India offers amnesty to Kashmiri militants in Pakistan (Roundup)

February 11th, 2010 - 8:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi/Srinagar, Feb 11 (IANS) In a major confidence building measure for Jammu and Kashmir, the government Thursday said it has accepted granting amnesty to Kashmiri militants in Pakistan who want to surrender and return home.
The decision, which comes days after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah proposed the idea at a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, brought cheer to hundreds of families in the troubled state whose sons left for Pakistani Kashmir many years ago for arms training and are keen to return.

“The idea of granting amnesty to Kashmiri youth in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) has been accepted. The idea must be translated into action now,” Chidambaram told reporters in Delhi.

The home minister said the government was now looking at many points involved in the process of their return.

“There are many points for their travel back. Like identification, debriefing, rehabilitation and reintegration into the system,” he said.

“Process of wider consultation would be carried and we will consult leader of the opposition and two main political parties in Kashmir,” he said about the ruling National Conference and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The decision also put to rest a row that erupted after central Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad opposed the idea.

Chidambaram said: “PoK (Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir) is an Indian territory, otherwise why should anybody question the idea.”

The announcement brought smiles back to hundreds of distressed familes in the Kashmir Valley and other Muslim-dominated areas in Jammu region whose male members had crossed the Line of Control - a de facto border that divides the state between India and Pakistan - for arms training in militant camps since early 1990s.

An estimated 3,000 Kashmiri men are in Pakistani Kashmir living in pitiable conditions, involved in petty jobs, many of them even begging, according to people who visited the area recently.

They have been writing to and calling up their families to express their craving to return home - if the government gives them amnesty.

Strict curfew like restrictions in the Kashmir Valley and a separatist sponsored shutdown dampened the expected celebrations over the announcement. But few families did express their happiness privately.

“At least, I am not hopeless today. I can live with this hope as long as I live - that I will see my son who must have grown older now,” said Abdul Gani Khan, a 65-year-old resident of mountainous Doda district in Jammu region. Khan’s son Amjad has written to him expressing his desire to surrender and return home.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah welcomed the central govenment decision, saying it was “a big gift” for the families.

“It was needed. That’s why we had been asking for it,” Abdullah said in his immediate reaction.

Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said, “It is a welcome change.”

However, the sentiment was also that of anger and frustration.

“It’s a surrender to the militants. This would open the floodgates for terrorists,” said Ashok Khajuria, a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) state president Rama Kant Dubey said: “He (Chidambaram) is looking after the interests of terrorists, is he the home minister of India?” He alleged that from the day the Abdullah government took office it had been predisposed towards the militants.

The idea of rehabilitation on humanitarian basis was first floated in May 2006 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held the second roundtable conference on Kashmir in Srinagar.

He had listed this issue as one of the subjects to be looked into for addressing the internal dimension of the Kashmir issue. A working group headed by M. Hamid Ansari, now vice-president, had recommended that the government should initiate talks with Pakistan to rehabilitate these youth.

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