India’s talks offer divides Kashmir separatists

SRINAGAR: India’s offer to start a ‘quiet dialogue’ with separatist politicians in the disputed region of Kashmir was on Thursday welcomed by local moderates but rejected by so-called hardliners.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram, on a visit to Kashmir, said his government was willing to hold talks with ‘every section of political opinion’ — including those who wish to break away from New Delhi’s rule.

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 Pakistan.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head of moderate separatists, described Chidambaram’s remarks as ‘a good beginning and a step forward.’

However, separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani was not impressed.

‘No dialogue process is possible unless India openly accepts the disputed nature of Kashmir,’ said Geelani.

‘There is nothing new in the talks offer. It is meaningless,’ he said.

India was trying to dilute international pressure by giving the impression that it wanted to engage with Kashmiris, said Geelani, who wants the region to merge with Pakistan.

Residents in Srinagar advised politicians not to spurn the dialogue offer as it would seem a negative move to the outside world.

‘If separatists spurn talks, the world community will dub us Kashmiris stubborn and inflexible,’ said Sheikh Shamim, a banker.

India has long thwarted international debate on Kashmir’s future, saying the northern state choose to join the country after partition in 1947.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the scenic region, which is now divided between them along a de facto border called the Line of Control.

Chidambaram said any answer to Kashmir’s problems must be ‘honourable, respectable and acceptable to the vast majority of the people’ and added that ‘the solution may turn out to be a unique one.’

According to official figures, more than 47,000 people have been killed since an armed insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989.

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