Govt says solution to ending Kashmir protests in sight

NEW DELHI Thu Dec 9, 2010 7:35pm IST

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram speaks during a news conference in Srinagar, October 14, 2009. REUTERS/Danish Ismail/Files

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram speaks during a news conference in Srinagar, October 14, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Danish Ismail/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Thursday the contours of a political solution to months of violent protests in disputed Kashmir were likely in a few months, but Kashmiri separatists said they had not heard about any such move.

A failure on the part of New Delhi to come up with an adequate plan could see Kashmir plunge back into protests that quietened down after official promises for a political solution.

Renewed strife in the region would put the Indian government under further pressure as it tries to fend opposition attacks over a slew of corruption charges which have deadlocked parliament for almost a month, stalling legislative business.

More than 100 people have been killed in the protests, which broke out in June and were the biggest since an armed revolt against Indian rule erupted in 1989 in the majority Muslim region. Separatist demands have ranged from granting of autonomy to outright independence from India.

"Contours of a political solution to the Kashmir problem are likely to emerge in the next few months," a government statement quoted Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram as saying after a meeting on Kashmir.

"The home minister asserted that the Kashmir issue is a political issue for which a political solution must be found."

But Kashmir's main separatist alliance leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said they had not been kept in the loop about any solution to the crisis in a region also claimed by India's traditional foe Pakistan.

"Let us see what they come up with, but for a permanent solution, New Delhi will have to engage the popular sentiment of Kashmir which is independence," he told Reuters.

"And as Pakistan is a party to the dispute, India needs to involve them as well."

NO REAL SOLUTION?

Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan but they rule it in part. They have twice gone to war over the Himalayan region which remains at the core of their dispute.

This is why any lasting peace in the region is unlikely without the involvement of Pakistan, and whatever solution India comes up with may only help douse the current round of protests and not resolve the separatist revolt that has killed thousands.

In the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, between 75 percent and 95 percent support independence from both India and Pakistan, according to a poll this year by the think tank Chatham House.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, one of the biggest Kashmiri militant group based out of Pakistan, told Reuters in Rawalpindi they had little faith in the Indian government's promises, and would carry on the fight against Indians troops in Kashmir.

"If we see India is displaying sincerity and seriousness with regard to the ultimate resolution of the Kashmir issue, we will shun our guns ourselves. At this time, we have no faith. we have no trust. We have been deceived time and again," group commander Syed Salahuddin said.

The protests came after a period of relative calm in the region and were seen as the biggest challenge to Indian rule. They started on June 11 when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a tear gas shell fired by police during a protest in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's summer capital.

The deaths, mostly at the hands of government forces during protests, fuelled anger in Kashmir where sentiment against New Delhi's rule runs deep.

After several failed rounds of peace talks between moderate separatists and New Delhi, and a rise in killings blamed on security forces, India announced an 8-point confidence building measure in September that helped quieten the protests.

It scaled back security in the region, formed a panel to talk to a cross section of Kashmiris, gave compensation to the families of dead protesters and promised to review the scope for limiting a much-hated law that gives the military sweeping powers to search, arrest or shoot.

The government statement quoted Chidambaram as saying a proposal to amend the law was being considered, adding government-appointed panel for talks was "making good progress".

(Additional reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq in SRINAGAR and Kamran Haider in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy)

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