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Kashmiri Leaders From Both Sides Meet for First Time

  • Anjana Pasricha

Political leaders from the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir have met in New Delhi for their first-ever dialogue. The conference came amid broader peace efforts by India and Pakistan to settle their long-standing dispute over Kashmir.

The one-day meeting between politicians from the Pakistani and Indian sections of Kashmir was billed as a "heart-to-heart" dialogue.

The leaders came together to identify how they might contribute to efforts being made by their national governments to settle their dispute over the Himalayan territory. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, claimed in full by both rivals, and has triggered decades of hostility and two wars between them.

But the mood in the subcontinent has changed since last year, when the two nations began peace talks.

Raja Farooq Haider, adviser to the prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, said the dialogue was an effort by Kashmiris on both sides to reach each out to each other.

"We want to devise some sort of settlement which can be acceptable to all these parties," he said. "For that we have to talk to each other and we have to understand with each other about the sentiments and the positions of each other. We have come with our open hearts."

Kashmiri leaders have called in the past for greater links between the divided parts, which had remained shut to each other for decades until cross-border bus service reopened earlier this year.

The former chief minister of Indian Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, said many Kashmiris believe that increasing contact in the divided territory will help bring normalcy.

"We want a peaceful understanding between the two major nuclear powers, and we want a human approach to the political process, which should be allowed to grow and a solution will come out by further meetings, and these transborder openings that have taken place. Then many of these misunderstandings between India and Pakistan will disappear and finally a solution will emerge," said Farooq Abdullah.

The conference participants also included political separatists from Indian Kashmir, where a bloody insurgency has been raging since 1989.

Abdul Ghani Bhat is a senior leader of an alliance of separatist parties called the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in Indian Kashmir. He says they, too, want to contribute to efforts being made by India and Pakistan to end the impasse.

"If all goes well with us, a message should go to Delhi and Islamabad, that we are not the enemies of India and Pakistan, we are the friends of both India and Pakistan, we bear no malice toward any country, we want bridges of understanding and communication to come up with a view to finding solutions," said Abdul Ghani Bhat.

Islamabad and New Delhi began a productive peace dialogue last year, but so far, significant progress in the Kashmir dispute has continued to elude them.

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