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Sunday, November 26, 2000

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They want more than words

Kashmiris are willing to give peace a chance, but they want practical measures to address the core issues. SHUJAAT BUKHARI presents a cross-section of views.

IT WAS perhaps the overwhelming response to the Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee's ceasefire announcement by Kashmiris at large which forced the separatist conglomerate All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to describe the offer as a ``positive change in thinking of Indian leadership''. Tired of the violence which has eaten into the vitals of their society, Kashmiris are willing to give peace a chance. But, at the same time, they want practical measures for addressing the core issue, which had led to the violence.

Decisions such as allowing the senior APHC leader, Mr. Abdul Gani Lone, to attend his son's marriage in Pakistan and the permission to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Moulvi Abbas Ansari to participate in the OIC summit are also seen as a significant shift in the Indian policy on Kashmir.

From the man on the street to the academic in the university, they all see a ray of hope in this latest initiative from Delhi. Mr. Abdul Aziz, a pan vendor on Residency Road, believes the ceasefire announcement could be because of international pressure but says it still needs to be taken seriously. ``Let the militants also find out how sincere the Government is,'' he says. ``We want peace and if it comes through such initiatives we welcome it,'' said Mr. Mohammad Jamal, a houseboat owner on Boulevard Road. Last year, when there was semblance of peace in the Valley, the rush of tourists had increased manifold, but this year it is dismal. Said a University teacher: ``Militants should respond positively as the Government did to their offer in July, only then the process of a dialogue for permanent settlement can take off.''

Though the militant organisations have so far rejected the ceasefire saying that it was aimed at sabotaging the ``freedom movement'', the mood in the Valley is not against the move. All the mainstream political parties have welcomed the ceasefire and the APHC has not rejected it. It had called the Hizbul Mujahideen ceasefire in July a ``broken step'' but this time it sees a positive change in the thinking of Indian leadership. ``It could be positive development,'' said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The change in the Hurriyat attitude itself is significant and could lead to the stage where the parties at least sit together. The Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, termed it the second ``bold initiative'' by Mr. Vajpayee after the Lahore declaration. The coming days in Kashmir could be decisive if the ceasefire takes off successfully from both the sides.

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