Some normalcy as Rajnath to visit Kashmir (Roundup)

New Delhi/Srinagar, Aug 23 (IANS) Curfew was relaxed in parts of Srinagar on Tuesday after 45 days of unrelenting restrictions with Home Minister Rajnath Singh set to visit the Kashmir valley on Wednesday for a security review and expected talks with politicians and civil society members.

The relaxation in weeks of curfew and Home Minister’s planned visit followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Monday that “there has to a dialogue” for a “permanent and lasting solution” to the problem within the framework of the Constitution of India.

Home Ministry officials in Delhi refused to divulge details about Rajnath Singh’s two-day valley trip, his second in a month. They said his meetings in Srinagar had not been finalized as yet.

“He will meet people in Srinagar. Political leadership included,” a government source told IANS.

The officials said the government was keen on breaking the logjam and end the vicious cycle of violent protests and counter-violence that has so far left at least 68 people dead in over five weeks of unrest. The death toll also includes two policemen. Thousands of civilians and security personnel have been injured.

Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi and other senior officials from the ministry are expected to accompany Rajnath Singh to the valley.

The visit comes as relative calm prevailed in parts of Srinagar on Tuesday, after which the government lifted curfew from the uptown areas of the city from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the first time since July 9 when violent unrest erupted in the valley — after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani.

While restrictions remained in the Old City, people going in twos or threes were not stopped. Some vehicles also plied on the roads, residents said.

Shops and business establishments, however, remained closed across the city for the 46th day in a row. Separatist leaders have asked people to continue the shutdown till August 25. Authorities also continued with their restrictions in many parts of the troubled Kashmir Valley where life remained paralysed.

As Srinagar was at a relative peace, violence broke out in north Kashmir Shopian district where security forces opened fire at a stone-pelting mob. “Eleven people were injured,” a police officer said in Srinagar, adding three of the injured were evacuated to a Srinagar hospital.

Rajnath Singh’s visit follows Jammu and Kashmir opposition leaders’ several meetings in Delhi including with President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Nardenra Modi. They have been pressing the government for a “political solution” to the ongoing unrest.

Modi told the opposition leaders led by former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that he was “distressed” with the Kashmir situation and shared “deep concern and pain” over the loss of lives.

The government has also engaged a group of civil society members, mostly prominent non-Kashmiri Muslim personalities, to help bring peace in Kashmir and a delegation is likely to visit the valley soon.

Rajnath Singh has held two meetings in Delhi in the past one week with these civil society members including former Rajya Sabha MP Shahid Siddiqui, former Jammu and Kashmir interlocutor M.M. Ansari, defence analyst Qamar Agha, Milli Gazette editor Zafarul Islam Khan and social activist M.J. Khan

Some of the activists who met the Home Minister told IANS that possible solutions to the present Kashmir situation were discussed at length in a “very open environment”.

“It was a long and comprehensive discussion and a lot of things were discussed. We have to take forward Atalji’s doctrine (of Insaniyat, Jamhooriat and Kashmiriyat). The government needs to restore confidence of Kashmiris and be sensitive to their needs and sentiments,” Siddiqui said.

–IANS

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