The second round of talks between Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani and All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders concluded in New Delhi on Saturday with the agreement that substantive issues would be taken up with the government that comes to power after the general election in April-May.
The next round of talks was tentatively fixed for June.
The Centre assured the Hurriyat leaders that the process of releasing those in political detention in Kashmir would be speeded up.
The Hurriyat seemed to have softened its belligerent stand against election, though it claimed that it wanted no part of it.
The Hurriyat was represented by four of the five nominated to talk to the Centre -- Maulvi Abbas Ansari, Maulvi Umer Farooq, Bilal Lone and Professor Abdul Gani Bhatt.
After the January 22 contact between the Hurriyat and Centre, Fazal Haq Qureshi had pulled out of the talks protesting against human rights violations allegedly by Indian forces.
"Recognising that the new government would be established in the latter half of May, 2004 it was agreed that discussion on substantive issues would commence at the next meeting to be held in June, 2004," Lone read out a written statement issued after the meeting.
"The APHC leadership appreciated deputy PM for keeping up his commitment to hold the second meeting, despite his deep involvement in the electoral process for the forthcoming general elections," Lone said.
Home Secretary Anil Baijal had written to the security forces asking them to ensure that no human rights violations took place, Advani said.
Senior officials, including Baijal, also appraised the Hurriyat leaders of other steps such as the release of 69 detainees. There are 533 political detainees remaining in J&K jails, according to the home ministry.
"It may be the first meeting where substantive issues would be taken up," Advani said of the talks in June. In a lighter vein, the deputy PM remarked to the Hurriyat leaders that "hopefully our government would be back".
Though officials had indicated that the Centre might request the Hurriyat not to call for a boycott of the polls, Advani said no such assurance was asked for.
Farooq told rediff.com, "We are not part of the election process."
Advani said the Hurriyat leadership did not ask the Centre to assist them in going to Pakistan.
Bhat said they would like to see the Centre to also release those Kashmiris who are detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in other states. Advani said this was an issue that the Centre would look into separately.
The Hurriyat leadership was convinced that dialogue was the only way forward to settle the Kashmir issue, Advani said.
Advani said the Hurriyat leadership was by and large cohesive, despite Qureshi pulling out of the dialogue process.
A ceasefire in Kashmir between the security forces and militants could be considered when the offer comes from both the sides, Advani said. The experience of a unilateral ceasefire announced by the Centre earlier was not very good, he added.
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