J&K talks to take off without pre-conditions
15 July 2000
New Delhi: The preliminary round of talks between the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, scheduled for July 17, will primarily focus on the ''nature of dialogue'', rather than any substantive give and take. The assumption is that both sides are coming together with ''an open mind'' and without any ''pre-conditions.'' The Prime Minister has requisitioned the presence of the Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, at the ''talks'' on Monday. It is believed Dr. Abdullah will have the services of his able Law Minister, Mr. P.L. Handoo. But it is not clear whether the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, would also join in the preliminary round. The decision of the Working Committee of the National Conference to meet again after Dr. Abdullah''s talks with Mr. Vajpayee has been interpreted as an encouraging development. As far as the Vajpayee Government is concerned, its ''brief'' has been more or less decided for it by the emerging political consensus. The ruling establishment, for example, has noted the observations made by the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr. Jyoti Basu, in London today. Mr. Basu is reported to have ruled out a return to ''the pre-1953'' position; instead, he has talked of the desirability of re-energing the 1975 Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi Accord as the basis of restoring ''autonomy'' to Jammu and Kashmir. The Vajpayee Government has also noted that the Congress(I), whose cooperation is deemed essential to success of any ''agreement'', has reiterated the usefulness of the 1975 accord. To the extent the 1975 accord provides a mechanism for satisfying the Kashmiri quest for ''autonomy'', and it remains the last operative document defining the relationship. There would not be any conceptual or political objections to a ''return to the 1975'' position. Of course, both Dr. Abdullah and his Law Minister have been vehement in their publicly-stated determination not to budge from the ''pre-1953'' stand - these noises are seen as unavoidable rhetorical rather than as negotiating gambits. But there is believed to be a clarity among Mr. Vajpayee''s advisers that the ''dialogue'' cannot be concluded in a hurry. The nature, quantum and time-table, if any, of the ''autonomy'' would have to be discussed at length and would get spread over time. A committee of secretaries, headed by the Cabinet Secretary, is examining the report of the State Autonomy Committee. The labours of this committee would necessarily be important inputs in the Government''s strategy.