APHCís involve-Pak-first main hurdle in Jethmalaniís mission
17 August 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Srinagar: Government of Indiaís unofficial ''Kashmir Committee'', headed by eminent jurist Ram Jethmalani, had a detailed discussion with the executive council of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) today. Hurriyat agreed to become a partner with the Kashmir Committee in the process of seeking a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem but, significantly, did not budge an inch from its hackneyed stand: It showed no inclination for participation in the upcoming Assembly elections, refused to accept the elections as a substitute for Plebiscite, insisted on Pakistanís involvement in the political process and avoided to call the militants for a ceasefire. Hours after meeting the Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, and his Cabinet colleagues, members of Ram Jethmalaniís team had a 200-minute- long ''free and frank discussion'' with the top Hurriyat leaders. Chairman Professor Gani and his separatist colleagues accepted the Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishen Advaniís verbal invitation, as extended by Mr Jethmalani, and they agreed that the Hurriyat would work in partnership with the Kashmir Committee to work out a ''peaceful and durable'' solution to the vexed Kashmir dispute. They even agreed that violence would have no room in the ongoing process. Hurriyat confirmed that it would participate in the next round of talks with the Kashmir Committee in New Delhi. It is continuously unclear at this juncture whether any Government of India functionary would also attend the New Delhi round of talks or not. Informed sources disclosed to EXCELSIOR that, unlike Fridayís round of talks with Shabir Shah, todayís evening session took place in a pleasant atmosphere. Even as the Hurriyat leaders put forth Utopian demands and did not compromise their known stand vis-a-vis vital issues in the talks, Mr Jethmalani and his colleagues maintained a jovial atmosphere. Hurriyat did assiduously stress on ''need'' to evolve a mechanism, other than the conventional Assembly elections, to identify the real representatives of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. They laid maximum emphasis on the point that such a ''mutually acceptable mechanism'' required the involvement and sanction of all the three parties to the disputeóIndia, Pakistan and the people of Jammu & Kashmir. On its part, the Jethmalani team sought to convince the Hurriyat that the forthcoming Assembly elections would be the ''first step'' of the world approved democratic processóto negotiate all relevant issues and work out a peaceful and durable solution to the Kashmir problem. The committee assured the Hurriyat that demands of postponement of elections and imposition of Governorís rule ''to ensure free, fair and credible polling'' would be considered favourably by the Government of India. Mr Jethmalani is understood to have clarified to the Hurriyat that after Farooq Abdullahís latest statement, it could not afford to remain indifferent to elections. Earlier today, the Chief Minister played his masterstroke by saying that it would welcome Governorís rule in case Hurriyat came out with an announcement to participate in the elections. Notwithstanding Jethmalaniís eloquent explanations and averments, the Hurriyat stuck to its traditional stand. It refused to accept the Assembly elections as a substitute for Ďgeneral referendumí, insisted on Pakistanís involvement in the very beginning of the process and even avoided calling the militants for a ceasefire. Releasing of detainees and jailed Kashmiri separatist leaders was the only Hurriyat demand which the Kashmir Committee offered to pursue immediately. After the meeting ended, Mr Dileep Padgaonkar, eminent journalist and member of Jethmalaniís committee, read out a statement to media. He said that, during the ''free, frank and wide-ranging discussion'', the Kashmir Committee described the upcoming Assembly elections as ''historical and crucial to identify the real representatives of the people''. These representatives, the Hurriyat was told, would be the interlocutors to seek the ''final, durable solution''. According to Mr Padgaonkar, the Hurriyat asserted that the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir be ascertained by way of talks between India, Pakistan and the people of the State. He said that the Hurriyat and the Kashmir Committee agreed to work in partnership to end violence and tension in Jammu & Kashmir. Asked if he would discuss with the Government of India the issue of the postponement of elections, Jethmalani said that ''the speed with which the elections were being conducted'' could be a matter of discussion. He said that the demand of releasing the jailed leaders would require a ''serious response'' from the Government. The Hurriyat chairman, Prof Abdul Gani, told journalists that New Delhiís ''verbal invitation'' of talks, through Mr Jethmalani, had been accepted. He said that it had also been agreed that violence would have no part in the ongoing process. He, however, asserted that the Hurriyat was not going to make an appeal of ceasefire to militants. When a journalist asked Prof Gani repeatedly whether or not the Hurriyat would participate in the upcoming Assembly elections, he avoided an objective type answer. He even parried remarks that he was ''vague'' in answering a plain question. Asked who would represent the people of talks in his proposed talks with New Delhi and Islamabad, Prof Gani said: ''We represent the sentiments and emotions of the people; we represent Kashmirís blood and outraged chastities, and the ashes of the torched houses''.