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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Bridging the Kashmir divide
Line of control, India-Pakistan border
The Line of Control has fallen silent since November
India has proposed talks with Kashmiri separatists to try to resolve 12 years of violence which has claimed at least 30,000 lives. The BBC's Andrew Whitehead has been visiting both sides of divided Kashmir

"We don't wave. But you can try".

Colonel Javed of the Pakistan Army pointed to an Indian observation post just 150 metres away on the other side of the ceasefire line which divides Kashmir.

It's so calm, thousands of civilians who live close to the line have been able to return home

Colonel Javed, Pakistan army
I trained my binoculars, waved determinedly - and watched as a hand emerged from above the Indian emplacement, and returned the salute.

"See. You're in luck," exclaimed the Colonel. "He's waving back."

The Line of Control - a ceasefire line which defies all geographic logic, traversing sheer mountain slopes and narrow ridge lines - has not always been such a jovial place.

For more than half-a-century, Indian and Pakistani troops have stood eyeball to eyeball along the line, regularly exchanging artillery and small arms fire.

Kashmir has been a factor in all three wars between these uneasy neighbours, and two years ago - in the fighting near the town of Kargil - it nearly sparked off a fourth.

But since November, all has been quiet.

Kashmiri militant after surrender
India says militants are still sneaking in
"Before then, we couldn't have brought you within miles of this place," Colonel Javed declared while showing us round the Pakistan army forward camp at Chakoti.

"Now it's so calm, thousands of civilians who live close to the line have been able to return home, and start cultivating their fields again."

Crossing the 'line'

A few days later, I was looking down on Chakoti from a very different vantage point - from the Indian army's post at Chaukas, 7,000 feet up in the Himalayan foothills.

Andrew Whitehead at Chaukas
Chaukas is just across from Chakoti
I was so close to Chakoti, I could hear the muezzin's call to prayer.

But to travel the short distance from Chakoti to Chaukas - a few minutes by road before 1947 - had taken three flights and two long road journeys.

No one is allowed to cross the Line of Control.

Some do, though.

Brigadier RK Sharma of the Indian army, my host at the Chaukas camp, confirmed that there had been no shell-fire by either side for months.

The Indian Government has never made Kashmiris feel that they are part of the Indian state

Hurriyat leader Umar Farooq
But he complained that what he called "infiltrators", armed Kashmiri separatists, were still trying to sneak their way through the forested mountain passes.

"Of course it's continuing," he insisted.

"And of course the Pakistani army is behind it. We're ready. . . If they surrender, that's fine, but we don't give them too long to make up their minds."

Separatist movement

The authorities in Pakistan insist they give the armed separatists nothing more than moral and political support.

But western diplomats in Islamabad say there is strong evidence that the Pakistani security forces help to train and arm the militants.

Kashmir protest
Resentment against India has not gone away
"The people of Jammu and Kashmir were literally forced to take up arms against India," says Umar Farooq, a leading figure in the main political organisation of Kashmiri separatists, the Hurriyat Conference.

"The Indian Government has never made Kashmiris feel that they are part of the Indian state," Mr Farooq, who is also the hereditary Muslim chief priest in Srinagar, says.

Some of the separatists are much more hardline.

Asiya Andrabi, a leader of the women's organisation Dukhtran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith) keeps on the move to avoid arrest.

She met me at a friend's home in Srinagar, clad in the burqa or full Islamic veil.

She insists that the Kashmiri movement is more than a political campaign. That it is a jihad, or Islamic holy war.

Duktran-e-millat leader Andrabi
Asiya Andrabi: Fighting a "jihad"
"Kashmir will get liberated only by armed struggle," she argued.

And in a withering dismissal of the Hurriyat and other moderate separatist groups, she said that if Kashmiris relied on their political leaders they would never "get free" of India.

Hope and despair

General JR Mukherjee, the top-ranking Indian officer in the Kashmir valley, says the armed separatists are now better trained, better organised and better equipped.

But among their ranks, he believes, there is a growing number who want peace.

"We have to find a political solution. But we also need to deploy our forces to ensure that violence is kept at an acceptable level, to ensure that the peace process can proceed."

Many Kashmiris believe that violence is not at an acceptable level, and has not been for the past 12 years.

With little sign of flexibility in Delhi or Islamabad, they fear that the killings will continue.

And few have much confidence that the Kashmiris' own leaders can achieve the sort of political settlement which could lead to an easing of the violence.

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23 Apr 01 | South Asia
Blast targets Kashmir separatists
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