August 2004 News

Indian Talks With Kashmiri Separatists Break Down

10 August 2004

Srinagar: The dialogue between the Indian government and Kashmiri separatists appeared to have broken down on Tuesday after the New Delhi government set conditions for the talks which were rejected by separatists. The apparent breakdown of the dialogue is also a setback for the broader peace process between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan. Since coming to power in May, India's Congress-led coalition government has insisted the next round of talks with Kashmiri separatists should take place 'within' the constitution, which says Kashmir is an integral part of India. That demand was reiterated by Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Sunday and underlined by his deputy in Kashmir on Tuesday. 'We are always ready for the dialogue. But dialogue will be under the Indian constitution,' Junior Home Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal told reporters in Kashmir's main city Srinagar. On Monday, Kashmir's main separatist alliance rejected that demand as an unacceptable precondition that prejudiced their demands for independence or secession with Pakistan. 'The home minister's statement is unacceptable and unrealistic,' senior leader of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference Moulana Abbas Ansari told Reuters. 'The condition is unacceptable.' Two rounds of talks between the central government and Hurriyat's moderate wing were held earlier this year under the then Hindu-nationalist government. It was the first dialogue process between the two sides since an insurgency against Indian rule erupted in the Himalayan state in 1989. But violence has flared up in Kashmir in the past month as India and Pakistan have stepped up their own dialogue process. Control of the divided state of Jammu and Kashmir is the main bone of contention between the South Asian rivals and the dispute nearly brought them to a fourth war in 2002. Ansari said India's new government had shown it was 'not sincere' about peace, but Jaiswal blamed splits within Hurriyat for the breakdown. The alliance has been considerably weakened since a hardline faction backed by militant groups and supported by Pakistan walked out last year, saying it opposed talks. Commentators said this had made it difficult for moderates to continue the dialogue. Indian political analyst Pran Chopra said the idea of holding talks under the constitution had been on the table for a while and was not the main reason for the breakdown in talks. 'The constitution, after all, is not a frozen document, it has been amended several times in the past,' he said. 'Basically, the Hurriyat is trying to protect its flank against the hardliners ... they don't want to be ousted by the hawks.'


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