PM Holds Talks For 'new Kashmir'
25 February 2006
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Expressing confidence that differences can be reconciled, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday sought the partnership of Kashmiri leaders to construct a 'naya' (new) Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh in a spirit of 'mutual tolerance, understanding and accommodation'.Addressing a round-table conference convened by him, of leaders and intellectuals from the three regions, he told them, 'you are the real stakeholders in the future of Kashmir'. Singh termed as 'unfortunate' incidents in the last few days in which innocent civilians have been casualties. 'This was and is not the intention of the armed forces,' he said in an apparent reference to Handwara in North Kashmir, where the forces in a case of mistaken identity killed four youths. 'I was grieved by the incident and at the loss of innocent lives. I fully sympathise with the sentiments of the people who are hurt by this incident,' he said. Singh said Army has been asked to take 'remedial measures' so that such incidents do not recur in future. The Hurriyat Conference and some other separatist leaders stayed away from the meeting, which brought together over 60 representatives for the first time. Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, National Conference chief Omar Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and others attended it. Abdullah said he had raised the issue of more autonomy for the state. Doing some plain speaking, Singh said, 'Real empowerment, my friends, is not about slogans... We want the people of Jammu and Kashmir to be free from all fears about their future. It is only this sense of comprehensive security, within a framework of good governance that can really empower the people'. The Prime Minister also made it clear that people could feel 'physically secure' only if violence and terrorism 'ends permanently'. Singh also stressed, 'We have to ensure that those who have been displaced can return to their homes'. Emphasising that Jammu and Kashmir has been at the 'top' of government agenda, he said the economic revitalisation of the state has been a 'priority area'. Singh said he was aware that the people of Leh and Kargil may have different ideas about the future from those living in Srinagar. Those in Kathua may think differently from residents of Sopore. 'But that is the real strength of democracy, which celebrates differences and does not smother them,' he stressed. Expressing confidence that the representatives from the three regions shared his vision and were willing to be part of that effort, he said, 'we can reconcile our differences if we are guided by this vision'. The Prime Minister said he was confident that those, who had not taken part in Saturday's meet, 'will eventually join us once they see the obvious merits in sharing ideas and working together'.