Pakistani leader feels 'winds of change' in Indian Kashmir
13 December 2006
Indo-Asian News Service
Jammu: A leading legislator from Pakistani Kashmir is returning home after a month-long tour of Jammu and Kashmir, saying he can detect a strong desire to resolve the Kashmir dispute between the two countries peacefully. 'I have learned more,' Syed Shaukat Ali of the ruling Muslim Conference in 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' said as he prepared to return to Pakistan. Ali told IANS that he experienced 'winds of change' among people in Jammu and Kashmir, where a Pakistan-backed insurgency has claimed over 40,000 lives since 1989. 'Hatred is melting and a strong desire to live together in peace is gaining ground.' During his month-long visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Ali met a cross section of people including political leaders and concluded that the people wanted to 'shed the past of hatred and hostilities' and 'want to explore new horizons'. 'There is a strong feeling that India and Pakistan should live as peaceful neighbours. And the Kashmir issue should be resolved across table. The people- to-people contacts should increase. The Line of Control (LoC) should not stand as a barrier between the people-to-people contact.' The LoC, drawn up after the first of India-Pakistan wars in 1947-48, divides Jammu and Kashmir between the two countries. Pakistan holds the northern third of the Himalayan region and India the southern two third. Ali said whatever he had gathered in Jammu and Kashmir he would share with his colleagues including 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' Prime Minister Sardar Atique Khan. Ali, who represents Jhelum constituency in Pakistani Kashmir, visited Rajouri, Poonch, Jammu and Srinagar and met all the top political personalities both from the mainstream and separatist groupings. 'All of them were very cordial and forthcoming in their views,' he said. Among those he met were National Conference president Omar Abdullah, whose family has played a key role in Jammu and Kashmir's history, and separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a strong advocate of the state's merger with Pakistan. 'The people want changes in attitudes and approaches toward each other. They don't want to stay hostage to hatred and hostility. The new generation is fed up of that legacy.' Ali praised Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for showing flexibility in his approach towards the dragging Kashmir crisis, which has sparked two of the three major wars between the two countries besides a 1999 conflict in Kargil region. 'The very fact that there is a huge debate in Jammu and Kashmir over what President Musharraf has said (about Kashmir) is a sign of change. People are talking about its positives. Five years ago, this was unthinkable.' Ali said he was taking back with him sweet memories of the Indian Kashmir and its inhabitants. 'I had not expected this much love,' he said. It was a personal visit but at the end of it he finds it has been a fruitful one in all respects. 'The lesson is that we have to grasp each other's hand firmly in our journey for peace and resolution of the Kashmir dispute,' said the Kashmiri politician from Pakistan.