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Ready for dialogue, PM tells Kashmir
NEW DELHI, AUG 10 (IANS):
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Published on 11 Aug. 2010 12:07 AM IST
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Reaching out to troubled Jammu and Kashmir for the first time since the latest uprising, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday 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.
Addressing an all-party delegation from Jammu and Kashmir, led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, at the Panchvati conference room adjacent to his residence, Manmohan Singh said the dialogue to solve the Kashmir issue should be held within a democratic framework.
This is for the first time in two months that Manmohan Singh expressed his views on the turbulent situation in Kashmir, rocked by a cycle of violence triggered by stone-pelting street protests and retaliatory firing by security forces resulting in the death of 50 people, mostly young civilians, since June 11.
“The events in Kashmir over the past few weeks have caused me great pain. I share the grief, the sorrow and the sense of loss of every mother, every father, every family and every child in Kashmir,” Manmohan Singh said.
While the ruling coalition partners - the National Conference and the Congress - and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Jammu and Kashmir National Panther’s Party (J&K NPP) and smaller parties attended the meet, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) boycotted the meet.
Reaching out to the young protesters of Kashmir, Manmohan Singh said: “I can feel the pain and understand the anger and frustration that is bringing young people out on to the streets of Kashmir. Many of them have seen nothing but violence and conflict in their lives and have been scarred by suffering.”
“Today I wish to share with you my sense of hope for the people of Jammu and Kashmir that I have long nurtured,” he added.
Stating that the state is only now emerging from the shadow of more than two decades of a deadly insurgency, he appealed to the youth to resume studies.
“Let us make a new beginning. I appeal to the youth to go back to their schools and colleges and allow classes to resume. I ask their parents: what future is there for Kashmir if your children are not educated,” he said.
Declaring that his government was ready for a dialogue, Manmohan Singh said he was convinced that the only way forward in Jammu and Kashmir is the path of dialogue and reconciliation. He said that the UPA government has “invested heavily in the peace process in Kashmir” more than any other government in the past.
“The brave rejection of militancy by the people opened the door for us to pursue an unprecedented and intensive internal and external dialogue on the issues that have bedevilled Jammu and Kashmir for six decades,” he said, speaking in Urdu. He also stressed the need for holding local body elections as early as possible “to increase peoples’ participation in democratic governance and ensure political empowerment at the grassroots level”.
He indicated a review of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA, which gives the army legal immunity for their actions, saying that his government was aware of the “public sentiment” in the state on the issue.
Political parties, including separatists, have been strongly urging the central government to review the AFSPA. But the BJP is against any changes in the law.
Manmohan Singh listed the “bold initiatives and historic decisions” his government had taken with Pakistan. “A bus service was started. We facilitated trade across the LoC. We facilitated arrangements for divided families to meet. We changed the policy on allowing people representing different shades of opinion to visit Pakistan because we wanted to involve all sections of the people in the peace process,” he said.
Regarding the dialogue, he said: “We are ready for this. We are willing to discuss all issues within the bounds of our democratic processes and framework.” Appealing to the youth in Kashmir to maintain calm, he said the political process “can gather momentum and yield results only if there is a prolonged peace”.
The prime minister announced the formation of a six-member committee led by C. Rangarajan, chairman of PM’s Economic Advisory Council, to prepare a plan for employment opportunities in the state. The panel will submit its report within three months.
The meeting was also attended by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister A.K. Antony.
The meeting began with the observance of a minute’s silence for those “who lost their near ones” in violence in Kashmir and flashfloods in Ladakh.
“I welcome you today with grief in my heart and hope in my mind,” Manmohan Singh told the state’s leaders.

 
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