It is important to win hearts and minds of Kashmiris: PC

The government has said it would resume dialogue and asked the separatists.

New Delhi: Observing that it wanted to "win the hearts and minds" of the people of Kashmir, the government on Friday said it would resume dialogue and asked the separatists, including hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to join it.

Home Minister P Chidambaram told the Rajya Sabha that the Centre was keen on fulfilling its promises, including on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and reduction of security personnel in the state, depending on the
situation there.

He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be receiving an all-party delegation from Jammu and Kashmir, possibly next Monday, and that leaders of parties in Parliament would also be called for a meeting.

Chidambaram, who was responding to clarifications sought on his statement on Kashmir unrest made on Wednesday, said Pakistan appeared to have changed its strategy on fomenting trouble in the valley as it seemed to be now relying on "civilian unrest" for "dividends".

Noting that Jammu and Kashmir had acceded to India in "unique circumstances", he said the state has a "unique problem" and requires a "unique solution".

Chidambaram appealed to all sections to put an end to the cycle of violence and said, "We have to put our heads together to find a solution to the unique problem".

Contending that "it is important to win the hearts and minds of people of Jammu and Kashmir", the Home Minister said, "We will resume the political process. The answer to the problem lies only through the political process, only through dialogue."

He said it was his intention to "do everything possible to resume the quiet dialogue" which he undertook with the moderate Hurriyat leaders before it got interrupted on
December 4, 2009 after an assassination bid on one them.

Referring to Geelani`s statement against stone-pelting, the home minister said, "If it marks a shift of his stand, I don`t know. If yes, I would welcome. It is a good sign".

He said there should be "no reason to doubt" Geelani`s statement, which should be "accepted at the face value" and that he would welcome if he also joins the dialogue.

Geelani, a hardline Hurriyat leader, has recently appealed for peace in the valley and said there should be no stone-pelting and damage to public property.

Talking about his disrupted "quiet dialogue", Chidambaram said it had "contributed largely to peace" in the state before the current spell of unrest.

"I will resume the political process... I have impressed upon all interlocutors that I am willing to resume the quiet dialogue. We have to find courage that allowed to hold dialogue. We have to get on," he said and "sincerely hoped" that the separatist leaders, including Geelani, would come forward for talks.

"We will pick up threads, reactivate the political process so that a solution can be found with equity, justice and honour," he said.

On the government`s part, he said it had made promises and "it is important to deliver on our promises".

Talking about the controversial AFSPA on which the government is divided as to whether or not to revoke in Jammu and Kashmir, he said, "it will be my endeavour to find a way how we can deliver on promise on AFSPA."

Chidambaram has been in favour of dilution of AFSPA which many sections feel gives extreme powers to security forces. However, the Defence Ministry opposes any dilution or revocation of the Act, saying it was required to give legal protection to armed forces while operating in peculiar situations like terrorism.

He said the immediate priority at the moment was to restore peace in Kashmir as no government can allow law and order to collapse.

At the same time, the Centre would like to reduce the presence of security forces in the state if the situation improves as was done last year.

"If the situation warrants, we may have to send more forces. But if the situation warrants, we may withdraw forces," Chidambaram said.

Talking about the situation in Kashmir since 2004, he said there were times when youth there were demanding IITs and IIMs. "Unfortunately, those voices have been muted by voices of `azadi` (freedom). I hope it is a passing phase and we will again hear those voices (for IITs and IIMs)."

He said he hoped Kashmiris would again say that their destiny lies with India and want to be part of India.