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Kashmiri Leaders Demand Inclusion in India-Pakistan Peace Process

Indian Kashmiri separatist leader Umar Farooq waves to his Pakistani supporters in Muzaffarabad
Separatist leaders from the disputed territory of Kashmir say India and Pakistan cannot resolve the conflict, without involving the people of Kashmir in the peace process.

A day after arriving in the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir, a group of moderate separatist leaders from the Indian-ruled part of the disputed territory have urged India and Pakistan to make them part of the peace process, aimed at ending violence in their homeland.

Addressing the legislative assembly of Pakistani Kashmir Friday, a senior member of the delegation, Abdul Ghani Bhat, said that New Delhi and Islamabad must make serious efforts to bring Kashmiris into a three-way dialogue. "You cannot wish us away. You have to involve us. And if you want to lend credibility to the dialogue process with reference to Kashmir, you have to involve the people who represent the sentiment rooted deep into the soul of Kashmir. India has to talk to us, no doubt about it. Pakistan has to talk to us, no doubt about it. They cannot work out what they call an acceptable solution, unless they take us into confidence," he said.

The nine-member delegation from Indian Kashmir also plans to travel to Islamabad to meet the Pakistani president and prime minister next week.

The group leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, says the representatives have brought a few "solid proposals" to resolve the long-running Kashmir dispute, and will share them with Pakistani leaders, but he refused to give further details.

The Kashmir conflict has cost over 45,000 lives since 1989 when a Muslim separatist uprising began in the Indian controlled part of the Himalayan region. New Delhi has long blamed Islamabad for sponsoring the insurgency, a charge Pakistan denies.

The two nuclear-capable rival nations are currently engaged in dialogue to settle all their outstanding disputes, including Kashmir.

Both sides have described the process, which began in early 2004, as "irreversible," but progress has been slow over the core dispute of Kashmir, the cause of two of the three wars between India and Pakistan.

The start of a bus service in April linking the capital cities of Indian and Pakistani Kashmir is the most significant development to date.