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Govt. stand on talks with Hurriyat not clear

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, APRIL 8. The Union Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, has once again expressed the possibility of the Vajpayee Government retracting its much talked about decision to publish a White Paper on the activities of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Though the Home Minister said he would announce the final decision in this regard in Parliament, it is said a decision against publication of the White Paper has already been taken.

Mr. Advani was talking informally to mediapersons at the Editors' Conference on Social Sector Issues today. The Home Minister had, in fact, first indicated the Government's thinking two weeks ago.

However, Mr. Advani's disclaimer comes a day after his reported retraction on Friday in Chandigarh, that the Vajpayee Government had offered to hold talks with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference. Earlier, Mr. Advani had suggested that the release of three Hurriyat leaders, including Syed Geelani, was part of a wider design and that these leaders had been released after a great deal of confabulation between the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir Government.

The seemingly contradictory stances struck by the Home Minister in the last four days indicate the Centre had not yet thought through its next step(s) in Jammu and Kashmir. If Mr. Advani's utterances suggest there was no immediate possibility of a dialogue with the Hurriyat, it is also not clear whether the Government wants to explore the possibility of engaging the democratic political opinion beyond the Hurriyat in Jammu and Kashmir. Nor is there any clarity about the format of engaging the Hurriyat, if at all; for example, former Prime Ministers such as Mr. I. K. Gujral and Mr. H. D. Deve Gowda have offered their good offices to get a dialogue going.

The Vajpayee Government will also have to prepare a core of domestic consensus, starting with the BJP itself. The party's Jammu and Kashmir unit has been quite critical of any talk of ``autonomy package''. Or, for example, Ms. Sushma Swaraj's blanket endorsement of the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, makes it difficult for the Vajpayee Government to create a zone of agreement with other political parties.

The Congress(I), as the largest Opposition party, will need to be brought into the picture. The Congress(I) has an in- house committee (consisting of Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Mr. Arjun Singh, Mr. Ahmed Patel, Mr. Gulam Nabi Azad and Mr. M. L. Fotedar) to keep track of developments in Jammu and Kashmir. But the committee has not even met since the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton's visit. And though it was a Congress(I) Prime Minister, Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao, who talked of ``autonomy'' and who came out with ``the sky is the limit'' formulation, the Congress(I) has been unsupportive of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's attempts to expand the democratic space in the Valley. The Mufti had to finally leave the organisation.

Also, even if the Vajpayee Government is inclined to hold a dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders, it is far from clear how much of a sway the organisation has over the militants. Observers believe that insofar as groups such as the Harkat-ul- Ansar and the Lashkar-e-Taiba are concerned, the Hurriyat leaders are as much of a non-entity as is the National Conference.

Thus, the observers are inclined to believe the Centre will have to do considerable more homework than it has done so far, if it hopes to achieve any kind of breakthrough in Kashmir.

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