//Kashmiri separatists reject PM invite

Kashmiri separatists reject PM invite

Rajesh Sinha, Saturday, February 18, 2006  22:33 IST

NEW DELHI: Several Kashmiri separatists have rejected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation for the roundtable conference scheduled for February 25.

After stressing all along the need for taking Kashmiris into confidence and including them in the peace process, the separatist leaders say they have been caught unawares by the invite and are not prepared for it.

The separatists involvement was the central theme in the talks between PM and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik on Friday. However, Malik himself is yet to make up his mind about attending the conference.

Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Shabir Shah and Bilal Lone of People’s Conference are not in favour of participating in the round-table, alleging that the Government rushed into it without taking them into confidence.

All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, is also reported to be against attending the conference. Farooq has called a meeting on Monday to take a final decision on the matter.

"They may come around after giving it more thought and discussing among themselves," said a senior government official, adding, "They cite problems coming here but readily go over for talks if they are called ‘elsewhere’ (Pakistan)."

The major problem the separatists have to deal with in accepting the invitation is the fear that they may be seen as betraying their cadres and face the danger of getting killed.

There are rivalries between them and to be portrayed as making a compromise rather than achieving progress would finish a leader.

The separatists fear that a round-table of so many participants, far from helping evolve an understanding, could bring out differences and pit them against each other on questions like representative leadership for Kashmir.

After the talks the separatists had in the Capital in September, it was the Hurriyat leaders who said they would be back in three months.

But so far, it seems when the first-ever roundtable on Kashmir kicks off on February 25, mainly predominantly mainstream leadership would be represented.