Talk, we’ll join polls: J-K separatists
24 June 2002
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Kashmiri separatists have set dialogue as a condition for taking part in the October polls. This has been conveyed to the Government by emissaries who have been doing the spadework for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s second visit to the Valley next month. It was reaffirmed today to The Indian Express by senior separatist leader and former member of the Hurriyat Conference Shabir Shah who has been the most forthcoming of the secessionists so far. Vajpayee must offer to begin a dialogue for resolution of the Kashmir problem if he wants separatist groups to contest the polls, Shah said. He said he was willing to join the poll fray but added he expects the PM to invite him and other separatist leaders for talks first. ‘‘If the dialogue leads to polls, I am ready to participate. Polls are not an illness. I won’t catch a contagious disease if I contest.’’ Shah’s remarks are significant as he is one of the leading separatists who has never fought a poll. Disclosing that he met PMO’s point man for Kashmir, A.S. Dulat, during this trip to Delhi, Shah said that he told Dulat that if the Prime Minister is serious about moving forward on Kashmir, he should formally invite the separatists for talks. ‘‘And it should be a comprehensive dialogue for a solution, not an eyewash like the Pant mission,’’ he said. Shah is in Delhi on a lobbying mission, hoping to build pressure on the Government to initiate a dialogue with the Kashmiri separatists. In addition to a dialogue, Shah felt that the Centre must create a conducive atmosphere to win the Kashmiris’ trust. This includes withdrawing troops from the LoC and responding positively to Pakistan’s offer of dialogue with India. ‘‘We Kashmiris can be the bridge between India and Pakistan,’’ he said. ‘‘We should be allowed to talk to the people of Azad Kashmir also. The problem affects all Kashmiris.’’ He stressed that a dialogue is the only method of resolving the problem. ‘‘India and Pakistan have fought four wars on this issue and almost fought a fifth,’’ he said. ‘‘The threat of war will remain unless a solution is found. The only way out is to talk. India and Pakistan must talk. The Government must talk to the people of Kashmir.’’ He, however, said the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party etc. should not be included in the dialogue. They can be represented by the Government, Shah insisted, as they do not belong to forces which want freedom. He was obliquely critical of the Hurriyat, revealing that he left it because they did not care for the aspirations of people of Ladakh and Jammu. He said that he has been suggesting to the Hurriyat all separatist groups band together under one name so that they can present a unified voice to the world. ‘‘They have not responded. Now I feel the people of Kashmir should decide who is right and who is wrong,’’ he said.