In a fresh move to end the three-month long violence that has claimed more than 90 lives in India's Jammu and Kashmir state, a team from New Delhi has begun talks with separatist Muslims leaders.
The five-member team, led by Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former federal minister Yashwant Sinha, began meeting stakeholders including separatist leaders on Tuesday.
However, Sinha said that they were not an official delegation but had come together in their "individual capacities."
Church officials joined political, religious and social organizations in welcoming the effort to bring peace to the region that has witnessed prolonged curfews, civil unrest and military action.
"We want the present cycle of violence to end. Dialogue and reconciliation is the only way forward," said Father Prem Tigga of Jammu-Srinagar Diocese that covers all of Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.
"The church hopes such initiatives will continue so that the people who have borne the brunt of present unrest can heave a sigh of relief," Father Tigga said.
Violence began to engulf the Himalayan region on July 8 when militant leader, Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed by police in South Kashmir. His separatist supporters clashed with the army in a series of encounters that left about 90 people dead and 11,000 injured.
Sinha said his team does not represent the Indian government. "We are not a delegation. We are a few people of goodwill. We have come here on humanitarian grounds to share the pain of the people," he told media.
The team includes former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, who has served in Jammu and Kashmir, former Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, journalist Bharat Bhushan and social activist Sushobha Barve.
Though there has been no official endorsement of the visit, the government’s permission to allow separatists to meet the delegates hints at back channel talks between the federal government and separatist leaders to end the present crisis.
The delegation met top separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani and Kashmir’s chief religious cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who also heads another amalgam of separatist parties.
Geelani, who heads the hardline faction of separatist Hurriyat Conference, agreed to meet and talk to the Sinha-led delegation. The delegation members were seen entering the highly fortified house where Geelani has been kept under detention for over three months. The 87-year-old leader, who advocates for Kashmir’s merger with neighboring Pakistan, asked for the "unconditional" release of protestors who have been charged by the Indian government.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, after meeting the delegation at his residence, said that the people of Kashmir can no longer be "subjugated" by the militarily and the past 109 days have revealed the local population’s steadfastness for their cause.
"The issue of Kashmir needs to be understood in its real perspective and addressed," Mirwaiz said at a press conference.
And after two months of detention at a guest-house-turned-jail in Srinagar, Mirwaiz is now under house arrest at his upscale Nigeen residence. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yaseen Malik has also been moved from jail to a Srinagar hospital after his health deteriorated.
Police have arrested over 7,000 suspected ring leaders of stone throwers. Some have been let off. Sinha and his team are also expected to meet civil society and trade groups including the Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) and the Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies (KCSDS).
Opposition party, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference approved the talks. "Dialogue is the only way through which issues are resolved. We want such measures to continue for the greater common good," General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar told ucanews.com.
Sinha confirmed to IANS that he and other “people of goodwill” will try to “meet all” during their visit to the valley that began on Tuesday. “We came here for humanity. Our motto is to share the grievances and pain (of Kashmiri people). I hope the state of unrest will be resolved soon,” Sinha said. Talking to reporters, the former BJP minister hinted that it was an independent initiative and that they were “not here as a part of any delegation”.
In the last 30 years, an estimated 100,000 people have died in Jammu and Kashmir, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after groups began an armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule or to merge with neighboring Pakistan. Both countries claim the region and each administer a part.
The region has been a sensitive issue for both India and Pakistan ever since they become two different nations in 1947 when British rule ended in the subcontinent. The nuclear powers have fought at least three major wars over Kashmir.
(Source: UCAN, Indian Express)