06 April 2000

Govt's olive branch may not work in Kashmir

6 April 2000
The Times of India

Govt's olive branch may not work in Kashmir

Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: Two days after the freeing of Syed Ali Shah Geelani,
Professor Abdul Gani Bhat and Maulana Abbas Ansari, the gulf between
New Delhi and the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) seems wider
than ever before. Speaking to reporters in Ahmedabad on Wednesday,
home minister L K Advani reiterated his familiar precondition for
talks: militant groups must accept the Indian Constitution. And,
in an interview with The Times of India at the APHC's office in New
Delhi, the released leaders insisted that talks between India,
Pakistan and ``the genuine leaders of the Kashmiri people'' were
``the only way forward''.

Asked whether they had had any contact with Indian officials since
their release, Prof Bhat pointed sarcastically to the police
presence outside the office. ``Journalists have been coming,'' said
Geelani, ``but when we were in jail, nobody enquired about us.''
Just before 6 p.m., as the last journalist was being ushered out,
Pakistani high commissioner Qazi Ashraf Jehangir arrived at the APHC
office, carrying flowers. ``It is an unofficial meeting,'' said a
Hurriyat leader, ``so no photographs please.''

The firing in Anantnag on Sunday in which seven unarmed civilians
were shot dead and the mystery about the identity of five persons
killed by the security forces on March 25 have forced the Centre on
to the backfoot. Sensing the government's discomfiture, the
Hurriyat leaders are keen on returning to Kashmir but have so far
been stymied by what one of them described as ``a very affectionate,
bureaucratic method to detain us from getting back to our homes

After a bizarre plane journey from Jodhpur which saw them hover over
Srinagar, Jammu, Chandigarh and Ambala before finally landing in New
Delhi, the three were taken to J&K House in the Capital and then
sent for a medical check-up. Officially, however, they are free and
Maulana Ansari will test the waters by attempting to fly to Srinagar
on Thursday.

The three leaders had been held without charge for six months along
with 12 senior Kashmiri political figures under the J&K Public
Safety Act, which allows for lengthy periods of preventive

Though they admitted being ``confused'' by US President Bill
Clinton's statements, the Hurriyat leaders felt that his visit to
India had influenced the government's decision to release them.
``Clinton said the Indian government should talk to the Kashmiri
people,'' said Bhat. ``Obviously, he didn't mean Farooq Abdullah or
Mufti (Mohd Sayeed). I think he was referring to the Hurriyat. He
might have counselled Vajpayee to release us.'' Nevertheless, Bhat
said the problem should be resolved in South Asia and not by
involving Washington.

The three leaders were adamant that while they were in prison, no
talks of any kind had been held with them. ``The report that the
government was talking to us was baseless. Perhaps the idea was to
convince world opinion - and especially Clinton - that a dialogue
process had begun.''

The Hurriyat leaders said there was no alternative to tripartite
talks. ``The Kashmir dispute should be resolved in accordance with
the UN resolutions. But if this is not possible, the only way
forward is to hold talks involving India, Pakistan and genuine
leaders of the Kashmiris.'' Bhat said that ``a favourable climate
could then emerge in which a joint appeal can be made to stop all
firing, violence and explosions along the LoC, in Kashmir, and in
India and Pakistan as well''.

However, Bhat said there was no chance of New Delhi reaching
agreement with the Hurriyat alone. ``Whenever bilateralism was
tried before, either between Sheikh Abdullah and the Indian
government or between India and Pakistan, no solution had emerged.''

``That is why we want purposeful, substantive, result-oriented
tripartite talks,'' he added, rejecting the idea of talks between
New Delhi and the APHC even as an interim, confidence-building

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