‘No Option Other than Talks with Pak’

JAMMU: Asserting that there is no option other than talks with Pakistan over Kashmir, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed today said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had deputed Foreign Secretary to begin talks with neighbouring country.

“No such assurance… There is no question of assurance. He (Prime Minister) told me when he met me that I deputed my Foreign Secretary to go there and talk. It was his first response,” Mufti told reporters when asked whether Prime Minister Modi has given him assurance on commencement of dialogue with Pakistan.

“It was his (PM’s) response. In my perception, there is no other option (other than holding talks with Pakistan),” he said.

Mufti was addressing his first press conference after taking over as Chief Minister of the state today.

He was flanked by BJP leader and deputy chief minister, Nirmal Kumar Singh, and PDP’s chief negotiator in talks with BJP and now minister Haseeb A. Drabu 

Mufti said, “During meeting with the Prime Minister, I gave my perspective (on the need for Indo-Pak talks). We have a stand and voice on this. We are there.

“Our voice will be heard as we are democratically elected government. There is track-2 (for dialogue with Pakistan). What will happen if some of our people go there and hold talks. I do not think it is a controversy. In any case we are part of the government.”

He said it was equally important to have peace in Jammu and Kashmir and also bring its politically distant regions together so that a good and responsive government was provided to the people. “History gave us an opportunity to bring Jammu and the Kashmir Valley closer. Srinagar and Jammu may be a at distance of only few hours drive but what is crucial is how to unite the hearts as well…If we have to integrate Jammu and Kashmir with rest of the country we first need to bring the people of Jammu and Kashmir closer,” he said.

The Chief Minister stressed the need for taking Hurriyat Conference and other separatists on board too saying they also have a view point. He said that the separatists and militants and also Pakistan had allowed the democratic process to flourish in Jammu and Kashmir by not creating any hurdles in the conduct of elections. “I have told this to Prime Minister also that the Hurriyat and militants could have made the holding of peaceful elections difficult. Pakistan also allowed us to create a conducive atmosphere and take the democratic process forward which gave us hope,” he said. Asked if the separatists would react to talks offer as is being suggested by him positively or be part of a democratic process, he said, “Sajad Lone has taken an initiative. It is a breakthrough.”

Sayeed said that Kashmir has been a problem for every Prime Minister of the country since 1947 and that is why he told the Prime Minister that we should be friends with Pakistan. “I told him India is a great country with huge human resources and has to play a leading role in Saarc community but the only bottleneck is Pakistan and we need to make friends with it as well,” he said.

He said that in 2002 when his party got together with Congress “we made sure there was a peaceful atmosphere in Jammu and Kashmir.” He said, “It was not an emotional decision either. We had worked out a Common Minimum Programme and our agenda was to provide the people of the state who had suffered enormously for many years a healing touch.”

On the PDP-BJP alliance PDP patron said:  he forged an alliance with the BJP out of conviction and not convenience in spite of the contradictions and being ideologically poles apart.

“I’ve gone for this alliance out of conviction and not convenience or compulsion,” he said.

He said the political alliance was a pre-requisite for government formation in the state yet it took him and his party two months to cobble up an alliance with the BJP. “I must also say we are poles apart but politics is the art of the possible, even when there are contradictions,” he said.

Replying questions on the issue of Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act and the demand for its revocation and that for its continuation, Sayeed said he as Chief Minister was the head of Unified headquarters of armed forces and would ensure to make them accountable. “As Chief Minister, I’m the chairman of Unified Command. They have to follow my directions. I will make them accountable,” he said. He also said his was a democratically elected government and its voice will have to be heard. When asked when the contentious law would be withdrawn from the state, the Chief Minister said, “There is no time frame. Are you interested in peace or revocation of a law. We will change the perception about the AFSPA.” He also said, “We will review security situation with a view to examine the need of special laws. In this connection the government will also examine the need for de-notifying disturbed areas under the Disturbed Areas Act.”

Asked about the Article 370 of the Constitution, Sayeed said the present position on the special status will be maintained.

“I have told this to Prime Minister also that the Hurriyat and militants could have made the holding of peaceful elections difficult. Pakistan also allowed us to create a conducive atmosphere and take the democratic process forward which gave us hope.”

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