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Head of Kashmir separatist alliance ends US visit
Juan-Carlos Rodriguez in Washington
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September 28, 2005 14:59 IST

Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on Tuesday expressed cautious optimism for a peaceful political solution to the embattled region's troubles but stressed the Kashmiris should have a role in future negotiations.

During a two-week visit to the United States, Umar Farooq, 32-year-old chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, met at the United Nations with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [Images] and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and in Washington with State Department officials.

His goal is to increase the involvement of Kashmiris in settling the decades-long dispute over the fertile border region contested by Pakistan and India.

His father, whom Farooq succeeded as Kashmir's senior cleric, was a victim of the fight, gunned down by Muslim extremists in 1990.

A 1948 UN resolution ordered that the people vote in the two-fifths of Kashmir held by Pakistan and the three-fifths held by India to decide whether a united Kashmir should join Hindu India or Muslim Pakistan.

Most Kashmiris are Muslim. A UN truce line, known as the 'line of control', separates the two sectors.

The vote was never held because of India's objections.

While avoiding specifics of his meetings, Farooq said there is agreement that the violence should stop.

"We need to have a political solution to the problem. The problem cannot be addressed militarily," Farooq said.

He said he would consider all solutions except two: continuance of the status quo or conversion of the 'line of control' into a permanent border.

He would not say whether he wants an independent Kashmir or a Kashmir united with Muslim Pakistan.

"We feel we have, among all the parties, the most at stake as far as Kashmir is concerned, and we need to be considered as a separate body, he said.

"The line is not drawn across the land of Kashmir, but across the hearts of the people of Kashmir," Farooq said.

He said he recently visited members of his own family for the first time across the border.

Farooq said India should continue to loosen its grip on Kashmir if the process is to move forward, and he was concerned about the behavior of the Indian military and the status of Kashmiri 'political prisoners'.

Farooq said Kashmiris are ready to leave the violence of the conflict behind them.

"I believe that if India is ready to move one step, you will see that the Kashmiris' reaction would be to move 10," Farooq said.

While Farooq has met separately with Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] this year, and the Pakistani and Indian leaders have discussed Kashmir, the three parties have yet to sit down together.

"Bilateralism has miserably failed," Farooq said. "The problem is not bilateral. It is a triangular problem."

The September 14 meeting with Musharraf at the United Nations General Assembly was the latest development in a year in which Kashmir has seen resumed bus travel and limited trade across the 'line of control' and decreased violence that has plagued the region.

Acknowledging that the five-group Hurriyat does not represent all of Kashmir's factions, Farooq said it was his goal to include militant groups and representatives of other Kashmiri groups in future negotiations.

Farooq is traveling to Brussels, Belgium, next week to address the European Union parliament to continue his effort to focus world attention on the Kashmiri situation.

India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic militants who have been fighting Indian control since 1989. The insurgency has claimed more than 66,000 lives, mostly civilians.

Farooq and other moderates have denounced the insurgency.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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