India has made a dramatic step in its policy for the disputed region of Kashmir, saying its deputy prime minister would hold talks with Kashmiri separatists.
The announcement that Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani would meet with separatist leaders followed a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Indian body that handles Kashmir-related issues.
Separatists welcomed the announcement, but did not commit to talks. And, so far, no date has been set.
Home Secretary N. Gopalaswamy says the decision stems from an overture made in August by Moulvi Abbas Ansari, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a group of separatist parties.
"The CCS [Cabinet Committee on Security] has decided that the DPM [Deputy Prime Minister] will meet in response to a statement on the 25th of August by Mr. Abbas Ansari [about], their interest in talking to the central government," he said.
More than 60,000 people have died in fighting in Kashmir since 1989, when a loose alliance of Islamic militant groups based in Kashmir and in Pakistani territory began an insurgency to break free of Indian control.
The decision could mark the end of a diplomatic deadlock between the two sides. Previously, separatists from the Hurriyat, as the group is known, refused offers of talks with low-ranking government officials. Meanwhile, the government said the Hurriyat did not reflect the will of the Kashmiri people.
Despite the apparent diplomatic breakthrough, unrest in Kashmir continues. Police arrested three separatist leaders in Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar. Authorities said the separatists had organized anti-government demonstrations, one of which led to clashes between security forces and protesters.