Important to win hearts and minds of Kashmiris: Chidambaram (Lead)

August 6th, 2010 - 8:40 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram New Delhi, Aug 6 (IANS) Home Minister P. Chidambaram said Friday it was important to win the hearts and minds of people of Jammu and Kashmir and the government was committed to reactivating the political process in the state, marking a softening in his stance.
He also said that the government would be “very happy” if hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani joins in the dialogue.

The minister, who had earlier said that the uprising was being fuelled by elements across the border and it needed to be put down firmly, told the Rajya Sabha that an all-party delegation from the state is expected to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next week. He also said the government would convene a meeting of leaders of political parties in parliament to discuss the situation in the troubled state.

Chidambaram said the government was willing to restart the “quiet dialogue” which, he said was “interrupted” in December following an attack on a Hurriyat Conference leader.

He hoped that the moderate leaders among separatists will resume the dialogue. “I will be very happy if (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani also joins to have a dialogue in one form or other,” he said.

“The prime minister will be happy to receive the all-party delegation (from Jammu and Kashmir) as early as Monday,” he said.

“The immediate task is to restore law and order… We must bring to an end violence on the streets of Jammu and Kashmir,” Chidambaram said, adding that security forces were acting with a great degree of restraint.

During the last seven days, 31 protesters have been killed across Kashmir in firing by security forces, taking the toll in the cycle of violence since June 11 to 48.

Chidambaram also said it was true that Pakistan “appears to have changed its strategy.”

“I don’t think there is let up in infiltration but our capacity to deal with infiltration and militancy is much higher than a few years ago,” he said, adding that it was possible that the neighbour has a strategy of relying on civilian unrest to get better dividends.

He said by winning hearts and minds of the people even these strategies can be foiled.

Referring to the demand for dilution of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, he said it “can’t be brushed aside and a way should be found to deliver on the promise”.

He said the government was for reduction of forces if the situation improved. The presence of troops was according to the situation and disturbed conditions.

Chidambaram said it was often forgotten that in the beginning of 2004 till middle of this year, Jammu and Kashmir had not witnessed civilian strife except the 2008 agitation concerning Amarnath yatra.

He said there had been incidents concerning infiltrators but the state had been largely peaceful.

Disagreeing with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over its suggestions for abrogating Article 370 and sending more forces, Chidambaram said the force levels in the state would depend on the situation.

He said it was important to win the hearts and minds of people.

“In the immediate term, we must bring an end to violence on the streets of Jammu and Kashmir.”

The minister said that lessons had been learnt and the state government was reaching out to people.

Referring to the decline in violence in the past 48 hours, Chidambaram hoped that the trend will continue.

“There is no comfort if even one life is lost. It diminishes credibility of governance,” he said.

Pointing to the situation in the state in 2004-05, Chidambaram said the streets did not hear cries of ‘Azadi’ or quit India and people wanted educational institutions and management colleges. “It is unfortunate that (this) voice has muted. Hope it is a passing phase…. Hope that 2004-05 voice will be heard in J and K,” he said.

He said the immediate task was to restore law and order. “Armed forces have acted with great degree of restraint. Over 1,000 personnel have been injured. They have taken hits on sensitive parts such as eyes and head,” he said, adding that the forces not only had to act in self-defence in the face of few thousand stones raining on them but also had to protect government property.

“They use lathis, teargas shells, rubber bullets… When forced to the bitter end, they use bullets,” he said.

The minister said there were some good signs as well as over five lakh tourists had visited the state this year and over four lakh pilgrims had completed the Amarnath Yarta.

He appealed to people of the state including the youth to put an end to violence.

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