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July 29, 2000
Talks within Constitutional framework: Government
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Prime minister's principal secretary Brajesh Mishra has dispelled any illusion that the proposed talks between the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Union government can be held even outside the framework of the Indian Constitution, which Pakistan is avidly hoping for.
"There might have been an impression that the central government is keen to solve the Kashmir issue without any strings attached. It wants an amicable solution, but the country's unity and integrity is sacrosanct and cannot be a bargaining chip with any party under any circumstance," asserted a senior government official while talking to rediff.com on Saturday evening.
He, however, indicated that an impression might have been projected, from within the government, that it has not set any conditions for the proposed talks.
It is learnt that during his half-hour meeting with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah on Saturday morning, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told Dr Abdullah that his government was striving for maximum possible devolution of powers to the state.
The prime minister is learnt to have emphasised that other parties too wanted a solution within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Some parties (like the Congress) had advocated that the 1975 Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah agreement be taken as a yardstick for the talks, it is understood.
"Union Home Minister Lal Kishen Advani has also said that the government is keen for a peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue. The government knows that although the Hizbul Mujahideen has pro-Pakistan proclivities, it is quintessentially a Kashmiri group, which is why the political leadership in New Delhi has agreed for the talks," a home ministry official said.
But he maintained that 'Dr Abdullah and his ilk' have been categorically given to understand that 'fissiparous tendencies would not be endorsed' because the nation came before everything else.
Meanwhile, the ministry of external affairs is keenly monitoring the developments in Pakistan pertaining to J&K. It is aware that Jamait-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed had recently visited the United States of America where he had met Michael Sheehan, the expert on terrorism, Karl Inderfurth, the assistant secretary on South Asian affairs and deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott.
The US state department had hosted a lunch in Qazi's honour. Significantly, this was followed by the Hizbul Mujahideen's announcement of a ceasefire.
This development assumes significance in the light of Prime Minister Vajpayee's scheduled visit to the US where he would be addressing American Congressmen.
There has been speculation in diplomatic circles that both Pakistan and India are facing US pressure to untangle the Kashmir dispute by holding talks and this is why the Hizbul Mujahideen offered the olive branch to New Delhi.
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