Blackwill, Kashmir panel confer
7 October 2002
New Delhi: The American Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, today had a luncheon meeting with the Kashmir Committee headed by the former Union Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani. The two sides discussed the nature of ''free and fair'' elections in Jammu and Kashmir as well as what need to be done next in the troubled State. Accompanied by his senior colleagues, the American envoy learnt for himself the kind of dialogue the Kashmir Committee has established with the various pockets of opinion and resistance in the Kashmir Valley. According to a committee member, the American diplomats appreciated the committee''s efforts and acknowledged that it had opened certain channels of communications that otherwise would have remained indifferent and closed. The American side is believed to have noted with satisfaction that the committee had managed to secure an understanding with all ''resistance'' groups that if a solution to the Kashmir ''problem'' was to be found, then all sides must eschew ''extreme'' positions. This understanding has been spelt out in the joint statements issued by the committee, first, after its interaction with Shabir Shah and later with Abdul Gani Bhat. After an hour-long meeting, Mr. Jethmalani said the committee and the U.S. had a ''clearer understanding'' of each other''s viewpoints and hey hoped to continue their effort. Mr. Jethmalani described the meeting as ''very positive'' and both sides would continue to coordinate to find a solution to the Kashmir problem. Asked about the U.S. interest vis- à-vis the Kashmir issue, Mr. Jethmalani said not just the U.S. the whole world was interested in peace and finding a durable solution. To a question on the post-elections scenario, while Mr. Jethmalani did not comment, he hoped that the Government would keep to its promise of holding talks after the elections even with those who did not take part in it. Apart from Mr. Jethmalani and Mr. Grover, the committee convener, Ashok Bhan, and members, journalist, Dileep Padgoankar and the former Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan took part. The committee, meanwhile, came under fire from the National Conference president, Omar Abdullah, who accused it of wanting to ''weaken'' his party.He saw a conspiratorial design in the committee granting audience the same day to both Sajjad Lone (of the People''s Conference) and Saifuddin Soz (a former National Conference parliamentarian and now a Congress member). However, the committee members describe the presence of the two as entirely fortuitous.