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Kashmiri Separatists See Breakthrough in Peace Negotiations

Separatist leaders from Indian-ruled portions of the Kashmir region say there are strong indications India and Pakistan are moving toward a negotiated settlement of the long-running dispute over the divided Himalayan territory. The separatists, for the first time, say a solution may be possible outside the framework of decades-old U.N. resolutions, which hampered, rather than facilitated, settlement.

A group of moderate separatist leaders from Indian Kashmir is making an unprecedented visit to Pakistan and to the part of Kashmir Islamabad controls. Leaders of the group say the trip is a major step forward in the two-year peace negotiations between India and Pakistan.

Kashmiris shout pro-freedom slogans as Chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, second left, prepares to leave for Muzaffarabad in Srinagar, India
The delegation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, arrived on the Pakistani side of the border last Thursday and met with a number of officials, including President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Farooq told reporters after the talks Wednesday, both India and Pakistan have shown flexibility and determination to find a solution to the Kashmir issue.

He says Kashmiri leaders also believe a solution could emerge to bypass a series of decades-old United Nations resolutions that called for a public referendum to decide the fate of Kashmir.

"The people of Kashmir have been waiting for the last 57 years for the United Nations to implement its own resolutions,” Mr. Farooq said. “But the matter of fact is that the U.N. has miserably failed and it has failed the people of Kashmir. So I think it's the duty of the leadership of Kashmir to explore new options to look at new possibilities. Let us move beyond, let's try to explore other possibilities."

Mr. Farooq also called on militant groups in Kashmir to end violence and back a negotiated solution.

Until now, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of some 24 separatist groups in Indian Kashmir, has backed the U.N. resolutions as the only acceptable solution to conflict over Kashmir.

Mr. Farooq says the fact that the Indian government has allowed him and his group to travel to Pakistan and Pakistani officials have talked to him show a clear sign both sides want to include Kashmiris in the peace talks.

Kashmiri leaders have long maintained that without them, India and Pakistan cannot resolve the dispute.

The U.N. resolutions call for a referendum in the whole of Kashmir, which could lead to the predominantly Muslim state either joining Pakistan or India. There is no option in the resolutions for independence. But separatist Kashmiri leaders want a united and autonomous Kashmir. India controls two-thirds of the region while the rest is being administered by Pakistan. The dispute has sparked two of the three wars between the nuclear-capable countries.