Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Shabir Ahmed Shah, chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, appears to have developed cold feet on the offer of a dialogue made by the prime minister's special envoy, Krishen Chandra Pant.
In a turnaround, Shah, who had earlier given indications of his willingness to talk to Pant, told reporters through his party's general secretary Maulana Abdullah Tahiri that "Kashmir is too complex a problem to be sorted out through the proposed dialogue".
Significantly, Shah, who till the other day was maintaining that "Kashmir has a strong case and nobody should shy away from a dialogue offer", avoided making a personal appearance at the press conference at the JKDFP headquarters at Raj Bagh in uptown Srinagar.
Instead he authorized Maulana Tahiri to address reporters on the JKDFP's response to Pant's latest missive.
Tahri, instead of clearly spelling out the party's response, began by praising various militant groups and extolling the "sacrifices made by them for the political aspirations of Kashmiris".
He said the JKDFP would work to evolve a consensus on Pant's peace proposal, but this process, he cautioned, would take "a long time".
The authorities had made tight security arrangements around the party headquarters with Border Security Force and local police personnel remained in strength.
In his letter to Shah, Pant had said, "As suggested by you, it would be desirable to make a beginning without losing any precious time. It is important to emphasize peace because it is necessary to alleviate the sufferings of the people and not because the Kashmir problem was being treated as a mere law and order issue.
"It is only in an atmosphere of peace that an agreed solution for the Jammu and Kashmir problem can be evolved. An agreed solution should, indeed, be the end result of a dialogue. I will have the benefit of your views in the matter when we meet.
"The Government of India is not averse to engage Pakistan in meaningful talks on Jammu and Kashmir and is hopeful that Islamabad will co-operate with India and initiate measures that would facilitate the process."
The letter, which was delivered to Shah by Pant's emissary Naresh Kumar Jain, further said, "The government has taken and is willing to take such steps as would contribute to a meaningful dialogue. Being the initiator, we are committed to its success. It was in this spirit that the Prime Minister had taken various initiatives like the Lahore visit and announcement of unilateral ceasefire.
"I value the democratic spirit evident in your holding discussions with persons drawn from different regions of the state and representing different viewpoints reflecting the pluralistic ethos of Kashmiriyat. At this stage, we are keen to understand the concerns of all sections of the people of the state. It would have been against the spirit of democracy not to give those who have a stake in the future of Jammu and Kashmir a chance to express themselves.
"The issues you have raised in your letter are not amenable to summary disposal through an exchange of letters. May I suggest now we meet to discuss these and other issues? We should move ahead in search of peace and of an agreed and peaceful solution of the J&K problem."
But with Wednesday's decision virtually spurning this offer, Shah has succeeded in proving one point: there is no division in the separatist political camp of Kashmir, all of whom now argue that nothing concrete can be achieved unless India agrees to associate Pakistan with the peace process.
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