The Central government unfolded its strategy of peace talks on Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday with its negotiator K C Pant formally inviting the Hurriyat Conference, the People's Front and over 20 other political parties for a dialogue to evolve a solution on the Kashmir issue, but ruled out involving Pakistan-based militants in the peace process.
The first round of negotiations started with Pant holding talks with veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Mir Qasim. Round one would also include talks with leaders of political groups, Members of Parliament from the state, representatives in the assembly and council and groups from Ladakh and Kargil to whom invitations were dispatched Sunday.
Addressing a press conference, Pant, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, said he was ready to go to Srinagar for talks with the Hurriyat and other groups to end the strife and sufferings of the people.
He did not rule out talks with Kashmiri militant groups, stating that ''the doors are not closed for Kashmiri organisations which are currently engaged in militancy in the state but are desirous of peace.''
He was confident that the Hurriyat and other separatist groups would respond positively to the invitation. A meeting of the executive council of the 23-party conglomerate was expected to take a favourable decision in this regard.
The Hurriyat meeting, which had been scheduled for Monday, has been postponed by a few days due to the death of the daughter of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Pant said the talks were a serious effort and it should not be trivialised. ''I don't see any reason for the Hurriyat to say no to talks. Those who aspire for peace in the state should respond positively."
Asked whether Hurriyat leaders would be allowed to go to Pakistan to meet the military regime and militant groups there, Pant said he was ready to discuss the issue with them. ''I would like to know their (APHC) reason for going to Pakistan. Let them convince me.''
He said the whole attempt was aimed at inviting the Hurriyat and involving them in the peace process to bring about peace in the state. In the first round of talks, Pant will meet the leaders of the National Conference, the Congress, the BJP, the BSP, Left parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, Panthers' Party, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council, Imam Khomeini Trust of Kargil, Awami League and Awami Conference, Islamia Group and others.
G M Shah, former chief minister and president of the Awami National Conference, has also been invited. In his letter to the political parties, Pant said in order to find permanent peace in the state it was the responsibility on ''all of us who are genuinely interested in ending the strife and suffering of the people'' to join the talks.
''I take this opportunity to invite you for a discussion. I am asking my office to contact you to fix a mutually convenient date and time for a meeting.'' Pant said he had been closely associated with Kashmir during Indira Gandhi's regime.
The 12 years of militancy had played havoc with the economy, infrastructure and lives of the people. Tourism had been totally ruined and people continued to suffer. There was need for a sincere effort to resolve the problem.
''It was for this reason that the government decided to embark upon a political dialogue with all sections of the people, including those who were currently outside. It was our desire to restore peace and normalcy in the state and people should come forward to participate in the dialogue,'' Pant said.
He said the APHC had all along taken the position that the talks should be unconditional and the government responded positively. ''It is for APHC to consider whether it would not be inconsistent for them to set conditions for the dialogue.''
On his brief discussion with Mir Qasim, he said he was a respectable leader who had played a very important role in state politics. Pant confirmed that Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, who met Kashmiri leaders during his several visits to the state, briefed him (Pant) about the talks.
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