Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti invited Hurriyat leaders on Saturday for talks with an all-party delegation headed to the Valley, asking separatist leaders to lend “credence and credibility” to the outreach by the country’s political leadership.
Ahead of the much-anticipated visit on Sunday, the Centre approved a chilli-based shell as an alternative to the controversial pellet guns, blamed for causing eye injuries to thousands of civilians including children, and fanning anger against security forces.
Mufti’s letter to separatists came in the backdrop of hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, refusing to meet the delegation if New Delhi doesn’t accept the political nature of the Kashmir dispute.
Mufti sent the invitation “in her capacity as the PDP chief”, indicating that its coalition partner BJP is out of the process to involve separatists for a dialogue to defuse the most volatile phase in the Valley since 2010.
Seventy three people, most of them civilians, have been killed in street violence sparked by the gunning down of a militant leader by security forces on July 8.
“This will be the start of a credible and meaningful political dialogue and resolution process to end the stalemate,” Mufti said in her letter.
Sources said back-channel talks led by CPI (M) legislator MY Tarigami are also on to convince Geelani, who is under house arrest, to meet the team if they come to his house—as it happened in 2010.
“If they agree, we are ready to meet them at their residences (in Srinagar),” CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury said.
Two other influential separatist leaders, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, are in jail.
The last political dialogue with separatists was held in 2002. In 2010, some members of an earlier all-party delegation had met Hurriyat leaders, though the engagement did not bear substantial results.
In Delhi, during a briefing for the delegation members, home minister Rajnath Singh was, however, non-committal when many leaders demanded that the Centre invite the Hurriyat for talks during the two-day visit.
A source quoted Singh as saying during the meeting that the main challenge before the government during the crisis was the “use of the social media and militants hiding with civilian mobs to attack security forces.”
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, who said Kashmiris have grievances and some of the irritants should be removed, appealed to the delegation not to get provoked and listen to everyone.
Trinamool’s Saugata Ray suggested the delegation should interact with university students and media.
The home minister said one thousand chilli-based PAVA shells will reach Srinagar on Sunday to be used for crowd control by security forces.