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Kashmir: Delhi, Hurriyat open a new chapter

Onkar Singh and Josy Joseph in New Delhi | January 22, 2004 17:52 IST
Last Updated: January 22, 2004 19:12 IST

Warm handshakes can hardly be a match to a long, bloody history. But they definitely could be the first little steps to overcome the grief and prejudice, terror and horror that rule the Kashmir dispute.

That seemed to be the mood this afternoon as Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani shook hands with the five separatist leaders from Kashmir, marking a new chapter in the 14 years of stand-off between New Delhi and the Kashmiri separatists. The bloody engagement could finally give way to peaceful negotiations if Thursday's effort goes off smoothly, officials involved said.

"We are not averse to them travelling to Pakistan. They could either pursue the militants to end violence or they would be exposed for their lack of influence, so touted all these years, among terrorist groups," said an official.

"Everything can be discussed, anything is possible," another official said.

The government, however, is not ready to hype hope as the Centre for the first time engages separatists, who have boycotted elections ever since 1987.

A little before 3 pm the five Hurriyat leaders were taken into the North Block office of Advani from the rear entrance even as hundreds of journalists had laid siege to the front entrance of the home ministry.

In the first round of meetings, officials said, India would only present a general perception of Kashmir and its broad guiding principles about dialogue. But Hurriyat sources have hinted that they would seek release of political prisoners, return of some Kashmiri leaders from exile and removal of security forces from residential areas.

The deputy prime minister was joined by Home Secretary N Gopalaswamy and the centre's Kashmir interlocutor, N N Vohra.

The Hurriyat side is led by its chairman Maulana Abbas Ansari.


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