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All party roundtable conference on Kashmir gets underway

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, Feb 25: The first-ever all party roundtable conference on Kashmir, convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, got underway here this morning. The conference began at about 1100 hrs and is being held at the Prime Minister's 7, Race Course Road residence.

The conclave, which would have given an opportunity to the mainstream political leaders and the separatists to discuss the vexed issues on one platform, has lost much of its sheen due to non participation of the secessionists.

The Prime Minister had convened the meet to ascertain views of all groups including political leaders, separatists, academicians, NGO's and others and arrive at a broad-based consensus on Kashmir.

''We are open to talks with leaders from Kashmir inside and outside the political spectrum... all those who abjure violence and join the mainstream are welcome,'' he had said.

The Prime Minister is being assisted by a high-level delegation, including Home Minister Shivraj Patil and National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, at the meet. About 40 to 50 groups and individuals are participating in the conclave.

Besides political leaders from the Congress, National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Panthers Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janta Party and intellectuals, the roundtable is being attended by members of various organisations representing region-specific communities, including Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, Gujjars, Bakarwals and individuals.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, his deputy Muzaffar Baig and several of their ministerial colleagues are participating in the conclave.

Sources said Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz, who brokered the first round of talks between the United Progressive Allaince and the Moderate Hurriyat Conference, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Rajya Sabha Member Karan Singh, all MPs from the state are also attending the conference.

Prominent journalists Bashir Manzar, G M Sofi and Balraj Puri, Vice Chancellor of the Jammu University Amitabh Matoo and representatives of the Ladakh Buddhist Association will express their views at the roundtable.

The bold move suffered a setback after all top separatists and a few top political leaders rejected outright their participation in the meet, citing different reasons.

Prominent separatist groups such as the moderate Hurriyat Conference, the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP), the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the People's Conference, the Kashmir Bar Association and the breakaway Hurriyat Conference all declined to attend the conference.

Significantly, among these groups the moderate Hurriyat Conference, the JKLF and the People's Conference have already held talks with the Prime Minister.

However, the Hashim Qureshi-led Democratic Liberation Party (DLP) has decided to attend the conference, becoming the only separatist group from Jammu and Kashmir to participate in the meet.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) chief patron Farooq Abdullah and former state Tourism Minister and dissident (PDP) leader Ghulam Hassan Mir too have turned down the invitation.

UNI

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