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Leaders of all party delegation meet Kashmir separatists

Monday, September 20, 2010 09:58:22 PM, IANS

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Srinagar: Indian political leaders held ice-breaking talks Monday with Kashmiri separatist leaders in the glare of television cameras after three months of unprecedented street violence left 102 people dead in the valley and New Delhi grappling for ways to restore peace.

After Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) refused to meet the all-party delegation that flew in from New Delhi, the visiting politicians broke into small groups and met the three prominent faces of the two decades old separatist movement.

All three -- the hardliner Geelani and the moderates Farooq and Malik -- reiterated their known positions, insisting that the people of Kashmir desired freedom from India. They also denounced the security crackdown on street protests since June 11 that has left the valley in agony.

Geelani, who favours Jammu and Kashmir's merger with Pakistan, told Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury and four others at his residence that India would have to fulfil five conditions to restore calm in the valley.

"We will perish but won't give up. We have decided we will not surrender in the face of blind Indian imperialism," he said, sounding as militant as ever.

"Talks won't be meaningful unless India accepts Kashmir as an international dispute," said the octogenarian, a former teacher who has always been a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

A similar group that included Gurudas Dasgupta of the Communist Party of India (CPI) heard out the Mirwaiz speaking in near similar language but in a moderate tone.

The Mirwaiz said he favoured a result-oriented and unconditional dialogue between New Delhi and separatist leaders in the Kashmir Valley, where an armed struggle since 1989 has left thousands dead.

"This is not a mere political dispute... India should look at it as a humanitarian issue. Sentiments in the valley are for freedom, and India ought to respect that," the Mirwaiz said.

Dasgupta politely told him that his party would favour anything "less than azadi (freedom)".

But Dasgupta made it clear that the delegation was not visiting Kashmir to whitewash the killings of civilians that has generated anger in Srinagar and all across the valley.

"We are not here to defend any indignity, not to defend any barbarism, not to support any wrong being done (to Kashmiris). We represent different political voices. We have never believed you are Pakistani agents. You are equally Indians," he said.

JKLF's Malik, whose group favours an independent Kashmir, told another delegation that killings of civilians in the valley must cease immediately if normalcy needed to be restored.

He alleged that New Delhi had neither a clear commitment nor a desire to effectively resolve the Kashmir issue as per the aspirations the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

The 39-member team earlier landed in Srinagar in a special plane amid tight security and drove through deserted curfew-bound streets of the city for a first hand assessment of the situation.

Police and paramilitary forces were deployed in large numbers on Srinagar's roads.

The city presented a ghostly look as the Indian leaders proceeded in bullet-proof vehicles to the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Complex (SKICC) at the edge of the Dal Lake to meet politicians from mainstream parties and prominent citizens.

Besides Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the delegation included Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal (Congress) as well as Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Chidambaram said the team, which will visit Jammu Tuesday, had arrived here with an "open mind".

He said the main purpose of the team was to interact with people, listen to them and "carve out a path for taking Kashmir out of this present cycle of violence".

People's Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti told IANS that the party had decided to send a delegation led by its senior leader Muhammad Dilawar Mir to interact with the team.

"The visit has been hijacked by the ruling party," she said, referring to the ruling National Conference.





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