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Third J&K roundtable on Tuesday

delhi Updated: Apr 23, 2007 12:15 IST

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The recommendations of four of the five working groups set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be taken up in New Delhi on Tuesday at the third roundtable on Jammu and Kashmir that will see the absence of most separatists, including the All Party Hurriyat Conference.

At the last roundtable held in Srinagar in May last year, Manmohan Singh had set up five working groups - economic development, rehabilitation of terrorism victims, trans-Line of Control issues, good governance and centre-state relations - to look more closely at the problems concerning Jammu and Kashmir.

While most finished their work by December, the fifth crucial working group, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmad, which was to have prepared a roadmap for future deliberations on centre-state relations, has reached a deadlock.

In the several discussions held so far, major political parties have only reiterated their public positions, showing no sign of flexibility needed to arrive at a common ground on the complex question of renewing the state's relationship with New Delhi.

At the working group's meeting last month, National Conference leader Abdul Rahim Rather stuck to his party's claim for wide-ranging autonomy, a demand that was rejected by the government in 2000.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party centred its presentation on its long-standing demand for abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution that gives special status to J&K, People's Democratic Party leader Muzaffar Baig put forward his party's stated position on self-governance that involves the creation of new district and regional-level elected bodies.

Ladakh MP Thupstan Chhewang, on the other hand, called for separation of Leh district from the state and the granting of union territory status.

National Conference president Omar Abdullah said the nature of discussions at the forthcoming roundtable would have been substantive if the "political" aspect was taken up.

"As far as I am concerned the roundtable is premature. The crux of the problem is political and discussing confidence building measures or economic measures makes no sense if this is not thrashed out. It will largely remain symbolic," Abdullah said.

However, other political parties from J&K say that the third roundtable could breathe life into the flagging dialogue process.

"All these exercises help in giving impetus to the India-Pakistan dialogue. This platform is important for mainstream parties to talk of their differences," says Nizamuddin Bhatt, national secretary of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which rules J&K in partnership with the Congress.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami says: "Autonomy is a complex issue, and it could takes months or years for all the parties to arrive at a consensus. We cannot allow the entire roundtable dialogue to be held hostage to the discussion of a single working group."

Jammu and Kashmir's separatist political alliance has already stated that it would not take part in the roundtable unless leaders from Pakistan, both J&K and India were included to discuss the J&K issue.

"Hurriyat will participate in the roundtable conference only if it is meant for discussing the J&K issue, but it should include mujahideen and leaders from India, Pakistan and both parts of Jammu and Kashmir," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the larger and moderate faction of the Hurriyat conference.

The first J&K roundtable conference was held in New Delhi Feb 25 last year while the second conclave took place in Srinagar May 24 last year.