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 Wednesday, 1 January, 2003, 11:22 GMT
Kashmir's new year hopes
Mr Sayeed (R) is seen as being 'soft' on militants


Improved power supplies have allowed people in Indian-administered Kashmir to ring in the new year watching special new-year-eve television programmes.

A resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan seems unlikely in the immediate future

This was made possible because the new government headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has halved power cuts - from nine hours to four-and-a-half hours every day.

Ordinary Kashmiris feel more relaxed because the deaths of civilians in police custody has nearly stopped since the new government took over two months ago.

But, apart from this, the new year has brought hardly any cheer to the people of Kashmir, hit by a 13-year-old insurgency.

Talks

India's Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, recently said that the federal government would hold talks, first with elected representatives, and later with "other sections" in Kashmir.

But, he soon clarified that there would be no talks with the "proxies of Pakistan".

BJP supporters gathered outside the party office after the polls
Will Gujarat victory influence the Kashmir policy?

He also turned down a demand made by the main separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference, that its leaders be allowed to visit Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The Hurriyat visit was aimed at persuading militant commanders based in Muzaffarabad to suspend their armed campaign.

Commentators say the outcome of recent elections in the state of Gujarat, where India's ruling BJP won a majority, has strengthened the hardliners in the federal government.

This, they say, will influence Delhi's policy towards Kashmir.

In fact, it is due to pressure from the federal government that the Kashmir Chief Minister, Mr Sayeed, has halted his much touted release of political prisoners.

Before assuming power, Mufti Sayeed emphasised that only an unconditional dialogue between the Indian Government and the separatist leaders could resolve the Kashmir problem.

Real test

But he has now started saying that the Indian Government should talk to "elected representatives" - meaning members of the law-making assembly- and "other sections" in Kashmir.

Thus, the separatists, referred to as "other sections" come second in his order of priority.

Ordinary Kashmiris feel more relaxed because death of civilians in police custody has nearly stopped since the new government took over two months ago

The militant groups have sufficiently conveyed the message that they make no distinction between the state's former ruling party, the National Conference, and Mufti Sayed's People Democratic Party (PDP).

At least four militant groups claimed responsibility for the killing of a PDP leader and member of the state's law-making assembly, Abdul Aziz Mir, near the southern township of Pampore last month.

Observers say Mr Sayeed's government, which has been making conciliatory gestures to the separatists - such as the promise of releasing prisoners and reducing the violation of human rights - will face the real test only when the militants step up their attacks on the Indian security forces.

The vice chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation front (JKLF), Javed Mir, says the people of Kashmir can hope for peace only after India and Pakistan have agreed to resume talks to resolve mutual problems.

But, despite US pressure on both the countries to hold talks, a resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan seems unlikely in the immediate future.

Mobile phones

The Kashmiri people have few hopes of any major change in the situation they have lived in for several years.

All they are praying for now is a heavy snowfall, so that at least the current drought would pass.

The only good news for the new year has come from the government's telecommunications department which is introducing mobile telephones in the state in April this year.

Mobile phones in the state have so far been banned due to security concerns.

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See also:

27 Dec 02 | South Asia
16 Dec 02 | South Asia
23 Dec 02 | South Asia
23 Dec 02 | South Asia
22 Dec 02 | South Asia
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