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Hurriyat may be invited for talks

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Praveen Swami

APHC reaches out to New Delhi with `self-rule' proposal

New Delhi's change of heart follows dramatic new offer by Hurriyat It seeks debate over self-governance at people's level

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is considering issuing an invitation to the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference to resume negotiations on Jammu and Kashmir, a senior official involved in the Government has told The Hindu . An invitation could be issued in "just a few weeks, or even days," the official said.

New Delhi's change of heart is driven by a dramatic new offer from the APHC for dialogue on self-governance - a concept endorsed both by Pakistan and major political groups within Jammu and Kashmir. Notably, the ruling People's Democratic Party recently released a paper that detailed its understanding of the concept.

Speaking to journalists on Thursday at the end of a two-day meeting of the APHC executive committee, the secessionist coalition's former chairperson, Abdul Gani Butt, said his colleagues are "willing to meet the Indian leadership provided they are willing to do so." New Delhi had broken off formal talks with the APHC after it boycotted a round-table dialogue presided over by Dr. Singh in May.

Now, Mr. Butt said, the APHC "seeks a debate over self-governance at the peoples' level and at its own level. This is to develop a broader consensus in this part of Kashmir and that [Pakistan-occupied] part of Kashmir." Defending the concept against critics who said it marked the betrayal of the two-decade struggle for secession, Mr. Butt said the proposal was "palatable," "addresses the sentiment in the context of change," and was "realistic."

Rejecting the self-rule idea, he argued, would end up marginalising secessionist voices. "We must collectively show India and Pakistan that the peace path passes through Kashmir," he asserted, "or else we may be swept aside." Mr. Butt described self-governance as "a concept of political thought that recognises the peoples' right to be the architects of their destiny."

Mr. Butt's press conference took place just hours after the United Jihad Council withdrew a ceasefire offered by Mohammad Yusuf Shah, the head of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. He condemned the assassination attempt on the widow of pro-dialogue Hizb-ul-Mujahideen dissident Abdul Majid Dar, asserting that "whoever is involved in attacks on civilians will not be tolerated, be it troops or the boys with guns."

Challenges ahead

No full explanation of the APHC's understanding of self-governance has so far been made available by the organisation, but sources said the idea had figured in a series of secret meetings he held last month with the Union Government's official interlocutor on Kashmir, N.N. Vohra, former Research and Analysis Wing chief A.S. Daulat, and Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz.

India is also thought to have informally discussed similar ideas with the Government of Pakistan. According to a recent report published in The Nation, India had handed over a non-binding paper shortly before the Mumbai serial bombings, offering to consider giving Jammu and Kashmir substantial autonomy. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and Gen. Musharraf himself have also repeatedly referred to written proposals by India.

However, New Delhi's renewed dialogue with the APHC could result in a potentially dangerous meltdown of the round-table dialogue with mainstream parties. Fearing that it will be marginalised by the New Delhi-APHC engagement, the National Conference has already boycotted several meetings of the committees set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the round-table dialogue to discuss on economic and administrative issues.

Some uncertainty

Highly-placed government sources told The Hindu that New Delhi's search for an individual of eminence to chair a committee on Centre-State relations still remains mired in uncertainty. Officials failed to secure a firm commitment from the newest of a series of contenders - retired Supreme Court judge Syed Saghir Ahmad. Justice Ahmed had also served as Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

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