Sunday, May 25, 2003
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Jammu & Kashmir
By Our Special Correspondent
Talking to The Hindu, he said the Centre's move to start a dialogue with Pakistan could only be good for the State. Pakistan's recent moves to deal with cross-border terrorism were seriously intended. "They really want to stop this cross-border infiltration."
Mr. Sayeed also said that he believed that the movement of civilians across the Line of Control (LoC) was essential for restoring peace. This was something he had spoken about from time to time, but not raised with New Delhi. But, he said, it would "become an issue" as the momentum for peace grew.
With India and Pakistan opening the space for a dialogue, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference had to decide what role it wanted to play, he said. It could play a constructive role by asking militant organisations to call a halt to their armed activity, or it could find itself pushed to the margins.
The Chief Minister dismissed the suggestion that his Government had left the business of `healing' the wounds of insurgency to his daughter and People's Democratic Party president, Mehbooba Mufti. Pointing out that his Government's low tolerance for human rights abuse had been established, he said there had been "only 4 custodial deaths" since it took over. And in each such case the officials concerned had to face the consequences.
On tourism, Mr. Sayeed admitted that his Government's promotion efforts had not yet produced significant results on the ground. But, the State, after 15 years of insurgency, had people impatient for results. And even a marginal increase in tourist contributed directly to the people's earnings. Unlike the infrastructure projects, including electricity, rail and road works, which would take time.
There was a change in the mood in the State, he said, and his Government's efforts, however slow, at restoring some form of `normalcy' by focussing on economic development, could not be ignored even by his critics. The allegations from senior BJP leaders, including the Deputy Prime Minister, that his Government was "soft on terrorism" no longer carried weight, he said.
The Prime Minister had unequivocally declared his approval of the State Government on his trip to Srinagar last month. Others in the Government could not but accept a situation that bolstered its stand on Kashmir internationally, and vindicated the position that elections were the first step towards peace, he said.
Mufti calls on Sonia
Later, he met the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, to discuss the prevailing situation in the State and brief her about the progress made by the coalition Government in implementing the Common Minimum Programme (CMP).
During the 40-minute meeting, he informed Ms. Gandhi about the arrangements being made for the Congress Chief Ministers' Conclave in the State next week. Describing the conclave as a significant one for the State, he urged the Congress president to suggest to the Chief Ministers to promote Jammu and Kashmir as a tourist destination.
He urged Ms. Gandhi to consider reservation of seats for students form his State in professional colleges in Congress-ruled States and made out a case for preferential treatment to children of Kashmiri Pandits who braved the odds to remain in the Valley through 13 years of violence.
Mr. Sayeed also had separate meetings with the senior Congress leader, Manmohan Singh, and the AICC general secretary in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir, Ambika Soni.
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