June 2005 News

Kashmiri Separatists Ready To Ditch Plebiscite Call

8 June 2005

Islamabad: Kashmiri separatist leaders said on Wednesday they would ditch demands for a plebiscite on the future of their homeland if India sets aside a 33-year-old agreement with Pakistan on the line dividing Kashmir. Interviewed in the Pakistani capital where they met Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday, two of the youngest and most influential separatist leaders said they were ready to drop a demand for India to honor U.N. resolutions passed between 1948 and 1949 for a plebiscite in Kashmir. 'I think it is time to look beyond the U.N. resolutions, look at other possibilities,' Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of a moderate faction in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told Reuters. Farooq, the hereditary spiritual leader of Muslims in the Kashmir Valley, was supported by Bilal Lone, son of the late senior Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone. 'We are saying yes, if the U.N. resolutions don't help we'll go ahead (without them),' said Lone. 'The older leaders would never talk like that - this is the change ... We have to change.' Musharraf caused a major stir in December 2003, when he first said Pakistan was ready to set aside the U.N. resolution for a plebiscite if India would also abandon old positions on Kashmir. The Hurriyat and other secessionist groups want to become part of an 18- month-old peace process between Pakistan and India to stop Kashmir's fate being decided by Islamabad and New Delhi. India has allowed Kashmiri separatist leaders to visit Pakistan for the first time thanks to the thaw in relations between South Asia's nuclear rivals, who have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since winning independence from Britain in 1947. THEIR FATHERS' LEGACIES Lone and Farooq know could be targeted for being ready to negotiate, as both men's fathers were killed by unidentified gunmen because of their moderate positions. They know some diehards will see their readiness to abandon what has been a center pillar of Hurriyat's stance as a betrayal, but they argued that what really mattered was reaching an acceptable and workable negotiated settlement. 'We are always at risk in Kashmir,' said Lone. 'But we are prepared to take any risk to save our homeland.' Farooq, however, wanted to see India also make a concession, by being prepared to negotiate a settlement outside the 1972 Shimla Agreement which converted a ceasefire line across Kashmir to a 'Line of Control' (LoC) dividing the region. 'If the government of India is willing to set aside the issue of Shimla agreement, then definitely the Hurriyat Conference can sit and we can decide to say goodbye to the (U.N.) resolutions. 'It (the resolution) is not a holy book or holy document for us, it has done nothing for the people of Kashmir.' The Hurriyat leaders expect Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to invite them for talks after they return from Pakistan and want India to show more flexibility. 'The Indian government has to put something on the table. There's nothing as yet on the table,' Farooq said. Pakistan refuses to recognize the LoC as an international frontier, while India refuses to countenance any territorial changes, but both sides have begun looking at ways to soften the border so that families sundered by the decades-old conflict can be reunited. Farooq and Lone said that while past Pakistani governments had used the Kashmir conflict for their own aims, they were convinced Musharraf was sincere in seeking a solution acceptable to Kashmiris. Moreover, they said Musharraf, who is proposing some form of self-governance as part of the solution for Kashmir, was fully supporting Hurriyat's moderates instead of hard-liners who want Pakistan to control all of Kashmir. 'I think the biggest stumbling block is not the hard-liners ... the biggest stumbling block right now is the approach of the government of India,' Farooq said.


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