February 2004 News

Talks Termed 'small But Important Step': Peace Moves Hailed On Both Sides Of LoC

19 February 2004
The Dawn

Islamabad: Talks outlining a 'basic roadmap' for peace between India and Pakistan in Kashmir were welcomed on Thursday on both sides of the Line of Control as a small but important step. Kashmiris have seen hopes of peace descend into violence before, and few were rushing to hail the latest bid by Pakistan and India as the beginning of the end of bloodshed and tensions in the troubled Muslim-majority region. 'This time, it seems both countries are serious and they are talking seriously,' said Manzoor Shah, a 40-year-old building contractor in Srinagar. 'They have no choice other than to talk...they cannot afford another war.' Mujahideen and the glaring exclusion of Kashmiris from the talks are seen as hurdles that may yet derail a promising push for peace. But a meticulously observed cease fire since November has lifted the mood among people along the heavily militarised LoC. And earlier promises of confidence-building measures, including a bus route linking Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, has also raised spirits among thousands of families torn apart when the region was split after partition in 1947. Mir Ahmed, a frail 80- year-old living in the Pakistani frontline village of Chakothi, said the first thing he would do if allowed would be to go to the Indian- occupied Kashmir, which he fled in 1948, and look for a brother he has not seen or heard from since. Chakothi is where a new bus link is expected to cross the divide, and soldiers along the hushed frontlines said they could build a new bridge within 15 days. Families have returned to the most dangerous areas along the LoC and schools are reopening, sure signs that people have faith that, unlike peace talks which collapsed in 2001, this time India and Pakistan may get it right. Officials from both countries held three days of talks ending Wednesday in Islamabad and laid out a 'basic roadmap' for peace. A decision about the inclusion of Kashmiris in the talks is expected to be taken in August when foreign ministers of the two countries would assemble to review the overall progress. This seems to have annoyed the people of the divided state, who do not want to see it carved up, but argue instead for full independence - a prospect Islamabad and New Delhi seem unwilling to discuss. 'We welcome the decision of officials of India and Pakistan, but without the participation of the people of Kashmir such talks will not yield any results,' said Maulana Abbas Ansari, chairman of a faction of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. Amanullah Khan, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, agreed. 'There have been 27 sessions of talks between India and Pakistan, and they have not brought permanent peace, because they were not based on the will of the people of Kashmir,' he said. Mr Khan said that Pakistani efforts to stem the flow of Mujahideen crossing into the Indian-occupied Kashmir would not stop the bloodshed. 'We have not abandoned the gun - the gun has merely faded into the background, and we may have to take it up again.' Some have little faith in more talks. 'They have been talking in the past, they are talking now under American pressure and they will talk in (the) future,' said Abdul Rahim, 55, a Srinagar shopkeeper. 'Kashmiris have 50 years of bitter experience with talks. We can only wait and pray for a meaningful dialogue.' India says Pakistan has succeeded in slowing the flow of fighters across the LoC, although it has yet to close down infrastructure supporting their cause. Pakistan says it offers Kashmiri 'freedom fighters' moral and political support only, and in turn accuses India of human rights abuses in the Muslim-majority state. Hassan Burki Baba, spokesman for the Jaish-i-Mohammad group linked to an assassination attempt on Musharraf in December, vowed to continue the fight. 'India is not sincere in these talks,' he said. 'India is raising the issue of dialogue to win time to crush the jihad in Kashmir. We will continue our jihad in Kashmir so long as Indian forces are there.' -Reuters


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