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Indian PM Holds Kashmir Talks Despite Boycott


Leaders of a key alliance of Kashmiri separatist organizations have refused to join a meeting with the Indian prime minister aimed at ending the region's long-running insurgency. India had no more luck in talks with Pakistan on the disputed Siachen Glacier, which have ended without agreement.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's proposed roundtable discussions were meant to break new ground by bringing together various Kashmiri political factions, broadly divided between those for and those against India's presence in the disputed territory.

But leaders of one of the major factions, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, refused to attend the two-day meeting in Kashmir's summer capital, Srinigar. The Hurriyat conference is an umbrella organization consisting of several groups campaigning against Indian rule in the region.

Instead, Hurriyat leaders wanted to meet separately with Prime Minister Singh. The demand was refused, and the meeting with the other organizations went on without them.

An analyst with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, Brahma Chellaney, says the boycott has rendered the meeting largely academic. But he says the prime minister's decision to travel to Kashmir should make a favorable impression on the people there.

"But I think it did send out a strong message that here the prime minister was personally coming to Kashmir to engage with different groups and factions in the valley, and that the government of India was willing to dialogue with all sections of society in Kashmir, and that the doors were open to dialogue," he said.

Separately, India and Pakistan failed to make a breakthrough in talks aimed at a mutual pullback of troops on what is known as the world's highest battleground, the Siachen Glacier.

Negotiators failed to reach agreement on demarcating a front line between the two armies, and therefore had no way to determine how far each army could withdraw.

The glacier stands at 6,300 meters, and analysts estimate more than 10,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are engaged in a high altitude standoff there.

Thousands of security personnel have been deployed in Srinigar for Prime Minister Singh's visit. But that did not prevent suspected militants from launching two separate grenade attacks in the city. The attacks did not come near Mr. Singh, but at least six people were injured.

Kashmir has been a flashpoint for conflict for decades. India has been fighting a violent insurgency there since 1989, when Islamic militants launched a campaign to force Indian authorities out of the two-thirds of Kashmir it controls.

The militants want the region to be independent, or to merge with predominantly Muslim Pakistan, which controls the remaining third.

India and Pakistan have also fought each other for control of Kashmir since 1947, when colonial ruler Britain granted the two nations independence. The two, both now nuclear powers, each claim the border region in its entirety.

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