SRINAGAR: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday made a passionate appeal for peace in the Kashmir Valley, saying India's future was incomplete without a peaceful Kashmir and announced that an all-party delegation will visit the state soon for talks on ending a protracted violent unrest that has killed nearly 70 people since July 9.
At a press conference towards the end of his two-day Kashmir tour, Rajnath Singh conceded a popular demand, saying that an alternative to the use of pellet guns as a tool to control unruly mobs would be found "in a few days".
During his stay in Srinagar, the Home Minister said he met some 300 people, including leaders of all political parties in the state, with whom he had "good talks".
"Everybody wants peace to be restored. We are extremely sad over the situation. We are pained over the loss of lives," the minister said with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti by his side.
In an oblique reference to separatist leaders, the Home Minister said people should "not play with the future of Kashmiri youth".
"They (youth) should hold books, pens and laptops in their hands and not stones," he said. "We are linking the future of Kashmiri youth with the future of India. And I appeal to Kashmir people to identify those who are creating trouble."
India's future, he said, is intrinsically linked to the future of Kashmir.
He said leaders of all political parties will soon visit here for talks on finding ways to break the logjam in the valley. "I have asked the state government to make all preparations for that."
Asked if he invited separatist leaders -- who have been spearheading the agitation -- for talks, Rajnath Singh said the government was ready to hold talks with anyone who believed in "insaniyat, jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat".
Notably, he didn't name Pakistan for stoking trouble in the valley and didn't repeat that talks over Kashmir will only be held under the realm of the Constitution of India -- unlike previously.
It was the minister's second visit to the valley in a month since the unrest, the deadliest in six years, erupted after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
At least 67 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in firing by security forces at pro-freedom demonstrations. Most of the injuries have been caused by pellet guns that have left hundreds partially or fully blinded.
Mehbooba Mufti justified the killings by security forces saying those hit by bullets or pellets had not gone to fetch milk or toffees.
She was asked how she justified the alleged disproportionate use of force against Kashmiri protesters when as opposition leader she had criticised the government during a similar unrest in 2010 for civilian killings. The Chief Minister got angry and asked a reporter not to compare the two situations.
"You are wrong. What happened in 2010 had a reason. There was a fake encounter in Machil. Three civilians were killed. Today three militants were killed in an encounter and how is the government to be blamed for that," she said, referring to Wani's killing.
She said people had come out on the roads even though the government had imposed a strict curfew.
"Had a kid gone to buy a toffee from an army camp? A 15-year-old boy who attacked a police station (in south Kashmir), had he gone to buy milk?" she asked.
She added emphatically that poor Kashmiri youth were being used as shields by vested interests. "Ninety-five percent people killed are from poor families."
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader said only five per cent of Kashmiri people were resorting to violence and the rest "95 per cent percent people want peace...a dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue".
Appearing irritated, Mehbooba abruptly ended the press conference saying "Thank you" and invited journalists for a cup of tea.
The Home Minister ended his valley visit during which he met leaders of all mainstream parties and officials of civil, security and intelligence agencies.
However, trade bodies in Kashmir refused to meet him in protest against the civilian killings in Kashmir.