security forces do not commit excesses. Farooq said there were also other proposals on the table the Centre was willing to consider. These confidence-building measures will be discussed in the next round of talks.
Farooq refused to spell them out, but it is well-known that the question of a ceasefire inside Kashmir will come up. They have also been demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which still operates in Kashmir.
He said the Kashmir issue was now being tackled in two tiers: one was the Hurriyat’s dialogue with the Centre and the other the talks between India and Pakistan. At some point, all three would have to meet, Mirwaiz added.