USA urges J&K separatists to take poll plunge
27 June 2002
Jammu: The USA has renewed its efforts to play a mediator’s role in Jammu & Kashmir. A US State Department delegation met Kashmiri separatist leaders yesterday and asked them to take part in the state Assembly polls. The delegation comprised the US embassy’s defence attache, Colonel Steven Soboton, the second secretary, Ms Sheetal Patel, and the press adviser, Mr Unni Menon. They held talks with Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party chief Mr Shabir Shah, Hurriyat chairman Prof Abdul Gani Bhat and third front leaders Mr Abdul Hanief Khaliq, Mr Azam Inquilabi, Mr Abdul Rahim Naikoo and Mushtaq Ahmed Sagar. The delegation assured the separatist leaders that international observers would be present during the polls. “Pakistan would never agree to withdraw its forces from PoK as per UN resolutions ... The US delegation has ‘guaranteed’ them that the elections would be held in the state in the presence of international observers,” sources said. After the meeting, Prof Bhat said he had told the US team that first a conducive atmosphere for talks should be created. This should be followed by defusing of tension along the LoC and talks between India and Pakistan. The leaders reportedly told the delegates that they would participate in the polls only if the USA agreed to play a mediatory role in Kashmir. They wanted an assurance that India would be ready to discuss the Kashmir issue with Pakistan after the polls. Mr Shabir Shah, who met PMO official Mr AS Dullat recently, had told him that he was not averse “to participation in the elections if it helps resolve the vexed Kashmir issue”. “We are not against the democratic process,” Mr Shah told US officials yesterday. “We believe in elections. India has been holding polls in the state for the past 50 years. The Kashmir issue remains unresolved... We are ready to participate in the elections if these are held to resolve the issue... We have no problem in demonstrating our representative character. But we will not participate in the polls unless the Centre initiates a dialogue.” The team will submit its “Kashmir report” to the US government soon.