Renewed hope

FIRST EDIT


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s offer, during his two-day visit to Kashmir, of unconditional talks with all sections of people in the state has lent more authority to and taken forward the government’s recent initiative, revealed by home minister P Chidambaram, to find an internal political solution in the state. The prime minister has also followed up his offer with meetings with some state leaders. The message that he sent from a public meeting in Anantnag and a press conference later seems to have been well received. The time is congenial for negotiations as violence in the state is at an all-time low and the political situation is stable. Both the National Conference and the opposition People’s Democratic Party have welcomed the offer and more importantly, separatists like the Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq have agreed to participate in the talks. Much back channel effort has gone into the initiative and there is reason to hope that the talks will be productive.

The promise to increase the number of commodities to be traded across the Line of Actual Control and to support the commerce with better banking facilities and removal of some procedural controls will also go down well with the people of the state. Steps like reduction of troops in urban areas and relaxation of the draconian laws which are in force in the state are also under consideration. It is also important to address the different regional aspirations of the people of the state within the framework of an autonomy package. There have been efforts in this direction but no substantial progress has been made.

The prime minister also reiterated India’s position on resumption of talks with Pakistan, though there is a softening of the position, in tenor but not in substance, as can be seen by his statement that the dismantling of terrorist training camps in that country is not a pre-condition. But Pakistan has to prove its claims of action to prevent terrorist attacks on India, as it has not yet handled the Mumbai attack investigation with sincerity. But the declaration of willingness to resume the peace process is significant and timely. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now visiting Pakistan and Islamabad is putting pressure on the US to persuade India to resume the composite dialogue. The fact that the prime minister’s statement has been well received is a sign of a possible positive movement in India-Pakistan engagement.

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