By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI/SRINAGARâ€” Even though â€œpeace talks,â€ called the round-table conference, held last week between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Kashmiri leaders in Srinagar, have not evoked a favorable response from extremist and moderate Kashmiri groups, for a change, the move has not invited any negative response from Pakistan. Singh concluded the two-day talks (May 24-25) in Srinagar expressing confidence about a solution to Kashmiri problems. â€œI am especially confident that I see light at the end of the tunnel, there is a ray of hope,â€ Singh said.
He also promised to set up five working committees devoted to: confidence-building measures across segments of society in the state; strengthen relations across the Line-of-Control; economic development; ensure good governance and strengthen relations between the center and the state. Making special reference to there being two dimensions to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir, Singh said: â€œOne being the relationship between Delhi and Srinagar and the other being the relationship between Delhi and Islamabad. I have said repeatedly to President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan that we are sincerely committed to peace and development in this region. Our government is committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan, including the issue of Jammu & Kashmir. There is also realization that terrorism is an enemy of civilized societies.â€
Hailing the Indian Prime Ministerâ€™s talks with Kashmir leaders as â€œa movement forward,â€ Pakistanâ€™s President Pervez Musharraf said in Islamabad: â€œThere is a desire and realization on part of the Indian leadership to resolve the Kashmir issueâ€”Let us hope for the best that good sense prevails and we come out with a solution which is acceptable to the people of Kashmir, to Pakistan and India.â€ Besides, Pakistanâ€™s Foreign Office spokeswomen Tasneem Aslam said in Islamabad that Pakistan welcomed Singhâ€™s statement on resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan, including that of Jammu and Kashmir.
Yet, it cannot be ignored that the efforts being made by Indian premier to reach out to Kashmiri leaders, the second in three months, are not being welcomed by all. The round-table conference, chaired by him in Srinagar, was boycotted by All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and also the leading opposition party at the center, Bharatiya Janata Party. The process has also been condemned by several Kashmiri leaders. Besides, in response to separatist rebels call for a general strike, streets of India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir wore a deserted look the two days that the talks lasted. With militants having vowed to disrupt the talks process, on Tuesday, a suicide bomber attacked a bus injuring 22 security personnel.
Wednesday was marked by five grenade attacks around Srinagar, injuring 28, including nine policemen. The day the talks concluded, a powerful grenade explosion in a tourist bus carrying tourists from Surat (Gujarat) killed four.
Criticizing this talk-process, APHC leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said in his Friday sermon: â€œWe had some apprehensions about the round table conference and the apprehensions came true. This conference was like a seminar and failed to yield any result.â€ â€œFor the permanent solution of the Kashmir dispute, it is necessary that India, Pakistan and people from both parts of Kashmir should be involved in talks. A series of talks and agreements between Srinagar and New Delhi have failed,â€ he said. Any talk-process would remain irrelevant till militant groups are involved, according to Hizbul Mujahideen, militant group based in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Without including Mujahideen leadership “in the dialogue process, peace will remain a distant dream,â€ spokesman Junaid-ul-Islam said in a statement carried in local newspapers.
Notwithstanding the criticism earned by the talk process, Indian government seems determined to continue the same. â€œThis is a serious, well thought-out initiative to try and get to a meeting ground and this is not drama or a public spectacle. This is an ongoing process and not just a one-time affair,â€ Prime MinisterÃs Media Adviser Sanjaya Baru said.
Despite the talk-process having been overshadowed by militantsâ€™ attacks and threats, it cannot be missed that it has not disrupted the ongoing Indo-Pak dialogue process devoted to normalization of ties through confidence building measures. The same week was also marked by India and Pakistan holding talks on contending issues such as Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek. While talks on Siachen failed, the two agreed on conducting a joint survey of Sir Creek. Siachen in Kashmir is the world’s highest battlefield where more soldiers fall to chilly weather than to enemy actions. The present week is marked by talks on issues pertaining to terrorism, the need for increased co-operation on narcotics control and exchange fishermen and prisoners.
While there prevail countless Kashmir-oriented issues, on which India and Pakistan are not likely to agree for perhaps years to come. Nevertheless, the redeeming factor is that having earlier fought three wars over Kashmir, India and Pakistan are now deliberating on measures that can bring them closer and speller greater peace for Kashmiris.
Since 1989, more than 45,000 people have fallen victims to militancy. Singh has clearly expressed: â€œAnybody who shuns violence and gives up the path of terror, we are willing to find ways and means to interact with all such groups.â€ Perhaps greater attention needs to be given to involving more Kashmiris, including separatist rebels, in the talk process!