Kashmir on table, Sonia and Manmohan sit with core team

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi, Srinagar | Updated: Sep 11 2010, 07:29am hrs
The Congress core group on Friday discussed the situation in the Kashmir Valley and the steps that the Union ministry of home affairs proposes to take to tackle the crisis situation there.

Held two days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a one-on-one meeting with J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah to discuss the state request for withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from six districts, amending the AFSPA to make it humane and initiating a political dialogue with the separatists, the meeting of the core group also listened to the views of leaders from the state on the prevailing situation.

Meanwhile, the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) scheduled to be held on Friday to take a call on the measures needed to be taken was postponed for next week.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister P Chidambaram and Congress presidents political secretary Ahmed Patel were present at the meeting. AICC general secretary in-charge of J&K Prithviraj Chavan, Union health minister and former J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and J&K PCC chief Saifuddin Soz were also present. The leaders explored ways and options to restore peace in the Valley.

The meeting took note of strong reservations expressed by the Army and the defence ministry to the proposed move of the home ministry to withdrawal AFSPA from some districts and dilution of provisions of the Act. On Thursday, Omar Abdullah had also met defence minister A K Antony to seek his support for the state request.

Antony told him about the Defence establishments view that the timing of the move to withdraw the AFSPA from some districts could be viewed as being done under pressure from separatists.

In Srinagar, Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and JKLF leader Yasin Malik today joined hands at the Jamia Masjid where they addressed the Friday prayer gathering. Both leaders will now attend the Eid prayers at Eidgah on Saturaday. There is speculation that a leader from the hardline Hurriyat group of Syed Ali Shah Geelani may also turn up at the Eidgah to present a picture of unity among separatists.

This is the first time that Umer Farooq and Malik have shared a public platform since September 2003 when the then Hurriyat Conference suffered a vertical split with Geelani floating a parallel amalgam with the support of hardline elements.

In his Friday sermon at Jamia Masjid, the Mirwaiz welcomed Malik, saying he had exhibited positive response to the unity appeal at this crucial juncture. I am hopeful that other separatist leaders will also respond positively in the larger interest of the movement so that a consensus can be arrived at in bringing uniformity, the Mirwaiz said.

Addressing the gathering, Malik also called for unity to achieve the goal of the ongoing movement. Today, our struggle is peaceful and if attempts are made to crush it by use of force, the youth will be forced to pick up the gun again. The responsibility for such an eventuality will rest with the government, Malik said.

Last Friday, the moderate Hurriyat had appealed for unity among separatists and sent two delegations to Geelani and Malik in this regard. The Mirwaiz had requested them to offer Eid prayers at Eidgah as a first step towards unity.