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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 20:58 GMT 21:58 UK
Analysis: New Kashmir peace hopes
Indian troops during search in Srinagar, Kashmir
India's announcement fuels hopes for progress
By Kashmir analyst Alexander Evans

India's surprise announcement that it is ending its unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir reverses its previous policy.

But at the same time the Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, said India would invite Pakistan's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, to talks in Delhi.

General Musharraf has been calling for direct talks for many months, and Pakistan welcomed India's invitation.

Indian officials had been privately saying that the Kashmir ceasefire, first declared on November 27, 2000 and extended several times since, would be renewed.

Indian troops in Kashmir
Indian security officials had voiced concern about the ceasefire

But it is possible that the Indian Government only made a final decision in the past few days.

Indian ministers could have been swayed by security concerns raised by local commanders in the Kashmir Valley.

Just a few days ago Foreign Minister Singh and Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani visited Kashmir. They reviewed the situation on the ground and attended a meeting of the unified military command.

Discontent

While there had been political criticism of a ceasefire that had not reduced levels of violence in Kashmir, the government also faced growing discontent with the ceasefire from different wings of the Indian security forces.

Pakistani military ruler General Musharraf
General Musharraf: Urging direct talks on Kashmir

Local journalists in Kashmir claimed that the Indian Army and Border Security Force had largely observed the ceasefire, but that the local police had not.

The ceasefire had been criticised by Pakistan, militant groups fighting in Kashmir, and by most Kashmiri separatist leaders.

Dubbed a "sham ceasefire" by Pakistan, it was viewed as an attempt by India to garner international support.

End of peace moves?

India and Pakistan remain serious about improving their relations.

India's latest statement, while ending the Kashmir ceasefire, marks a new process of engagement.


The Indian Government is unlikely to be as flexible towards Kashmiri separatist leaders

By announcing that General Musharraf will be invited to talks, the Indian Government is reversing its previous policy of opposing direct talks with Pakistan.

A direct meeting between India and Pakistan's leaders can only be welcomed.

And while the Kashmir ceasefire may be over, Mr Singh has indicated that the ceasefire on the Line of Control, separating Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, will continue to be observed.

Since December 2000 the Line of Control has been quiet - a marked departure from the regular exchanges of fire that used to take place.

Kashmiri separatists

The Indian Government may be showing a more receptive approach towards Pakistan, but it is unlikely to be as flexible towards Kashmiri separatist leaders.

A delegation from the separatist Hurriyat Conference is still waiting for permission from Delhi to visit Pakistan.

Any process involving Kashmiris is currently on hold.

But the prospect of direct talks between India and Pakistan holds out fresh opportunities in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, K C Pant, India's representative for possible talks with Kashmiris, will continue his work. The latest developments, though, indicate that he faces a tough task.

Alexander Evans is a specialist on Kashmir and recently returned from a visit to Indian-administered Kashmir.

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See also:

23 May 01 | South Asia
India and Pakistan head for talks
02 Aug 00 | South Asia
Flashpoint Kashmir: Special Report
21 May 01 | South Asia
Massive protest in Kashmir
26 Apr 01 | South Asia
Kashmir separatists snub peace offer
23 Apr 01 | South Asia
Bridging the Kashmir divide
15 May 01 | South Asia
India contacts Kashmir separatist
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