Indian PM Heralds 'new Chapter' In Kashmir

29 October 2009

Srinagar: India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heralded Thursday a 'new chapter' in a peace process to end a two-decade revolt in Indian-held Kashmir that has left more than 47,000 people dead. Winding up a two-day trip to the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, Singh reiterated his government's willingness to hold talks with all separatist groups opposed to Indian rule as long as they renounced violence. 'I believe that a new chapter is opening in the peace process in the state and we are turning a corner,' Singh told a news conference in Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar. 'We are willing to engage in serious discussions with every group provided they shun the path of violence,' Singh said as he announced a series of economic measures to boost the region's infrastructure and tourist economy. But one veteran separatist leader who is considered a moderate swiftly rebuffed Singh's offer. 'We will never accept talks within the framework of the Indian constitution,' Shabir Shah told AFP. 'The talks have to be trilateral involving Pakistan, India and the separatists' said Shah, who has been in and out of Indian jails for participating in some of the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two decades. 'If talks are to be held for development, they should be held with pro-India leaders,' Shah added, 'We are for freedom and if they (Indians) are willing to discuss that with us, we will talk,' he said. Last month, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram offered to start a 'quiet dialogue' with separatist politicians in the disputed region. The offer was then welcomed by local moderates but rejected by hardliners. Moderate separatist leaders in the Muslim-majority state have held several rounds of talks with India's central government, though hardliners oppose any contact that does not involve neighbouring rival Pakistan. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each hold part of the Himalayan region and claim it in full. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming and abetting the deadly insurgency. The Kashmir separatist alliance All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference opened talks with the Indian government in 2004, the first since the eruption of the revolt against Indian rule two decades ago in the region. The last round of Kashmir discussions took place three years ago. Levels of violence have declined sharply in the Muslim-majority region following the launch of a peace process in 2004 by India and Pakistan, which have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. 'The era of violence and terrorism (in Jammu and Kashmir) is coming to an end. The public sentiment is for peace and for a peaceful resolution of all problems,' Singh said. India suspended its dialogue with Pakistan in the wake of last year's deadly attacks on Mumbai, which were blamed on Pakistan-based militants.