Kashmiri Separatists Ready For Talks With Delhi
24 June 2005
Srinagar: Kashmiri separatist leaders, freshly returned from talks in Pakistan, said on Saturday they wanted to resume suspended discussions with New Delhi. They urged the government to set up the talks, aimed at deciding the future of Kashmir as part of a peace process between India and Pakistan after near-war in 2002. 'We talked to leaders in Pakistan and Azad (Pakistani) Kashmir and we want now talks between Kashmir and New Delhi and, if possible, with Indian opposition parties too,' said Moulana Abbas Ansari. Ansari is a moderate leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which groups political, religious and community organizations, each variously pushing for independence, merger with Pakistan or a vote to choose between India and Pakistan. Nine leaders of Hurriyat's moderate faction crossed to Pakistani Kashmir this month on a new bus run reuniting families divided by almost 60 years of war and rebellion, one of the most tangible signs of progress in the peace move. Despite India's concerns, they also traveled on to Islamabad, where they met President Pervez Musharraf. A dialogue between the Indian government and Kashmiri moderates broke down in August, 2004, after New Delhi insisted the talks be bound by the constitution, which says Kashmir is an integral part of India. But when Musharraf made a groundbreaking visit to New Delhi in April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he wanted to meet Hurriyat leaders. 'The peace process is on and laying conditions for talks has no place,' Ansari said. 'The entire world lives on hope, and we too hope, the Kashmir dispute can be resolved in near future.' Pakistan-based Muslim guerrillas have been fighting to oust India from its half of Kashmir since 1989 in a brutal conflict that has killed tens of thousands, many civilians among them. Despite the most positive signs of progress in years - both countries now agree the peace process irreversible - there has been no let-up in the bloodshed in the Himalayan region. On Friday, a car bomb exploded as an army convoy passed along the banks of Dal Lake in Indian Kashmir's main city, Srinagar. The Dal and its famous houseboats are one of the few areas intrepid foreign tourists still dare to venture in any numbers.