Indian PM Says Could Cut Troops In Kashmir
5 September 2005
New Delhi: New peace talks between India and Kashmiri separatists on Monday ended with an assurance from New Delhi that it will cut troop levels in the region if insurgent violence and guerrilla incursions from Pakistan cease. The commitment was given by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during talks with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir's main political separatist alliance - the first since a Congress-party led coalition took power last year. Kashmiri separatists have long demanded that India scale back its military presence in the troubled Himalayan region, as has Pakistan, whose President Pervez Musharraf Singh will meet for talks next week. 'The prime minister said that if there is a cessation of violence and an end to infiltration, conditions will be created for the reduction of armed forces,' Singh's spokesman Sanjaya Baru told reporters after the talks. 'He reiterated his commitment to ensuring a life of peace, self-respect and dignity for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.' The prime minister also promised to review the cases of people held under various anti-terror laws in the region and ensure that human rights are safeguarded, Baru added. Kashmir is at the heart of nearly 60 years of animosity between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the region, and they came to the brink of a third war over it in 2002. Relations have warmed since peace moves were launched two years ago, but the two countries have yet to make any progress on resolving the Kashmir dispute. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in an Islamic revolt against Indian rule in the region which erupted in 1989. India has an estimated 500,000 troops in Kashmir trying to quell the rebellion, making it one of the most heavily militarised regions in the world. HURRIYAT SATISFIED Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the alliance was pleased with Monday's meeting. 'The meeting went very well and I guess the most important thing is that we are on the same frequency,' Farooq told NDTV news channel. 'If there is sincerity on the part of New Delhi and seriousness, Hurriyat can definitely play its role in bringing about a change in the situation,' he said referring to Singh's promise to cut troops if violence ended. Farooq said the two sides would meet again and Hurriyat would come with proposals to help resolve the Kashmir dispute. Singh will meet Musharraf on Sept. 14 on the sidelines of the United Nations summit of world leaders in New York to push the peace process forward. Hurriyat bands about two dozen Kashmiri political groups, some of them seeking independence and others greater autonomy or a merger with Pakistan. Hurriyat held talks with New Delhi for the first time in 2003 but they broke down after Congress came to power last year and set fresh conditions. New Delhi relented as the India-Pakistan peace process gained momentum this year and was declared 'irreversible' by Singh and Musharraf. Violence has declined this year, coinciding with the peace process, but there has been a spurt in militant attacks since the onset of summer in June. Hours before Monday's talks, suspected militants hurled a grenade onto a busy road in Shopian town, south of Srinagar, Kashmir's main city, wounding about a dozen people. Suspected guerrillas shot dead three brothers in Doda district, saying they were working with the police. Militants also shot dead a woman elsewhere in the district.