New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday appealed to Kashmiris to give up violence, saying dialogue was the only way out of the current crisis in the Valley.
“I appeal to people of Kashmir to renounce violence,” the PM said as the all-party meet, called to discuss the ongoing unrest in Kashmir, got underway at his residence in New Delhi.
“The only path for lasting peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir is that of dialogue and discussion,” the PM said while addressing the meet.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi too made an appeal to end violence in the state, asking the Kashmiris to “give peace a chance”.
Sonia stressed on the need to address the aspirations of the Kashmiri youth, saying they need to be engaged and won over.
Making the intentions of his government clear, the PM said, “We are ready for dialogue with anybody or any group that does not espouse or practice violence.”
He however added that “discussions can take place in an atmosphere free from violence and confrontation”.
Indirectly indicting separatist groups active in Kashmir, Dr Singh said it would be difficult to deny that certain groups had orchestrated some of the recent incidents of violence in the Valley.
The PM said he was shocked and distressed at seeing the youth and children protesting on the streets of Kashmir.
Apart from Dr Singh, who is presiding over the meeting, present at the 7, Race Course Road are Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior ministers AK Antony, Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram.
Representing the main opposition BJP are party president Nitin Gadkari, senior leader LK Advani, and Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, leaders of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.
Union Minister Farooq Abdullah, who has just returned from South Africa, is leading the ruling National Conference delegation. However, his son and J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was conspicuous by his absence.
J&K’s main opposition PDP, which had stayed away from the earlier all-party meetings on Kashmir crisis, is also attending today’s meeting. The party is being represented by its president Mehbooba Mufti and her father Mufti Mohammad Saeed.
Others present at the crucial meeting are CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, CPI’s D Raja and Gurudas Gupta, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, RJD leader Lalu Prasad, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, JD(S)’s HD Deve Gowda, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and DMK’s TR Baalu.
At the meeting, the Central government is hoping to arrive at a consensus and find some solution to the ongoing crisis in the troubled state.
PMO sources said the aim of the exercise was to see how much consensus could be built and how to restart dialogue with different sections of people.
Sources in the government said that diluting the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA was certainly not the single-point agenda of the meeting.
The armed forces still have reservations on the issue and officials said a consensus on the contentious AFSPA was unlikely at the meeting.
The main opposition BJP has already made it clear that it was against dilution of the powers of the Army. It even accused the government of placating secessionists in the Valley.
BJP also said it wanted total peace restored in the troubled region prior to any talks between government and separatists.
The urgency in the government quarters can be sensed from the fact that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) would meet for the second time in three days immediately after the all-party meet.
Defence Minister AK Antony Tuesday said, "Important decisions have to be taken after carefully assessing all aspects... before we take a final decision, we will take into confidence all the major parties so that everybody is involved."
In a clear indication that he was with the Army on the AFSPA issue, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik yesterday said a soldier, to perform his duty efficiently, "deserves all the legal protection" that he could get. The CCS had o Monday deferred a decision on the AFSPA issue.
"I am sure the government is sensitised to this problem and whatever decision they will take I am sure it will be the correct one," Naik, who is also the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
The Centre is reportedly considering withdrawing AFSPA from some parts of the border state. The Omar Abdullah government is also pressing for the phased withdrawal of AFSPA after the situation in the Valley took a turn for the worse when 17 persons were killed in violence in one single day on Monday.
A total of 88 people, mainly teenagers and youth, have died in violent protests in the Valley since June 11.