At the end of a historic meeting on Thursday, Indian Deputy Prime Minister L.K.Advani and the five separatist leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference agreed that violence must stop if the Kashmir issue is to be resolved.
“It was agreed that the only way forward is to ensure that all forms of violence at all levels should come to an end,” said a joint statement issued after the two-and-a-half hours meeting.
The five separatist leaders are to meet the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Friday.
They represent only a faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference –a conglomerate of 23 separatist Kashmiri parties.
The meeting –the first between the government and the separatists in years- broke some new ground with Advani promising a fresh look into Hurriyat’s long-standing demands.
The deputy prime minister promised a rapid review of the demand for the release of political prisoners in Kashmir.
“I have said that cases of prisoners would be reviewed. Those accused of heinous crimes would not be considered but others, yes,” Advani said.
The meeting came amid a recent thaw in relations between India and Pakistan – neighbours who have historically been at loggerheads over the contentious issue of Kashmir.
Window of opportunity
Experts say the improving ties have opened up a “window of opportunity” for resolving the Kashmir dispute.
With separatist groups seeking the region’s independence from Indian rule, the Kashmir conflict has dragged on for decades, triggering an unremitting cycle of violence that has killed 38,000 people since 1989.
India accuses Pakistan of fomenting trouble in Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge, saying it only extends moral support to the “freedom struggle” in the disputed territory.
But the day’s meeting evoked hostile reaction from more hardline sections of the separatists.
“It has been a total flop show. Nothing has emerged out of these talks,” hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani said.
Geelani is among the hardliners who boycotted the talks.