Vol. 4 Num 237 Sat. January 24, 2004  

India's talks with Kashmiri separatists augur well

Talks between the Indian government and Kashmiri separatists have broken new ground but there is a long way to go before the deadly separatist revolt in Indian Kashmir is settled, analysts said yesterday.

Still, the landmark meeting Thursday represented a welcome change from when the two sides only traded accusations without being willing to listen to each other's views, analysts said.

"It's a very, very positive step -- the thing has to be solved," said Kashmir University Professor Bashir Dabla. "The point is not whether they got something or not but that there is a consensus among the partners in the conflict that it should be resolved."

On Thursday, the moderate wing of Kashmir's main separatist group, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, and Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani called for an end to violence in the Muslim-majority territory.

They agreed to more talks to find a solution to the 14-year-old insurgency that has left at least 40,000 dead by the official toll and at least double that number by the separatists' tally.

The encounter was the first time the separatists and the government had held such high-level talks and came only two weeks after nuclear rivals India and Pakistan agreed to resume discussions next month on a host of disputes, including Kashmir, trigger of two of three wars between the neighbours.

The separatists want independence for Kashmir or its incorporation into Pakistan. India and Pakistan hold Kashmir in part but claim it in full.

Nuradin Baba, head of the political science department at Kashmir University, said it was too much to hope the dispute could be resolved swiftly.

"They have to break the psychological barriers on all sides. But at least it generates a positive atmosphere to hope in the society and creates goodwill.