Track three: Shabir Shah talks to Qayoom
29 July 2002
The Indian Express
New Delhi: With less than two months left for the Jammu and Kashmir poll process to begin, separatist leaders have mounted a fresh initiative to open channels between India and Pakistan for a non-formal dialogue on Kashmir. This effort is different from others in that it envisages ‘‘inter-Kashmir’’ talks, that is, a dialogue between representatives of the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir with the Kashmir Council set up by President Musharraf under former PoK Prime Minister Sardar Qayoom Khan and an Indian equivalent acting as facilitators. Separatist leader Shabir Shah rang up Khan in Pakistan yesterday and floated the idea to him. Shah, who is lobbying hard in the Capital to get the initiative off the ground, told The Indian Express that he and Khan spoke for nearly an hour. He said the PoK leader was receptive to the suggestion and told him that he would like to send two members of his Kashmir Council to India to talk to Kashmiri groups and government interlocutors. Here, in New Delhi, Shah is working through former Law Minister Ram Jethmalani, who has been to Srinagar twice as an unofficial emissary of the Centre, to persuade the Government to agree. Jethmalani said he has already sounded out jurists Rajinder Sachchar and Shanti Bhushan to be part of the Kashmir Committee that would be set up under this initiative. He admitted, however, that he has not yet discussed the idea with either Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee or Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani. This latest salvo from the separatist camp is part of its dialogue first, polls later strategy. Shah, who is one of the leades the Government is hoping to rope into the elections, made it clear that unless New Delhi opened talks with separatist groups first, there was no point in asking them to contest. ‘‘If the Government is serious about a meaningful dialogue with us, then obviously elections will have to be delayed. No dialogue can come up with a solution in just one or two months. But elections are the Government’s baby. I cannot ask for them to be postponed. The Government of India has to decide,’’ he said. The unofficial negotiations between separatist groups and the Centre over participation in elections appear to be stuck on this point. The Government is determined to hold elections on time and the separatists are equally determined to bring the Government to the negotiating table before considering polls. Shah said the initiative must start with the Prime Minister. Once he sets the ball rolling with a preliminary meeting with separatist groups, including the Hurriyat, then sub-groups can be formed with appointed interlocutors. He said it was equally important to draw Pakistan into the process. The move to talk to PoK representatives is the first step towards establishing communication channels between India and Pakistan, he said.