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Decisions on Kashmir on hold till all-party delegation's visit

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:52:32 PM, IANS

Mrs Sonia Gandhi addressing the All Party Meet on Kashmir while the prime Minister looks on

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New Delhi: The crucial all-party meeting on Kashmir chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ended here Wednesday without taking any major decision on defusing the situation in the troubled Valley except for sending an all-party delegation soon to "meet all sections of people and gather all shades of opinions".

No decision was taken on a partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a demand voiced by Jammu and Kashmir's ruling National Conference and the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) as well as the Left but opposed vehemently by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Neither the prime minister nor Congress president Sonia Gandhi made any mention of the contentious act, which many Kashmiris want withdrawn as it gives the security forces sweeping powers.

The crucial meeting, which went on for more than five hours, was attended by, amongst others, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari and the Left parties. The state was represented by its two main parties -- union minister Farooq Abdullah leading the NC team and Mehbooba Mufti at the head of the PDP delegation.

It was decided at the meeting of the top leaders of various parties to gain a first-hand impression of the state before deciding on any major measure to restore normalcy in the state, which has seen 88 civilians, mostly teenagers and youth, being killed in the present phase of unrest that started June 11.

"The meeting resolved to send an all-party delegation to Jammu and Kashmir. The leaders have agreed that the delegation should meet all sections of people and gather all shades of opinions," Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in his concluding remarks.

"The feedback received from the all-party delegation will form an important input to the government evolving response to various issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir," he added.

Manmohan Singh had set the tone for the meeting when he said "dialogue was the way forward in Kashmir" but added that peace was a pre-requisite.

The prime minister expressed his distress at "young men and women - even children" protesting on the streets of Kashmir. He said some protests in the valley were "spontaneous" and "impulsive", but others were "orchestrated by certain groups".

He reiterated at the meeting, which began with prayers and a minute-long silence to remember those who had lost their lives in the violence, that his government was ready for "dialogue with anybody or any group that does not espouse or practice violence".

In her address, Sonia Gandhi said a "spirit of accommodation" could end the turmoil and conflict in Kashmir.

"Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of our country and democracy. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are our people. They are our citizens," she said. "Let us demonstrate... the spirit of accommodation. This alone I believe can create a space for reconciliation and bring an end to turmoil and conflict," she added.

Declaring that the "meeting went off well", Farooq Abdullah said Manmohan Singh had praised the performance his son and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

His political rival, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, rooted for unconditional dialogue from both the sides. "The prime minister should make it clear that it will be unconditional talks. Also, we want the separatists to agree for the unconditional talks so that Kashmir situation can retrieved."

"We should look at Kashmir as a humanitarian issue," she stressed.

However, differences persisted.

BJP general secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters after the meeting that his party would "oppose any move for autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir".

"If any dialogue takes place within the framework of Indian constitution after abjuring violence, BJP wil give constructive contribution," Prasad said.

On the AFSPA, Prasad said the party had made its stand clear that it will oppose any move for its withdrawal as it would "demoralise the security forces".

Left leaders Prakash Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist) and A.B. Bardhan (Communist Party of India) demanded that AFSPA should be withdrawn from Srinagar and other urban centres repeal of the act.

There should be accountability for the security forces, the Left parties said in a release, demanding an economic package for the trade and business sectors that have been hit by the prolonged violence.






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