Government consults Kashmiri opinion makers

August 6th, 2010 - 3:30 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram By George Joseph
New Delhi, Aug 6 (IANS) The Indian government has began a series of consultations with Kashmiri opinion makers to explore ways to salvage the situation in the violence hit Kashmir Valley.

On Thursday, Home Minister P. Chidambaram met a select group of opinion makers here, a senior home ministry official said.

He sought their views on the situation in the valley, where at least 48 civilians have been killed by security forces during widespread street protests since early June.

“Yes,consultations have begun. But these are not real talks. You can say these are talks before talks or talks to give shape to the real talks,” the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

He said the minister was likely to hold consultations with religious leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, academics and intellectuals, representatives of trade, industry and commerce, journalists, rights activists and other sections of the civil society soon.

“He is expected to meet them in small groups,” the source said.

The “real talks” with political groups will be given shape based on the inputs from these consultations, official sources told.

On Aug 3, Chidambaram told parliament that “the issues concerning Jammu and Kashmir have to be addressed through the political process and through a dialogue with all sections of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

He said: “We recognise the issues concerning Jammu and Kashmir are issues concerning our own people. The government has always favoured a dialogue.

“In fact, in 2009, the central government initiated a ‘quiet dialogue’ with key political groups and individuals. I had hoped the dialogue would open a window of opportunity to activate the political process to find solutions,” the statement said.

“However, the dialogue was interrupted on Dec 4, 2009 when there was an attempt on the life of Fazl-ul-Haq (Qureshi), a leader who favoured dialgoue and he was seriously injured,” Chidambaram said.

The current crisis in the Kashmir Valley began in June when street protests erupted in Srinagar and other towns. Since then, protestors have taken on security forces, leading to deaths and injuries.

Normal life has been severely affected in the valley, with curfew imposed and troops asked to stand by in Srinagar and elsewhere.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) twice in the past two months to discuss the Kashmir turbulence.

The CCS asked Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to enforce prohibitory orders and to initiate “political action in the disturbed localities”.

Abdullah made two visits to New Delhi to apprise the prime minister and other leaders about the situation. He had said any dialogue would be “possible only after some shred of normalcy returned.” However, he added that “there was a political issue at the bottom of the situation”.

The central government’s consultations come close on the heels of hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s appeal for peaceful protests.

The 80-year-old Geelani, who was released from a 50-day detention, said in Srinagar Wednesday that “Kashmiri protestors should assume a high moral ground by keeping their protests peaceful against oppressor India”.

Official sources said the home ministry was regularly updating the Prime Minister’s Office about the consultations by Chidambaram and his officials.

“Any decision on the political talks with political groups in Kashmir will be decided by the home ministry in consultation with the PMO,” a senior official told IANS.

(George Joseph can be contacted at george.j@ians.in)

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