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Opinion Survey Finds Kashmiris say They are Being Used by India and Pakistan

Two US based research institutes (the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the WorldPublicOpinion.Org) have conducted a survey in Indian and Pakistani Kashmir regions on what Kashmiris want. The survey, which the groups say is the first of its kind on both sides of the de facto border, shows that Kashmiris feel they are being used by rivals India and Pakistan to advance those countries' agendas. For both India and Pakistan, Kashmir is strategic and has become a matter of prestige over the years.

Differences unresolved

Clashes between angry protesters and police are frequent in Indian Kashmir.

The latest was on June 19. Kashmiris were protesting an alleged rape of two women by Indian troops deployed to quell a 20-year-old Muslim separatist bid. India says the campaign is aided by Pakistan, but Islamabad denies the charge.

India controls two-thirds of Kashmir and Pakistan the rest. The UN line that divides the region is called the Line of Control or LOC.

Both sides claim the entire region, and several Muslim separatist groups in Indian Kashmir, are fighting for either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Public opinion survey

A recent public opinion survey on both sides of the LOC shows that Kashmiris feel they are being used by India and Pakistan.

"The people there think that India and Pakistan are using Kashmir to advance their own political agendas, their own political interests whatever they may be," said Colin Irwin, a senior fellow at the University of Liverpool and the survey's chief investigator. He did similar work for peace builders in Northern Ireland.

He says it is crucial to ask the Kashmiris what they want. "In Northern Ireland we got to a solution by actually asking people what they wanted, and what they would accept and what they would put up with," Irwin said.

India and Pakistan began a peace process about five years ago but the dialogue was stalled by last year's terror attacks in Mumbai. India blamed the attacks on militants of the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and wants Islamabad to bring them to justice.

Yashwant Deshmukh of the New Delhi-based Center for Voting Opinion also took part in the survey.

He says the most acceptable solution to Kashmiris is a confederation with open borders and local control in all regions. "Something which Pakistani Kashmiris would be really keen to talk on," Deshmukh said. "Indian Kashmiris probably would not be that keen but they can do with that."

He says an autonomous Kashmir is also acceptable to both. "A majority of them are actually leaning into the direction that this might be a probable solution of that entire state being autonomous," Deshmukh adds.

But, he says there is a disconnect between what the two governments think Kashmiris want and what the populations really desire.

He says as the neighbors try to reach a solution, they should realize how the conflict is affecting the day-to-day lives of the Kashmiris, and provide better governance.

"Giving them more opportunity to talk to each other, interact with each other across the Line of Control, having more economic ties, having more cultural ties," Deshmukh said.

He says more people-to-people exchange across the LOC should be encouraged if the two neighbors are to reach a solution.