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A new beginning?

india Updated: Sep 21, 2010 23:12 IST
Toufiq Rashid

Political circles in the Valley have taken in the positive spirit some delegation members’ gesture of putting their best foot forward by meeting three main separatists – Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.

They have appreciated the fact that the delegates chose not to stand on their dignity and instead knocked on the door of the separatists in spite of the latter’s ‘no’ to the formal invitation from the delegation. And this they say could be the first step towards creating an environment for talks.

The initiative found acceptance among all quarters in Kashmir, which included not only the mainstream political parties but Kashmir watchers as well. While the opposition People’s Democratic Party called it a welcome step, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah hoped a “serious initiative will follow”.

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik, a moderate separatist, said follow-up action would determine the success of the meeting. “They were very humble and there were tears in their eyes when we told them about the situation in Kashmir.”

“I hope they convey the heart beat of the Kashmiris to the political leadership in India,” Malik said.

Malik, however, doesn’t want to

comment on any possibility of dialogue at this point.

The meeting has raised hopes. “The meetings yesterday have raised expectations of following things up with a concrete dialogue,” said Amitabh Mattoo, a political analyst and former vice-chancellor, Jammu University.

“People of Kashmir need to be told that New Delhi is serious, otherwise it can lead to more bitterness,” Mattoo added.

Those who were part of the delegation were of the same opinion.

“The initiative has surely opened the door for future dialogue,” said CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta. “Even the separatists seemed willing for something constructive,” he added.

While political analysts advocate starting an “unconditional dialogue process”, separatist leaders say the “ball is in New Delhi’s court”. “We have never closed our door to dialogue but let’s come with a serious initiative. They come with their agenda, we with our own,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat conference.

The fact that the all-party delegation had come to Kashmir in what the joint memorandum signed by the moderate separatist leaders and Malik called the “most vexed circumstances faced by Jammu and Kashmir” made the step all the more significant.

The entire Valley faces the harshest curfew in living memory. In this unrest of more than 100 days, 107 civilians have lost their lives.

“How can one enter into a dialogue when our young men are dying every day,” said the Mirwaiz.

“If it wasn’t for this step (of meeting separatists), the all-party delegation meeting would have looked stage managed,” said People’s Democratic Party spokesman Nayeem Akhtar.

Mattoo is among those happy that the meetings happened on tape. “The fact is that both the people of Kashmir and people of India got to see the other side of the story,” he said. “Kashmiris saw a sympathetic Indian face and the Indian people got to know that the separatists are not monsters. It was a great way of educating the people of India, who mostly don’t have a sense of what is happening in Kashmir,” added Mattoo.

For some, the fact that the separatists chose to speak to the TV media reflects the change in the political situation in Kashmir, where people demand accountability from political leaders. “There has been no accountability and people accepted whatever the leadership said. This is an indication of change as people want everything to be transparent,” said Akhtar.

The Mirwaiz agrees. “Last time when we talked Pervez Musharraf’s (former Pakistan president) four-point formula (for Kashmir), nobody knew what was happening,” said Farooq, who was part of the dialogue. “The key to any forward movement is transparency,” he added.