JK truce opens window for peace
23 February 2001
The Indian Express
New Delhi: India's decision to extend its Kashmir ceasefire for three months has opened a window of opportunity for more comprehensive steps towards peace in Kashmir . Newspapers said India may allow at least three leaders of Kashmir's leading separatist alliance to visit Pakistan to open at least an indirect channel of dialogue with its estranged neighbour. It may also consider holding a summit of South Asian leaders, which has been blocked by India since the end of 1999 when army General Pervez Musharraf took control of Pakistan in a coup. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of sponsoring the 11-year-old rebellion against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir. One daily said the question of holding the long-overdue summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was likely to be discussed with Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga who is visiting New Delhi. Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee would almost certainly meet on the sidelines of a SAARC summit, which could break the ice that has frozen peace talks between the two sides for two years. Vajpayee announced on Thursday that the three-month-old suspension of hostilities against militants in Kashmir would run until the end of May. The truce, which began at the end of November, had previously been extended twice for periods of one month. Analysts, pointing to Vajpayee's comment that the government's "patience is not infinite", said this could be the last extension of an initiative which has been roundly rejected by Pakistan-based militant outfits. "India will now have to demonstrate that its gestures are not an end in themselves but the means to an end," another daily said. It said India must actively establish more meaningful lines of communication with representatives of Jammu and Kashmir, a reference to separatist groups, and with Pakistan - providing Islamabad shows a readiness to rein in the militants. The paper agreed that the government needed to build on the ceasefire, which it said had appeared to be "no more than a strategy to expose and pin down Pakistan on the cross-border terrorism front". "If the objective is to find a political solution to the vexed Kashmir problem...the ceasefire has necessarily to be part of a broader and well-crafted package of political and diplomatic initiatives," it said. New Delhi has been talking behind the scenes with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir's leading separatist alliance, to begin a dialogue process but the two sides have so far failed to find a common starting point. It has also refused to grant passports to four of a five-member Hurriyat delegation which plans to visit Pakistan for talks with the leadership and militant groups. The Hurriyat, which combines 22 groups in Kashmir, is fighting politically for implementation of a 1948 U.N. resolution which called for a plebiscite to determine whether the former princely state should be folded into India or Pakistan.