29 January 2001
The Asian Age
Seema Mustafa

New Delhi: Former chief minister Ghulam Mohammed Shah is the Union government’s new player in Jammu and Kashmir. He is busy organising a two-day conference in Srinagar from March 17 with the government expected to issue visas to at least 60 delegates from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the frontier provinces. Mr Shah, who had been brought in by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to replace his brother-in-law Farooq Abdullah in what was seen by the people of Jammu and Kashmir as a “Delhi coup” at the time, has tried to mend fences with chief minister Farooq Abdullah after a gap of nearly two decades. Dr Abdullah has been invited to attend the conference and is expected to attend. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference is, at present, the only indigenous Kashmir group unwilling to sit on the same platform as Mr Shah. Senior Hurriyat leaders told The Asian Age this was “not possible” and there was “no question” of participating in the meet convened by “somebody who has always taken an anti-Kashmir stand.” The chairman of the conference, Mr Muzaffar Shah, who is the former chief minister’s son, told The Asian Age the Hurriyat leaders had been invited. Mr Shah, who had floated his own one-man party and had remained virtually outside the political sphere in Jammu and Kashmir, has suddenly become active over the last few months. He issued a long policy statement on Kashmir at a press conference in New Delhi. He is now organising this meet, described by his son as the “first ever since 1947,” with the delegate list including the Hizbul Mujahideen’s Syed Salahuddin, PoK leaders Qayyum Khan and his son Ataur Khan, JKLF leader Amanullah Khan and other representatives of the northern provinces. The conference will have about 400 delegates and 50 odd observers from both India and Pakistan. Mr Muzaffar Shah said the Pakistan side has already prepared a “list of 75 delegates” for the meeting, which was postponed from February to March at their behest. The intention is for representatives of all the “five regions” of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control to meet and discuss what could be a feasible and probable solution for the region. Voluntary groups working on Kashmir are also being invited for the meet. Sources said the conference has full government backing and visas will not be a problem for most delegates from Pakistan. Mr Muzaffar Shah said even if Syed Salahuddin and other “protagonists of the armed struggle were not allowed to attend, “they could send papers which will be read out at the conference.” Meanwhile, the APHC leaders are still waiting for the government to clear their visit to Pakistan. Mr Abdul Ghani Lone, at present in New Delhi, said it had now begun to seem as if the Centre did not want the delegation to leave. He said the extension of the ceasefire was a good move and it is surprising that while on the one hand the government was prepared to take a “bold step forward, it remained confused about a small step like the issuing of passports.” The government has not taken any decision about the passports with the attention having clearly shifted to Mr G.M. Shah’s conference. It also remains to be seen whether Pakistan Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf will allow PoK and northern province leaders to visit Srinagar for a meeting on Kashmir. There is no official word from Islamabad as yet about the meet.


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