Prelude to talks: Farooq, Fernandes call on Qasim
28 April 2000
Jammu: IN WHAT appears to be the first step in initiating talks in Kashmir, Defence Minister George Fernandes and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah met veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Mir Qasim in Srinagar today. The move is seen as an attempt to seek Mr Qasim''s good offices in starting a dialogue with the leaders of separatist groups in Kashmir. Syed Mir Qasim, a former Chief Minister of the State, credited with facilitating the return of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in February 1975, is widely respected in the political circle. He has virtually stayed away from politics for the past nearly two decades. Farooq Abdullah had offered to sponsor his candidature for Rajya Sabha in November 1996, but he had declined the offer. The reason why the focus has suddenly shifted to Mir Qasim is that he close to some of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders . Peoples Conference Chairman Abdul Ghani Lone, who is also an executive council member of the APHC, was the Education Minister in Syed Mir Qasim''s government. Mr. Lone was in Congress that time. Moreover, Mr. Qasim has friends both here and across and his views are valued. Mir Qasim, when contacted, refused to say anything about the discussions. He sought to brush aside speculations on the issue saying: ''It was a courtesy call''. But, he admitted that the visit was unexpected. The sources, however, disclosed that the current political scene in Valley was discussed with him in the light of the United States President Bill Clinton''s visit to India and Pakistan last month during which he stressed the need for a dialogue. Mr. Qasim while refusing to divulge anything, conceded that he would be willing to contribute, in whatever way he could, in seeking a solution to the crisis. Sounding optimistic, he said that all problems have a solution. His only apprehension being this should not be a process leading to yet another missed opportunity.