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Sunday, May 27, 2001

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Pant visiting J&K

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MAY 26. The Centre's designated interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. K.C. Pant, is scheduled to visit the troubled State for four days, beginning on Monday. The details of the mission are being kept somewhat guarded, but indications are that, among others, Mr. Pant would hold discussions with Mr. Shabir Shah, president of the Jammu Kashmir Democratic Party. However, the All-Party Hurriyat Conference is adamant not to enter into a dialogue with Mr. Pant. Mr. Pant is also scheduled to visit Jammu and Ladakh.

Notwithstanding the high-intensity bilateralism involved in the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee's invitation to the Pakistani Chief Executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to visit India, the Pant mission will seek to reaffirm its relevance during the visit.

The initial reaction from the Valley, in particular, is that while it is just as well that India would be talking to Pakistan, there is no dilution in the assertion that the ``people of Kashmir'' cannot be kept out of the picture. For about a decade, the rhetoric in the Valley has centred around ``freedom struggle''. The Pant mission has the potential of addressing that perception. According to many analysts, the challenge before Mr. Pant is to convince the people in the troubled State that his mission is not yet another Centre stratagem to filibuster the `movement'.

Mr. Pant is proceeding on the principle that neither the calling off of the ``ceasefire'' nor the proposed summit has in any way made the role of the designated interlocutor redundant. The idea is to open up a dialogue with various groups and individuals from both sides of the secessionist/accessionist divide to assess in a comprehensive and composite manner the nature of the `aspirations' of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Moreover, Mr. Vajpayee's invitation to Gen. Musharraf takes care of the refrain in the secessionist rhetoric that Pakistan had to be involved in any ``lasting solution''; in addition, it is possible for Mr. Pant to initiate a dialogue with all those groups and individuals who otherwise would have been willing to talk to the Centre's authorised negotiator but were reluctant to do so because of the fear of incurring Pakistan's anger. Talking to Mr. Pant may not be such an act of ``betrayal'' now that New Delhi is willing to sit across the table with Gen. Musharraf.

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