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No need for unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir: Patil

By Luv Puri

JAMMU, NOV. 7. Ruling out the need for a unilateral ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir, the Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, said today that the channels of communication would be kept open without imposing any conditions to restore peace in the State. He was addressing a press conference at the end of a trip along the India-Pakistan border.

The Minister said: "Our efforts are directed towards ensuring the safety of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. And without declaring a unilateral ceasefire in the State we can serve our purpose. We are open to a dialogue as we believe democracy is based on the expression of [the] people." According to Mr. Patil, the Centre will wait for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to indicate when it wants to resume the dialogue process. "We will wait for the Hurriyat leaders as they may be having problems. Meanwhile, we cannot abandon our efforts in talking to other people like the elected representatives, social and political groups."

On the derailment of the dialogue begun with the APHC by the previous Government, Mr. Patil said: "They are objecting to the dialogue. If they are objecting to the dialogue and imposing preconditions we are not responsible for this."

Asked whether he was disappointed that the separatist leaders did not meet him during his tour, Mr. Patil said: "We should not forget that we have to talk with everyone. There are elected representatives, active civil society groups, members of the intelligentsia. Everyone has come to meet me. They have acquainted me about various issues and the problems of the people. The primary purpose of my trip was to establish contact with various sections of society and this has been done by me."

On the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf's recent "proposal" for solving the Kashmir tangle, the Minister said: "Any proposal from [the] Pakistan establishment would be discussed only if it comes to us. We cannot comment on any proposal that has been made at a tea party or an iftar gathering because this would only add to the confusion. Only a concrete proposal that comes to us would be discussed in a proper way. There are channels by which the Government functions and I cannot trespass the External Affairs Ministry by reacting to such proposals."

Besides focussing on the ways to bring peace in the State, the United Progressive Alliance Government was trying to improve the people's economic condition. "We have [a] three-pronged strategy. Unleash development in the State, increase the employment opportunities, and finally win the hearts and minds of the people," he said.

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