India's Offer For Kashmir Talks Hits Snag
23 October 2003
The Washington Post
Srinagar: India's offer to hold talks with Kashmiri separatist political leaders won their quick approval Thursday, but the activists said they want to discuss the dispute with Pakistan as well. However, a hard-line Islamic group fighting for Kashmir's independence dismissed the proposed dialogue as 'useless and futile' unless militant groups are included. The guerrillas have been fighting since 1989 to join India's Jammu-Kashmir state to Pakistan or make it independent. The conflict has killed 63,000 people. If talks are held, they would constitute the first high-level contact between the secessionist leaders and the government. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a group of religious and political parties that wants Jammu-Kashmir to be separate from India, responded favorably to Wednesday's announcement that Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani would hold talks with them about the state's future. Senior leader Abdul Ghani Bhat said the Hurriyat 'has decided that within 10 days we will come up with a program, on the basis of which discussions will be held with India and Pakistan.' India is opposed to three-way talks involving Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan. However, the Hurriyat has sought to get around this opposition by saying each side could meet separately. Bhat did not give details of the group's proposal. Advani is known as a hard-liner toward separatists and the militants who have fought for 13 years to join the Muslim-majority state with Pakistan or make it independent. The government offered a meeting between Advani and Abbas Ansari, chief of the Hurriyat conference. There are deep divisions among Kashmir's separatists. Some support its independence, while others want it to become a part of Pakistan, which controls a portion of Kashmir. The Current News Service reported that a militant outfit, Al-Nasireen, said any dialogue process was 'incomplete without the participation of armed rebel groups as they represented the aspirations of Kashmiris.' Al-Nasireeen was one of two groups that claimed responsibility for an attempted assault on the house of Jammu- Kashmir's top elected official a week ago. Another group, Dukhtaran- e-Millat, said the dialogue would be meaningful only if it included the hard-line militants. 'We do not support any talks which do not include the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen who are the real representatives of the freedom struggle,' said Asiya Andrabi, leader of the Dukhtaran-e- Millat. Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen is the largest of the hard-line Islamic militant groups. In recent weeks, Hurriyat has split between pro- Pakistan and pro-independence factions, and its influence has weakened. Bhat appealed Thursday to the breakaway group. 'This is the time we join our heads together and speak with a single voice in the interest of Kashmir, otherwise history won't forgive us,' he said. The splinter pro-Pakistan faction, now seemingly marginalized since Ansari's election as Hurriyat chief, has already rejected India's offer of talks. The Hurriyat is a legal, political alliance, although its leaders are frequently detained and arrested by police. A few of its constituents are believed to be allied to some armed militants - but it's not clear if they directly control such groups. Both India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir, which is divided by a cease-fire line. India accuses Pakistan of funding, arming and training the militants. Pakistan denies giving them anything but moral support, and says most Kashmiris want to join Pakistan.