New Delhi: An all-party delegation of lawmakers reached Srinagar on Sunday on a peace-finding mission but immediately came up against a hurdle: key separatist leaders refused to meet it, saying the team’s mandate was unclear.

On the first day of its two-day visit, the lawmakers met around 200 stakeholders, including members of the civil society, academics, teachers and fruit and saffron growers. But separatist groups weren’t among the 30 delegations that met the 26 lawmakers.

“One fails to understand what hope to attach with a delegation which has not spelled out its mandate for any engagement on a clear agenda", separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik said in a joint statement.

“These methods of crisis management through parliamentary delegations and track-II can’t take the place of a genuine transparent agenda-based dialogue to address the core issue... That has been our consistent stand and has been spelled out recently as well in our letters to various international and global fora," the statement said.

This is the first all-party delegation to Jammu and Kashmir since violent clashes broke out between security forces and protesters in July. However, home minister Rajnath Singh has visited the Kashmir Valley thrice, including as the head of the all-party delegation, since then.

The all-party delegation also met with leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, which is part of the ruling alliance, as well as the main opposition party National Conference. Leaders of both parties said that the process to restore peace will remain incomplete without talking to separatist leaders, especially the Hurriyat Conference.

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“Schools are closed, businesses are shut and separatist leaders do not wish to hold dialogue. The parliamentarians have come to meet them but they have refused. Separatist leaders would not have lost anything if they had met the parliamentarians... The Hurriyat leaders have kind of threatened the business community not to meet the parliamentarians," said a senior representative of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

The all-party team is in Srinagar to talk to different sections of people and try to restore peace in the Kashmir Valley which has been rocked by protests since the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani in July. Violent clashes since then have caused over 70 deaths.

In a separate appeal, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference urged people to not engage with the delegation, calling it a “meaningless exercise".

“Indian parliamentarians should have a special session of parliament where they should accept the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir to pave the way for holding referendum in whole of the state that existed in 1947 to settle this issue permanently, peacefully and democratically", it said in a press release.

Three veteran leaders from the delegation, Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United), D. Raja of the Communist Party of India and Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), went to meet separatist leaders on Sunday but Syed Ali Shah Geelani refused to meet them. Although the leaders did manage to meet separatist leader Yasin Malik, a breakthrough could not be reached.

“The meeting was good. He (Yasin Malik) said that he will come to Delhi to meet us. We believe that he has taken the dialogue forward," said Yadav.

Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah met the all-party delegation but said such efforts have lost credibility as there has hardly been any follow-up of similar visits in the past. During his hour-long interaction with the delegation, Abdullah recalled the previous all-party delegation visits since 1990 to Kashmir and said that “unfortunately, when things cool down, there is no progress on the issue".

“There was a time when my father (former chief minister Farooq Abdullah) had conveyed to grant internal autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir and had warned New Delhi that if they continue to deny it, the time will come when it will also not be acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. I think we are heading for that time," Omar Abdullah said. He told the delegation that his workers were pressurising him not to attend the meeting “such is the situation".

Political analysts feel the all-party delegation would help the government send out a message that it has been successful in politically mobilizing parties on the Kashmir issue.

“The big message which goes out on the international forum is that the Indian government has the backing of all political parties in the country on the issue of Kashmir. One has to, however, wait and see how far does this go on the ground and if there are any big outcomes," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

In a meeting chaired by home minister Rajnath Singh, a detailed presentation was made by the state government highlighting various issues related to the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and stressing the importance of a clear roadmap.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti told the delegation that Kashmir was an issue of “national interest" which should not be viewed as a political issue, adding that the media should report on the unrest with sensitivity.

The delegation was scheduled to meet governor N.N. Vohra later on Sunday.

The all-party delegation will visit Jammu on Monday afternoon after meeting another set of civil society representatives in Srinagar in the morning.

PTI contributed to the story.

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