'Kashmiris want to stay with India'

3rd November 1997

New Delhi: The people of Jammu and Kashmir desire to stay with India and want peace in the entire state, says Mr Beersmans Paul, president of the Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir, after a recent visit to the state.

During his visit to the Valley, Mr Paul interviewed people in Jammu, Srinagar and Leh, and said in a report, "Not a single person in Jammu, Srinagar or Ladakh favoured merger with Pakistan."

He said people in the state wanted to return to the pre-militancy era. "Kashmiris understand that Pakistan is playing with them and criticized it (Pak) for sending ammunition, weapons and mercenaries.

"The people have understood that Pakistan wants their land and not them (Kashmiris)," says Mr Paul.

The people, says Mr Paul, believe that the neighbouring country has led their much prosperous state to "hell" and stolen seven years of their life.

He says the militancy instigated by Pakistan has brought destruction and house-boat owners had to sell their belongings to survive.

However, the installatio of an elected government had brought respite to these poor people, Mr Paul said in his report.

The Kashmiris, dependent on the tourist industry were hopeful that the income lost during the last seven years would be compensated soon with the heavy rush of tourists, Mr Paul said.

"They expect and overnight change," he said, adding the state government should take more action as the level of their expectations was high.

Criticising the Hurriyat Conference, Mr Paul said the organization did not enjoy the support of the people of Kashmir anymore.

People wanted the organization to come out openly against the "gun culture" and stop its double game of projecting itself on the one hand as democrats, and on the other as supporting the militants.

Mr Paul, quoting Mr Mohammed Shafi Lasu, president of the Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam in Leh, said no militancy existed in this part of the state.

The majority of the population in the region backed Mr Farooq Abdullah and wanted to remain with India.

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