The three-member team of interlocutors on Kashmir, on its maiden visit to the State, held detailed meetings with Governor N.N. Vohra, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and student groups.
However, separatists continued to maintain their distance from the team, saying “it was a ploy by New Delhi to divert the attention during United States President Barack Obama's visit.”
The team, headed by journalist Dilip Padgaonkar and including Information Commissioner M.M. Ansari and academician Radha Kumar, had a four hour-meeting with the Governor at the Raj Bhavan. “They discussed political, economic, security, governance and related issues,” a Raj Bhavan spokesperson said.
Mr. Vohra himself had functioned as interlocutor for many years before being appointed Governor.
As for the group's meeting with the Chief Minister, officially nothing was said on what transpired. But informed sources said proposals given by the separatists and their repercussions were discussed.
“It was good. We briefed him on the ground situation and discussed ways to move forward,” Ms. Kumar said.
On hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Geelani's statement that the appointment of the interlocutors was a “dirty game and a ploy,” she said: “It is unfortunate he thinks that way. This is no ploy. We have assurances from the Prime Minister and the UPA government to find a comprehensive solution to the [Kashmir] problem.”
Meanwhile, defending Mr. Padgaonkar's remark that Pakistan needed to be involved in finding a solution, Mr. Abdullah said: “There is nothing wrong in what he said.” When in Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party was always talking against Kashmir for its “petty politics. But they forget that it was their Prime Minister [A.B. Vajpayee] who talked to Pakistan on this issue,” Mr. Abdullah told journalists on the sidelines of a function here.
The interlocutors visited the house of separatist leader Shabir Shah to enquire about the health of his ailing mother. Mr. Shah was released on parole a few days ago but he refused to come out, subjecting himself to the conditions imposed on him.
Mr. Padgaonkar and his team also sought a meeting with top separatist Massarat Alam, who was recently arrested. However, the police, it is stated, refused the interview on the ground “that he is under interrogation.”
A group of students from the Kashmir University met the interlocutors later in the afternoon. “There is a sense of frustration and anger among them. We heard them and their aspirations, and discussed a political solution to Kashmir,” said Ms. Kumar.
“They spoke freely about the frustration, anger and victimhood they had gone through.”
Mr. Geelani, however, reiterated the call to boycott the interlocutors. “The Hurriyat, which represents the people's demands and aspirations, has put forth a five-point formula before New Delhi. Once they act on our suggestions, then we can we think of entering into a dialogue process…Unfortunately, India has not been serious about Kashmir in the last six decades, and sending the interlocutors reflects the same non-seriousness.”
Asking students, prisoners and traders not to meet the interlocutors, he said: “The aim of the initiative is to divert Mr. Obama's attention from the Kashmir dispute, and give a wrong impression of India engaging Kashmiris for a resolution.”