APHC Surprised Advani Never Said No, Always Yes
23 January 2004
The Asian Age
New Delhi: Deputy prime minister L.K. Advani has left the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders speechless with surprise. He was 'calm' and 'accommodating.' He never said 'no,' always a 'yes' or a 'may be.' He allowed them to change what he described as the synopsis of the discussions, and then the joint statement, at least four times. 'Go ahead, if you are sensitive to anything, change it,' is how he came across with the Kashmiri separatists still wondering how to reconcile their image of a BJP hawk with their new perceptions of a man of peace. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, Bilal Lone and Fazal Qureshi had walked into North Block with trepidation. They had expected Mr Advani to shake hands for the cameras, and after a few polite exchanges bid adieu, leaving Mr N.N. Vohra in charge. They were prepared, if this happened, to bring the discussion to a quick end and walk out without further ado. But he not only met them warmly, but stayed on for two-and-a- half hours, and if this was not enough, promised to find time from a hectic election campaign in March to meet them again. Leaving most of the talking to Prof. Bhat, who showered the deputy prime minister with his flowery English, the Hurriyat leaders closely watched Mr Advani for signs of unease, rigidity or anger. They found none. 'It was amazing. We had expected some hitches, some blocks, but it all progressed without any problems at all,' was the bemused consensus. All points raised by the Hurriyat were discussed, with the Mirwaiz particularly happy that the 'government of India has, in a major shift of stance, actually recognised the need for a step-by-step approach for the resolution of the Kashmir issue.' As he pointed out, earlier the Indian government had never even accepted the status of Jammu and Kashmir as a dispute. Mr Advani had no hesitation in meeting two of the four demands raised by the Hurriyat delegation - he agreed to consider the phased release of political prisoners, and to undertake an immediate re-assessment of the human rights situation in the state. The demand for a unilateral ceasefire, and the scrapping of Pota, the Disturbed Areas Act and the Arms Act was politely deferred to later. The deputy prime minister said that these would involve consultations with the Army, with the Hurriyat agreeing to discuss these later, at the March meeting. The Mirwaiz said that much would now depend on the impact on the ground of a change in the Centre's position. 'It is important for the people to feel the difference on the ground,' he said. Mr Advani listened patiently to Prof. Bhat, rarely interrupting his flow of English. As the professor told The Asian Age, 'We saw the wrinkles on Mr Advani's face, and the smile on his lips.' It was a good meeting, he conceded, taking care not to appear as enthusiastic as his younger colleague, Omar Farooq. Seeking to give a larger dimension to the meeting, he said the combination of 'Atal Behari's vision and Pervez Musharraf's realism was extremely likely to bring forth a big change.' The Hurriyat brought up the question of going to Pakistan with Mr Advani. In fact, Prof. Bhat said the Hurriyat would like to contribute to the process of peace through this visit. Mr Advani did not rule it out, again seen as a positive indication by the Kashmiri separatists, who have been catapulted into the limelight through this meeting. It is clear that from their side the dialogue will continue. Prof. Bhat said the objective was to resolve the Kashmir dispute and to work for nuclear peace in South Asia. What will happen between now and March when you meet next? The Mirwaiz felt that an end to human rights violations and release of political prisoners would have an impact. As did Prof. Bhat. What about expanding the Hurriyat to cover the regions and other communities? The Hurriyat would visit Jammu, meet the Kashmiri pandits and others, and certainly expand the organisation, the Mirwaiz said. Prof. Bhat said he had some differences on this, but would speak to the Mirwaiz about these. 'I cannot share these with you,' he said.