SRINAGAR: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday led a five-member delegation to meet separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar.
The team, which includes former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, who has served in Jammu and Kashmir, ex-Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, journalist Bharat Bhushan and activist Sushobha Barve landed in Srinagar and straight away drove to Geelani's residence in Hyderpora.
Interestingly, Geelani, who heads the hard-line faction of separatist Hurriyat Conference, agreed to meet and talk to the Sinha-led delegation. The delegation members were seen entering the highly fortified house where Geelani has been kept under detention for over three months.
The octogenarian separatist had on September 4 shut the door on Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and other non-BJP MPs who were part of an all-party delegation on a visit to Kashmir.
The move is being seen as a positive one after the head of the Hurriyat Conference had refused to meet an all-party delegation on September 4.
The team which is on a three-day visit met with chairmen Hurriyat Conference (M)Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The team is scheduled to meet JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik who is undergoing treatment at Sheri-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS), Soura.
Mirwaiz who was under detention in a sub jail in Chashmashahi since August 27, was released late last night. He is now under house arrest at his upscale Nigeen residence. Malik has also been moved from jail to a Srinagar hospital after his health deteriorated.
Wajahat Habibullah told the Kashmir Observer that the meeting was cordial and continued for more than an hour. He said that the purpose of their visit was to share "grievances and pain". "I hope the state of unrest will be resolved soon.” Wajahat, however, clarified that it was not an official delegation from the party.
"We came here for humanity. Our motto is to share the grievances and pain (of Kashmiri people). I hope the state of unrest will be resolved soon," Wajahat told Kashmir Observer.
Wajahat said the team also met with Democratic Freedom Party chairman, Shabir Ahmad Shah in prison and senior separatist leader Professor Abdul Gani Bhat at his residence.
Bhat highlighted the role of Indian intellectual class for the early resolution of the Kashmir dispute. “The need of the hour is to resolve the Kashmir issue by devising a mechanism for a fruitful and result oriented dialogue process among the three stakeholders to the Kashmir dispute, i.e. Indian, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir,” a Muslim Conference statement issued to press said. “
“An unresolved Kashmir is a threat to world peace,” Prof Bhat added.
Talking to reporters, the former Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities and Chief Information Commissioner of India, Wajahat Habibullah, hinted that it was an independent initiative and that they were "not here as a part of any delegation".
“We’ll need to come to Kashmir again and again,” he said. “We share the pain of Kashmiris and we understand Kashmir has been going through difficult times over the past three months and more.”
When asked what points Geelani took up the team, Wajahat said that it would be premature to talk about them. “It’s not hidden what Geelani sahib stands for,” he said. “It wouldn’t, though, be a nice thing to dwell on what passed between him and the team.”
He said Kashmir is a difficult issue and since the team was not authorised to commit anything, it would take more such sittings to arrive at some conclusion.
Wajahat declined to comment when asked if the Centre has neglected Kashmir altogether especially after the Rajnath Singh led delegation returned back empty-handed. “I don’t think I’ll be able to comment on this as it is the government of India that ultimately has to take the call on the issue,” he said. “We’ve come here purely on a private initiative and if this visit helps in breaking the ice, we all would be benefitted.”
He also declined to comment on the BJP distancing itself from the team’s visit.
The fresh bid to break ice between separatist groups and the government comes after 108 days of unrest and shutdown that have disrupted normal life in the Kashmir Valley since the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
At least 92 persons were killed and over 12,000 injured in clashes between protesters and security forces.
Police have arrested over 7,000 suspected ring leaders of stone throwers. Some have been let off.
Sinha and his team are also expected to meet civil society and trade groups including the Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) and the Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies (KCSDS).
They will call on Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Governor N.N. Vohra.
The team will also hold meetings with civil society and trade groups like the Kashmir Economic Alliance and the Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies. Besides, they are also scheduled to meet Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Governor NN Vohra.
This is the second time in the past three-and-a-half months that an attempt has been made by the government to speak with the separatists in order to resolve the crisis in the Valley.
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