PM's Kashmir speech too late, too little, say Kashmiris

''India has been upholding the same policy on Kashmir since 1947. The Indian prime minister has once again echoed the same policy today.  

"There is nothing new in it. India continues to be adamant on its stand on Kashmir," hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said reacting to Manmohan Singh's speech.

Manmohan Singh, meeting an all-party delegation from Jammu and Kashmir in New Delhi, said his government was ready for dialogue to solve the problems in Kashmir and bring out a political solution "that addresses the alienation and emotional needs of the people" of the state.

Asiya Andrabi, the chief of the women's separatist group, the Dukhtaran-e-Milat (daughters of faith) said: "India thinks we are a crowd of beggars. They must set us free and we will manage our natural resources and take care of our economic problems."

Moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said: "The prime minister may have valid intention, but in Kashmir India always talks through the barrel of the gun. We are interested in conflict resolution and the PM is still talking of crisis management," he told CNN-IBN news channel.

The mainstream opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which did not attend the all-party delegation meeting with the prime minister reacted with cynicism.
"It is good in its tone and tenor. Positive that it recognized the sentiment and the time frame of the Kashmir problem having been there for the last 63 years, but it lacked in substance.

"We do not think it will impact the present crisis in a positive manner as it does not say anything about a political roadmap for the resolution process," said Naeem Akhtar, chief spokesman of the PDP here.

Activists of the ruling National Conference (NC), however, argued that the prime minister's speech has definitely opened up a new window for addressing the problems faced by the youth in the Valley.

"The prime minister has passionately and sincerely described the anguish and pain he feels about the loss of lives here.

"He has also made appeals to the children to return to their schools. There is sincerity in his speech.

"Without sounding rhetorical, the prime minister said the vexed problem of Kashmir could not be resolved in a day. He appealed for peace and calm so that the separatist sentiments of the youth were addressed and accommodated within the democracy of the country that has space and guarantees for everybody," said Sheikh Saloora, the provincial president of the NC here.

Bashir Manzar, editor of an English daily newspaper here, said: "After his long silence I had expected something big like announcement of a political team that would reach out to various shades of opinion in the Valley.

"Talking about dialogue for the sake of dialogue has not helped us in the past and I am afraid it will not help us at a critical juncture like today," Manzar said reacting to the speech.

The common man in the Valley, whose life has now remained plagued with separatist called shutdowns and official curfews for around two months now, feels the statement has come too late.

"Probably too late to cool the tempers in the Valley, but still I believe the prime minister's speech marks a shift from the hardline posture taken by the union home minister earlier," said Sajad Ahmad, 45, a local businessman here who said he hasn't carried out any business activity for the last two months now.

"The prime minister must address the long pending problem of Kashmir without wasting any further time to save our lives from being choked and hostaged as we stand today," said Qaisar Ahmad, 32, a school teacher here.

Mehraj-ud-Din, 40, a fruit seller on the Residency Road in Srinagar said: "I am an illiterate Kashmiri. I always believe Manmohan Singh is an honest and straight forward person.

"Still I thought he would say and do something today that would end the present uncertainty in my life.

"What my small mind tells me is that there is nothing in his speech that would end my turmoil immediately."

Kashmir has been witnessing widespread turmoil and clashes for the past two months, which has left 50 people killed, mostly in firing by security forces.

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