Keeping in mind the fissures within its ranks, the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference on Thursday welcomed the Centre's offer of talks but was guarded in its response.
After an hour-long meeting of the executive committee, the faction led by Moulvi Abbas Ansari appealed to the "separatist leaders that are distanced from us to return to the Hurriyat Conference so that a broad consensus is evolved" on the response to the Centre's offer.
"We appeal to all the pro-movement leaders to return to the Hurriyat and unite. This is the time for us to speak in one voice or otherwise we fail in our duty," former chairman of the conglomerate Prof Abdul Gani Bhat told waiting newspersons after the meeting.
"The developments are shaping up in Delhi and response coming from Islamabad. We think the developments are encouraging," Prof Bhat said. "When an effort is set afoot in Delhi and in Islamabad, we will take two steps to consolidate the process. The leaders of both India and Pakistan should rise to the occasion and declare 2004 as the year of resolution of disputes."
Former Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said the amalgam would hold talks with other constituents of the Hurriyat as well as some separatist organisation outside the amalgam before holding talks with Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani.
The Hurriyat Conference has all along insisted that the dialogue offer must come from none less than the country's prime minister. "We had all along been insisting that there should be a level playing field. We refused to talk to N N Vohra because he was simply a government servant. It makes sense for us to talk to Advani, who holds a key position in the government," Ansari said.
"I hope it [the talks] are not just limited to offering the Hurriyat Conference something on a platter and asking us to participate in the government," he said.
However, the faction led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has already expressed reservation about the "efficacy of the talks unless Pakistan was involved."Thursday's meeting was presided over by Hurriyat chairman Moulvi Abbas Ansari who returned from Delhi in the afternoon for the meeting. Prominent attendees included Maulvi Umer Farooq and Sajjad Gani Lone. The pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Peoples League and Jamaat Islami did not participate in the meeting.
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