Kashmiris Catch Bus Home, Want Ticket To Talks
16 June 2005
Kaman Post: After being feted for two weeks in Pakistan, Kashmiri separatist leaders came home to India's side of the border on Thursday hoping to finally join a peace process between South Asia's nuclear rivals. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the spiritual leader of Kashmiri Muslims and one of the 9-member team, said the next move was up to India. 'We expect the government of India to show seriousness and play its role in carrying forward this process,' Farooq, who heads a moderate faction in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told reporters in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan's Kashmir, as he headed for the mountain border by bus. 'The time has come for all three parties in the conflict to be involved in the peace process and I feel the first step towards that has been taken now,' he said, summing up a visit that included talks with President Pervez Musharraf. But the peace process and new openness has not eased the violence. Minutes before the delegation crossed the white bridge linking the divided Himalayan region, 13 people were wounded in a grenade attack by suspected rebels in Indian Kashmir. Farooq told reporters at the Kaman Post border crossing: 'There are positive indicators from both India and Pakistan to carry the peace process forward and there is strong desire on both sides for peace and resolving disputes.' The fortnightly bus run between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's main city, began in April and is the most tangible result from talks that have yet to focus fully on the core dispute over Kashmir. Both sides claim Kashmir and have twice gone to war over it. India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring rebels fighting New Delhi's rule in its only mainly Muslim state since 1989. Fighting has killed tens of thousands and left almost no family untouched. BUY-IN As the peace process strengthens, leaders on both sides appear keen to get Kashmiris' buy-in. The trouble is determining who really represents them. India regards the elected Jammu and Kashmir government as the main voice of Kashmiris. But although the 2003 state election was regarded as the fairest in years, it was undermined by a Hurriyat and militant boycott and a poor turnout in some areas. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says he also wants to meet the Hurriyat leaders, but has not yet. Musharraf wants the Hurriyat included in any dialogue, and this visit showed he was ready to stand behind the moderates. A hardline faction with strong militant links stayed home. The Hurriyat groups about two dozen political, community and religious organisations seeking independence, merger with Pakistan or a choice between joining India or Pakistan. Musharraf has suggested demilitarising Kashmir, free movement for Kashmiris and some form of self-governance. 'There's a man who is looking at Kashmir from Kashmiris' point of view. He understands the suffering and the pain, the agony the people of Kashmir are going through,' Farooq told Reuters in an interview after meeting Musharraf. Not all agree. Hurriyat Hardliners led by Syed Ali Geelani stayed home to protest Musharraf's readiness to compromise. 'We reject disintegration of Kashmir, soft borders, internal autonomy or any other thing. We are for Kashmiris' right to self-determination and holding of a plebiscite,' Geelani told reporters in Pakistan by phone. 'Political and militant struggle is our born right and we will continue this.' But the vote he wants is a U.N.-mandated one that would only offer a choice of joining India or Pakistan, not independence.