Kashmiri separatists wary as militants reject India's dialogue offer
7 April 2000
New Delhi: Kashmiri separatist leaders responded with caution Thursday to an apparent initiative by the Indian government to open a dialogue, but two pro-Pakistan militant groups rejected the offer outright. ''It sounds like a new offer but reads like an old story,'' said Abdul Gani Bhat, a senior leader of the Kashmiri Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference - an amalgam of two dozen separatist political groups. Bhat was responding to remarks Wednesday by India''s hardline Home Minister L.K. Advani that the government would be willing to talk with Hurriyat leaders, and even Kashmiri militant groups, ''on every demand, legitimate or perverse.'' But Advani made the offer conditional on militant groups laying down their arms and the Hurriyat accepting that talks would be held ''within the framework of the Indian constitution'' - a formula that would rule out the secession of Kashmir. Two leading separatist Muslim militant groups, meanwhile, rejected the talks offer. ''For purposeful and meaningful dialogue the Indian government should create (a) conducive atmosphere by sending its army back to barracks and releasing all the Kashmiri detenues,'' saida spokesman for the most powerful militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen. A spokesman for the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, Abu Osama, said the offer of a dialogue was ''meaningless as long as India indulges in state sponsored terrorism in Kashmir.'' ''Before going for talks the Indian army should withdraw from Kashmir,'' Osama said. While Advani''s offer signalled no major shift in government policy, it was lent extra weight by several factors, including the fact that it was made by the most hardline minister in the Hindu nationalist-led government. ''I don''t think there is anything there that we should take too seriously,'' Bhat told AFP. ''The constitution precondition means we would have to withdraw our stance of letting the Kashmir people decide whether to stay with India, secede in favour of Pakistan or opt for independence. ''We don''t want to be guided by conditionalities, we are guided by realities,'' he said. The timing of the offer was also significant, following US President Bill Clinton''s state visit to India - during which he urged a dialogue on Kashmir - and the release in New Delhi on Tuesday of three top Hurriyat leaders, including Bhat, after six months in detention. ''It seems to be a little change,'' admitted Bhat. ''As far as I know, Advani would normally never choose to talk to the Hurriyat under any circumstances,'' he said. ''I think his remarks were mainly for public consumption, but hopefully we may be seeing a change in the thinking process of the Indian government.'' Hinting at a renewed willingness to talk with the separatists, Advani had stressed that the release of the Hurriyat leaders was ''not a casual action.'' However, Bhat stressed that no formal offer of a dialogue had been received by the Hurriyat. ''If and when a formal invitation is received, the Hurriyat will meet, discuss the contents and respond accordingly,'' he said. The fundamental Hurriyat position has long been that any negotiations on the Kashmir issue must allow for the participation of India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people. The territorial dispute over divided Kashmir has triggered two wars between India and Pakistan, as well as a bitter border conflict last summer. An armed Muslim insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir has claimed more than 25,000 lives since 1989, reports AFP.