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Asia

Leaders meet as Kashmir burns

Violence has rocked Kashmir for the last three months and top politicians in India have been struggling to find answers to the latest bloodshed. But after decades of conflict a quick fix is highly unlikely.

Nearly 90 have been killed in protests

Nearly 90 have been killed in protests so far

After a marathon five hour meeting at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence, attended by the top leaders of various parties, including Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari, it was decided that an all-party delegation will visit the troubled Kashmir Valley to "meet all sections of people and gather all shades of opinions".

Home Minister P. Chidambaram will organise the visit of the delegation to gain a first-hand impression of the state before deciding on any major measure to restore normalcy.

Nearly 90 civilians, mostly teenagers, have been killed in the last three months in Kashmir and clashes between stone-pelters and security forces have become a near-daily happening on Kashmir’s streets.

Discussion with citizens is imperative

Discussion with citizens is imperative

No decision on Armed Forces Act

There was no consensus on the withdrawal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA in the state as the BJP, the security establishment and even a section of ministers in the ruling government remained firmly opposed to its dilution.

The AFSPA gives army officers legal immunity for their actions and it can conduct searches and arrests without warrants.

Opposition leader of the state and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, who was vocal in the meeting, said that mere words were not enough to assuage feelings: "A phased withdrawal of the security forces from the civilian areas and the AFSPA must be revoked. But today again there was a discussion and it is now up to the central government to take a decision. But we would definitely want to have something very real and concrete and not something cosmetic."

People's opinion is imperative

Many had expected the government to come out with a clear-cut strategy to deal with the deteriorating law and order situation and extend a healing touch to inflamed passions in the Valley.

Noted Kashmiri author and political commentator Basharat Peer says the government’s priority is to talk to the protesters. "I don’t think there is too much of an investigation needed in terms of the shades of opinion in Kashmir, they are pretty well known. And I think at this point the crucial thing for the government is to really start talks with people who are challenging India’s authority on Kashmir. That’s where the negotiations should be.. with people who are saying no to India and then see how far each side can move."

In his opening remarks Prime Minister Singh had expressed his distress at "young men and women - even children" protesting on the streets of Kashmir and stressed that the route to lasting peace in the valley was through dialogue and discussion.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi also appealed to all political parties to take a "suitable decision" to break the "vicious cycle of violence and suffering" in the state.

Leaders to travel to Kashmir

Mufti said an unconditional dialogue with all stakeholders was the way out. "The PM must offer an unconditional dialogue. Not only from his side, but I would also expect it from the other side.. that the Hurriyat, the separatists they should not put forward any conditions and there has to be a dialogue. But before that we need to release the prisoners and we need to lift the siege."

All eyes will now be on the visit of the all-party delegation that meets various sections of Kashmir’s society. As to whether it can assuage tempers in the Valley and bring a halt to the violence that has taken a heavy toll will be keenly watched.

Author: Murali Krishnan

Editor: Grahame Lucas

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