April 2004 News

Kashmir Separatist Pins Hope On Vajpayee, Musharraf

28 April 2004

Srinagar: Kashmir's top separatist leader is optimistic Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will be able to resolve a decades-old dispute over the Himalayan region. But Moulana Abbas Ansari, chief of Kashmir's All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said New Delhi, Islamabad and the Kashmiri people would all have to climb down from tough positions to reach a settlement on Kashmir, the cause of two wars. 'I have faith in the abilities of Vajpayee and Musharraf,' the 68-year-old Shia priest told Reuters in an interview at his spartan home in Srinagar, summer capital of Kashmir where Indian forces are struggling to quell a 15-year revolt. 'Vajpayee has shown the capacity to understand, Musharraf has shown strength, flexibility. Together with the Kashmiri people, all three parties can find a durable settlement. 'All three of us will have our nose cut, but we must do it in a manner that doesn't make any of us look too bad,' he said, referring to the need for possibly humiliating compromises. The nuclear-armed neighbours, who were on the brink of war two years ago, are due to begin substantive talks on Kashmir and nuclear security in May or June. Ansari's comments came amid new uncertainty about whether Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist-led coalition, which began a tentative peace process with Pakistan last year, would win a majority in a national election that ends in mid- May. Exit polls from three rounds of voting to Monday suggest the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, which campaigned on peace with Pakistan and on prosperity, could fall short of a majority. The main opposition Congress has also promised to pursue detente with Pakistan, but political analysts say it will be easier for the fiercely nationalist BJP to sell a peace deal. New Delhi, which holds 45 percent of Kashmir, considers the whole of the scenic Himalayan, Muslim-majority region an integral part of India and a touchstone of its secular credentials. Pakistan, which controls a third of Kashmir, is seeking the implementation of U.N. resolutions for a plebiscite to decide whether it should be folded into India or Pakistan. Musharraf, who is due to step down as chief of the army by the end of the year, has also warned that progress on Kashmir is the key to the keeping the peace process alive. FIRST STEPS Ansari, considered a moderate among Kashmiri separatists, said India and Pakistan had taken the first steps towards resolving the conflict, but eventually the Kashmiri people would have to be involved for any peace to hold. 'You can't ignore us, we are the ones who are dying,' he said. 'There is no lasting solution possible unless Kashmiris on both sides are involved. 'You might have started playing cricket, but here you are playing with the blood of Kashmiris,' he said referring to the Indian cricket team's tour of Pakistan, which dramatically improved the atmosphere between the cricket-mad neighbours. New Delhi, which has agreed to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan, baulks at three-way talks involving Kashmiri separatists. But it has separately begun direct talks with the Hurriyat, which it had always shunned because of its refusal to accept Kashmir as part of India. Ansari said New Delhi had shown signs of flexibility by choosing to engage the Hurriyat. 'This is a 56-year-old issue, it will not be solved overnight, but I think we have sown the seeds,' he said. 'The fruits will come.'


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