The Centre has sought "guarantees" from the separatists that they will ensure an end to stone throwing, street protests and violence before it announces any concessions in Jammu & Kashmir.
A highly placed source in the state government, who played a pivotal role in bringing hard line Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to talk about dialogue, told HT: “There’s a willingness in the government to walk the extra mile (to restore peace), but it can’t be a unilateral move. It has to be reciprocated.”
Separately, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told HT in an exclusive interview: “I will soon be able to offer a package (of measures) to pacify the protesters. I’ve had extensive discussions with home minister (P Chidambaram) and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and am hopeful we’ll be moving forward on solutions in my meeting with the Prime Minister next weekend.”
However, there is a nagging suspicion that no one, not even Geelani, has the wherewithal to enforce the guarantee sought by the Centre.
Since June 11 this year, a police crackdown on street protests and stone-throwing youth have left 64 people dead and many more wounded. The Centre wants to end this cycle of violence, and is willing to take a risk, but not beyond a point.
The official, who is involved in the behind the scenes preparations for the talks between the government and the separatists, said: “In the absence of such a guarantee, the Centre and the state government feel any concession on demands for diluting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or its withdrawal from some areas will open the doors for more radical demands.”
In this context, the official recalled the government's "bitter experience earlier this year. Twelve battalions were withdrawn from Kashmir's hinterland, but that did not stop the stone-throwing".
There is, however, a realisation in the government that Geelani, who has been changing his stance often, is now practically hostage to the more radical elements in his organisation. On Friday, he asked the youth to desert him if he parted ways with his known position — an open invitation to radical elements to overrule him if he "compromises his hard line stand". But despite such imponderables, the Centre feels its current initiative may offer the troubled state its best chance of peace.
(With inputs from Toufiq Rashid in Srinagar)